The future belongs to companies that are secure and connected. These companies will build the connected products required to achieve the operational efficiency and personalization customers will expect from their products in the future. While traditional companies will continue to survive, at least in the short term, the ultimate winners will be companies that build secure, connected enterprises.

Such enterprises, like Tesla and Uber, already have disrupted many industries, and their disruptions should motivate all established companies to build connected enterprises—with internal employee-to-employee and various machine-to-machine connections, with enterprise-to-product connections, and with enterprise-to-enterprise connections with suppliers. Today is the right time to adopt this mindset because the cost of solution deployment has declined significantly, deployment is easier than ever, and technologies are becoming standardized.

Until recently, computing, communication, and sensing were, for the most part, too costly for most companies to feel comfortable deploying technology solutions. With advances in software, however, and with new technologies and techniques, the cost of deploying solutions has greatly improved. For example, the cost of Lidar, a sensory system giving driverless vehicles awareness of their surroundings, has dropped from about $50,000 five or so years ago to less than $600 today.

Furthermore, advances in software have made it easier for companies to migrate their old machines to an efficient, customer-centric solution, eliminating the need to write off millions of dollars of legacy equipment and start afresh. Also, with increasing standardization of technologies, companies now can leverage their existing investment by putting it into new IoT platforms (GE Predix, Microsoft Azure, and others), technologies and techniques (like artificial intelligence).

Steps for Building the Connected Enterprise

The companies most successful in building a secure, connected enterprise often tackle this effort through three specific steps. First, they set a bold vision for what they want the enterprise to look like in the next few years. thyssenkrupp Elevator has set such a bold vision: to significantly reduce the time people will need to wait for elevators in 2050, when the wait could waste millions of hours a year. Already, this vision has enabled the company to predict upcoming problems with millions of its elevators deployed throughout the world and to take proactive action that has cut downtime in half.

Second, successful companies build an ecosystem of partners to help them keep track of rapidly changing technologies. Today, it is nearly impossible for a company to follow all technology advancements coming from countless organizations worldwide. Smart companies don’t try to do it alone. Instead, they address this problem through coordination, coopetition, and partnership in an ecosystem of technology leaders, startups, incumbent vendors, and academia to continually scan the market for technologies that will help them achieve their visions.

Third, they foster a culture of innovation within their enterprises. Building this new culture is often a difficult task—one requiring a radical transformation of a long-held culture of risk aversion and of compensation and performance evaluations based on employees accomplishing each project successfully every time. A culture of innovation calls for a workforce of innovative employees who see failure as a learning experience, not a negative, and who are more free-wheeling and less respectful of traditional authority. It also requires attracting and retaining employees who understand data and have the talent to use it to improve decision making, challenge the status quo, and question traditional processes.

Security Considerations

Security for the connected enterprise is a much greater concern than for the traditional company that considers locked doors to be enough to keep out the bad guys. For the enterprise, security is not just physical. It is digital and can be breached from around the world. As such, it cannot be an afterthought. Instead, the connected enterprise designs the entire system (and its products) with security in mind by taking actions such as:

  • Creating its own network of IoT devices and restricting access to this network
  • Ensuring the devices use a secure identifier to identify themselves to the network
  • Time stamping the data for future audit

Besides this upfront security, the connected enterprise takes measures to prevent security issues once the system is operational. For example, it monitors the system’s end-to-end performance periodically, looking for anomalies that could indicate a security issue. And it educates end-users about the data collection, distribution, and analysis process, so they know what can go wrong and are more likely to follow security protocols.

Companies that master building a secure, connected enterprise will win in the future. They will drive better productivity and decision making through advanced analytics and insights for those in manufacturing. They will change the manufacturing process from isolated silos to an integrated downstream and upstream production environment. And they will move from mass production to just-in-time mass customization of their products—achieving operational efficiency and personalization for the customer.

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