Digital disruption is transforming the UK business landscape. The fourth industrial revolution has brought a hyper-connected world, with the sheer volume of data flowing through the network generating unprecedented value, and delivering dynamic competitive advantage for companies across the globe.

Manufacturing is undoubtedly a key engine for growth across the UK and Europe, with more than two-thirds of all EU exports coming from the sector. For manufacturers, the growth of the Internet of things (IoT) and the ability to move operations to the cloud has opened substantial opportunities, turning data availability and visualization into a vital part of the business innovation process.

Many manufacturers have now adopted IoT – driven solutions such as machine as-a-service, predictive maintenance and quality control. In fact, according to Cisco’s latest industry analysis survey, over a quarter of manufacturers are planning to increase their IoT spending in the next five years.

fog computing industrial pollution thinkstock photos mavisa 811936194
Industrial fog – Thinkstock / Mavisa

Staying the course with network technologies

With the number of connected devices on the rise, having a digital–ready network infrastructure in place has become a necessity for those keen to ‘stay the course’.

By deploying a simple, automated, and reliable network, that allows greater production visibility, manufacturers will be able to gain real-time insights and truly understand current business demands. Only then will businesses be able to benefit from cost and complexity reduction, increased productivity and lower security risks.

The rise of fog computing

In order to innovate faster and cope with the requirements for real-time communication flow, Industrial IoT needs to tackle the volume, latency and mobility challenges that the amount of data presents. Moving the huge amounts of data to the cloud and back is not possible in today’s cloud-only computing models. This is where fog computing comes into play.

Fog computing can extend the cloud to be closer to where IoT data is produced. Crucially, it ensures that vital data is nearer to the edge of the network, where it can be analyzed in a matter of milliseconds and utilized to drive competitive advantage.

Adopting a holistic approach to lessen security risks

While the benefits of Industrial IoT are undeniable, the exponential growth of digital connections also brings inherent security risks. As manufacturers adopt new technologies and look to innovate and expand traditional boundaries, industrial automation is constantly exposed to new threats.

Therefore, to realize the benefits of the amount of data available, businesses must adopt an integrated, holistic security policy that will protect the network across all access points and transform diverse manufacturing processes into a unified and highly secure communication system.

There is no denying that the industrial world is changing significantly, and those companies that make the best use of connecting the unconnected will be the most successful. Fundamentally, in order to maintain competitive advantage, businesses must be able to prioritize their efforts in advancing these areas. Only by coping with the challenges of today will organisations be able to build the foundation of the Industrial IoT of tomorrow.

Daniel Keely is head of manufacturing practice EMEAR, Cisco