Stratus Blog

Showing archives for author EJ Schmidt

How much unplanned downtime for water treatment systems is acceptable?

8.4.2017IA, WastewaterBy:  

Welcome back to the second blog in the series relating to a recent Twitter poll we launched to gauge industry audience insights and sentiments in specific Industrial Automation (IA) sectors.  These IA vertical markets include Oil & Gas, Food & Beverage, and Water & Wastewater.  As a reminder, we had just over 32,000 individuals engage with us on their understanding of their industry’s organizational strategies and plans.

This week, we will be covering some thought provoking results involving the Water & Wastewater sector. The question we asked via Twitter was “How much unplanned system downtime per incident is acceptable when it comes to water treatment?”. Almost half of respondents (45%) simply did not know. This blog will discuss the importance of continuous uptime in water treatment and will educate readers about the implications of downtime in wastewater facilities.

Can you recall a high-profile incident where a water crisis made national headlines?  Just looking within North America, how about the poor water sourcing choices that led to the poisoned water of Flint, Michigan?  Or the drought in California?  Or the wastewater sewage pollution that occurred on the East Coast after Hurricane Sandy?  Although not all these issues may not have been a result of downtime – they certainly stress the criticality of water treatment safety.  High profile cases like these really make people think about the quality and management of their drinking water.

Let’s talk about how unplanned downtime occurs in the Water sector.

According to the 2016 AWWA SOTWI Report, here are the top issues facing the Water industry:

  • Renewal & replacement (R&R) of aging water and wastewater infrastructures
  • Financing for capital improvements
  • Public understanding of the value of water systems & services
  • Long-term water supply availability
  • Public understanding of the value of water resources

While these are all relevant issues, all with their own domino effect of consequences, I am going to focus on the top two.  R&R of aging infrastructures, as well as the struggle of financing capital improvements and subsequent delays can both materially contribute to the increased probability of unplanned downtime of SCADA systems that govern the operation of water facilities.

Obviously, the increasing challenges related of raising the financing for capital improvements can further delay the start to refresh aging infrastructures, consequently deepening financial risk exposure.   It’s a dangerous and costly cycle that is a strong contributor to unplanned system downtime – forcing the water facility to perform what would normally be an automated task, manually.  This further increases costs while opening the possibility for human error when dealing with, for example, disinfection/chemical additives or filtration systems/UV operation.

Now that we know how downtime can occur, here are some effects of unplanned SCADA downtime for water facilities:

  • “Blindness” from the plant level to the entire district that an outage has occurred
  • Inability to control remote locations
  • Loss in integration with reliability systems
  • Loss of data/report generation
    • Could affect compliance
    • Loss of analytics

So, now that we know what could go wrong with even momentary unplanned downtime, let’s talk about how much it could cost.  Now, this metric certainly depends on the company size, industry, production volume, etc., but according to the Aberdeen Group, the cost of unplanned downtime went up $260,000 per hour on average between 2014 and 2016.  However, this metric is only monetary.  We must remember that unplanned outages in IA industries, like water and wastewater, can result in damage to the environment, people’s health – and even death. Unfortunately, as practitioners in this field know, it can require a very critical outage to create the momentum needed to provide capital and accelerate decision making to update an infrastructure.

So –  let’s ask the question again:

How much unplanned system downtime per incident is acceptable when it comes to water treatment? And what if you were not sure of the answer, how could you better inform yourself – and your stakeholders?

Here are some options for you to get started

Want to learn more about the cost of downtime in IA? Check out this infographic.  You can also learn exactly how much downtime is costing you by checking out this Cost of Downtime Calculator.

Another great way to explore the challenges associated with automation and instrumentation in the water and wastewater sectors would be to attend WEFTEC – the water quality event, September 30 – October 4, 2017 in Chicago, IL. Stratus will be there. We are proud to join this event because this is an Industry that we are at the forefront of, and so are many of our customers. If you are attending, please visit us at booth #7847.

Follow us on Twitter @StratusAlwaysOn to watch out for the next in the series!

32,000 responses to Stratus’ Twitter poll yields the popular opinion on converging IT and OT


In the ever-evolving industry of Industrial Automation, trends and best practices are constantly changing with the goal of helping companies become better, smarter, and faster. Understanding that we need to be at the forefront of these conversations, Stratus launched a questionnaire poll on Twitter to gauge industry understanding of some leading-edge ideas and tactics. These Twitter polls were launched in the IA vertical markets of Oil & Gas, Food & Beverage, and Water & Wastewater.

Four weeks and two polls later, we had just over 32,000 folks engage with us on their understanding of their industry’s organizational strategies leading into the future. The information we collected is revealing, and the volume in itself illustrates the relevance and challenges related to this topic. We look forward to sharing these viewpoints in a collection of blog posts, and we will take a deep dive into poll findings, exploring the value of the information captured.

In this introduction to the blog series, we’d like to explore one of the main findings regarding Industrial Automation. We asked: “How do you think industrial companies can bridge the divide between IT and OT while ensuring all priorities are met?”. Before we get to the results, let’s talk about why we asked the question in the first place.

Traditionally, and rightly so regarding legacy systems, IT and OT have remained separate camps with separate priorities, functions, and culture. But since industrial companies are adopting new infrastructures enabled by IIoT and Big Data such as automated systems, smart buildings, virtualized machines, etc., the line between these camps have blurred. We are approaching, and in many cases, have already arrived at a new era of technology and operations. This recently charted territory will drastically change the way we have been doing things, and successful companies will remain open-minded when it comes to adopting new strategies.

One of these Strategies, although controversial, includes merging the departments, and possibly even the role, of IT and OT. So, we included this approach as an option when we asked the above question. As a result, 35% of respondents agree that IT and OT should merge for the best results when bridging the gap between IT and OT. Let’s discuss what is driving the popularity of this approach.

Craig Resnick from ARC Advisory Group delves more into this topic in this presentation. During the lecture, Craig addresses the fact that with manufacturers dealing with the combination of legacy systems and IIoT enabled automation technologies, we are seeing more and more IT functionality moving closer to the plant floor. Converging IT and OT is how manufacturers go from these new smart machines on the OT level, and start hooking them up to IT who are dealing with technologies like virtualization, and be able to run powerful analytics. In other words, the IT/OT convergence will enable the digital transformation of manufacturers. My colleague Jason Andersen participated in a similar discussion with a variety of industry peers at the ARC Forum this February, see here for more details.

But what would this convergence look like? Craig reviews a few options, including calling this new department the “Manufacturing IT Group”, embedding IT skills into Automation/Engineering or, giving Automation to IT services. Check out additional paths here, including the emergence of a new breed of “industrial technologists” with a combined IT/OT perspective.

Of course, there will be roadblocks when executing this convergence. Here are some common challenges when combining IT and OT:

  • One challenge is combining the cultures of two organizations who do not necessarily trust each other, and literally have worked and organized at different levels – think ‘Purdue’ ISA-95. OT thinks IT is a commodity with an indistinct ROI. But IT is the foundation of Automation Systems. Breaking down the barriers and establishing trust between these two cultures is a necessity when merging functions, and paths to resolution are most productive when balanced with company cultures, organizational values and clear alignment to both strategic and operational aspirations driving the merger.
  • Another challenge of merging IT and OT is that both areas have different functions and goals and downtime to systems can have very different levels of impact. For example, unlike a billing system that goes down, a SCADA failure can bring a company to its knees in seconds, or worse, result in loss of lives.
  • The perspective of problem solving differs as well – IT tends to look at things top down, starting with the overall goals and cascades down from there, while OT tends to operate bottoms up; after all, it has many process specific (legacy) applications, protocols, and much of it outspans the average IT system by many years.

Combining OT and IT is a complex journey, but can have invaluable benefits – improving access to real time data and information as just one of many advantages. In future blog posts on this topic, we’ll share more of our perspectives on the many dimensions of OT/IT convergence, as well as those from our customers and partners.

Meanwhile – what examples have you seen of IT/OT merging, and what do you think was the defining factor to their success?

Follow us on Twitter @StratusAlwaysOn to watch out for the next in the series!

Living on the Edge: Real-Time Intelligence at the Points of Production


There’s a lot of excitement about how the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will reshape manufacturing, utilities, and other industrial operations. As companies reimagine their operations, many have questions about how to take advantage of edge computing in order to capture the high-value gains of IIoT.

During a recent webinar, Stratus, ARC Advisory Group, and addressed some of those key questions. We laid out a framework for how valuable data can live safely and prosper on the edge of your industrial control environment. Here are a few highlights:

First, let’s talk about the “things” in IIoT—pumps, motors, valves, conveyors, processing vessels, etc.—and the industrial control systems managing them. These systems are often decades old, highly customized, and isolated from the rest of the enterprise. They weren’t designed for open networking or the IIoT and can’t be replaced without great cost and disruption. So how can you leverage these industrial assets and derive new data sets to improve production efficiency and reduce costs?

Complementing your legacy systems with the addition of newer, open AND secure industrial networking standards like OPC UA, along with low cost, bolt-on IIoT sensors, all supported by a combination of edge and cloud-based computing applications that include real-time data analytics and artificial intelligence technologies “Living on the Edge” of existing automation equipment and systems is a good place to start generating new sources of data aimed to increasing efficiency.

You’ll also want to make sure that your edge systems collect, analyze, store, and forward data generated by devices being monitored at the points of production. For example, edge systems would use such data to dynamically optimize flows, temperatures and pressures or change robotic movement and speed parameters so that production and assembly activities consistently perform according to a product’s stringent quality assurance tolerances – without un-necessary giveaway. That makes this edge data extremely critical.

At Stratus, we focus on today’s edge computing requirements in an industrial automation setting. That means addressing both IT and operational technology (OT) sides of the equation. For IT, key needs are standardization and virtualization to keep edge computing simple, flexible, and cost-effective. On the OT side, top priorities are long-term reliability and availability.

Another key requirement both IT and OT groups have is keeping edge systems as low-touch as possible. Operations teams rarely have the skills or time for hands-on care of computers. And edge systems are often in remote locations without any or limited IT staff onsite.

Stratus solutions accommodate both IT and OT needs at the edge of your industrial assets. Stratus continuous availability systems are built on industry standards and easily virtualized. They are remarkably easy to manage and service. In fact, we have built in remote monitoring and predictive self-service capabilities that eliminate almost all hands-on administration. Plus, Stratus architecture is fully redundant from top to bottom. Our solutions simply don’t fail and provide in-service lifecycles that extend a decade or more – creating even more value for industrial users.

Many of our industrial customers are adopting IIoT in stages. They usually start with deploying coordinated control strategies between related production units or lines, or adding basic analytics for their core systems to uncover trends and insights to make strategic business decisions. The next stage involves supplementing these applications with real-time data analytics and pushing that intelligence to the industrial assets themselves – at the edge for machine-based, real-time production decisions, along with feeding cloud based data analytics to compare and contrast the performance across industrial enterprises.

At Stratus, we have deep industrial expertise and continuously availability technology to help you realize the full value of IIoT across the entire edge-to-enterprise spectrum.

Scenic and Critical Water Systems at Shanghai Disney Stay Safe with Stratus

4.26.2017High Availability, WastewaterBy:  

Imagine annually hosting 25 million theme park visitors that expect a magical and safe experience and the public health consequences if water contamination occurred at the site. That’s why Shanghai Disney Resort, the newest and largest Disney theme park in Asia, takes no chances. They run their water monitoring and control systems on Stratus continuous availability solutions.

Shanghai Disney Resort is a massive theme park with six “lands” and shopping, dining, and entertainment venues. It spans a lush, 963-acre property rich with scenic lakes and public green spaces. Behind the scenes, a comprehensive water circulation and irrigation system keeps these natural areas safe and inviting for visitors by ensuring strict adherence to water quality standards.

The complex water treatment system has the capacity to treat 24,000 cubic meters of water per day. It relies on an automated software system to track, control, and analyze the equipment managing water flow, as well as data measuring water quality. Even brief unplanned system downtime could lead to water contamination and turn a nice day at the park into a public health nightmare.

To avoid such disasters, Stratus built the core infrastructure of Shanghai Disney Resort’s water treatment system on Stratus ftServers. Intelligent, self-healing ftServers prevent unplanned downtime from occurring in the first place. As a result, the park’s critical systems run continuously with no data loss.

In a Stratus case study about the park, Mr. Pang, Shanghai Disney Resort’s chief engineer, explains, “We can count on the Stratus ftServer solution to eliminate single points of technical failure so this critical system runs continuously—without unscheduled interruptions—for smooth, reliable operations.”

In fact, since going live, the ftServer solution has delivered continuous transmission of vital water quality and control system data with zero unplanned downtime. This allows the resort to consistently meet— and exceed—quality standards for second-class surface water throughout the property.

The Stratus solution also has been easy for Mr. Pang’s team to manage and maintain. They didn’t have to write any special failover scripts as in a traditional disaster recovery solution, or modify their applications to be cluster-aware. The software simply runs just as it would on any industry-standard server, except that the ftServer is continuously available.

As further testimony of the easy serviceability of Stratus solutions, the park’s IT staff uses a single ftServer dashboard to monitor the water treatment system infrastructure. The team can automatically restart applications if an unrecoverable error occurs and avoid any downtime or loss of in-flight data.

Stratus keeps water systems like the one at Shanghai Disney Resort up and running for organizations worldwide. That’s one of the key reasons the resort chose the ftServer. It’s proven to be reliable and easy to manage in numerous other water treatment facilities. By removing the complexity of preventing downtime, Stratus translates to low total cost of ownership and high return on investment. For Shanghai Disney Resort, that return is best demonstrated by the delight and safety of tens of thousands visitors that enjoy its vast facility every day.

Spring Ahead with the Stratus “Top 5” Most Popular Blogs

4.12.2017IA, IIoTBy:  

As we welcome spring, we at Stratus wanted to reflect on our five most popular blogs of the last few months of winter. It’s no coincidence that they all had a common theme: the industrial internet of things (IIoT)—a clear indication that the IIoT is gaining traction as the next stage in the evolution of industrial automation.

Here are some of the key highlights from all five blogs:

This blog laid out our suggestions to help manufacturers set their sights in the right direction to begin adoption of IIoT. Priority one is to understand where IIoT fits in your existing business framework. Then, when you start your journey, we recommend going for the low-hanging fruit—short-term projects that produce quick benefits. And by building your IIoT project on a continuously available, easy to manage solution, you can focus solely on the business value, not the underlying technology.

How do you introduce a major architectural shift like IIoT without disrupting your legacy systems? We propose doing it one layer at a time. For example, start by layering analytics onto your existing historian, which helps institute this kind of change technically and organizationally. The next step is for IT and operations to work together harmoniously and deploy a virtualized, continuously available solution.

Not surprisingly, many of our blog readers want to quickly realize business value from IIoT without a complete infrastructure overhaul. Our answer: take a step-by-step approach. First, no IIoT initiative will return value if your operational technology infrastructure is outdated. So, start by upgrading your supervisory control systems environment. Then gradually introduce IIoT to individual sensors, actuators, and control valves to take automation and predictive management to a whole new level.

Our reporting from the 21st annual ARC Industry Forum in February further revealed just how much we are an industry in transition. Old traditions of strict physical separation between layers of the business—as illustrated in the Perdue model—are breaking down as IIoT begins to take hold. Lines have blurred as IT solutions, like analytics, find their way deep into the operations and process control world. Once again, we saw how convergence of IT and operational technology—or at least cooperation—is fundamental to IIoT success.

One of the biggest benefits of IIoT is reducing unplanned downtime. We offer four IIoT best practices to turn downtime into uptime. First, know the cost of downtime for your company and determine how much is tolerable. Next, look to prevent outages wherever possible rather than just recover after the damage has been done. Lastly, simplify your life by consolidating IT and operational technology using virtualization—but be sure to do this on a continuously available system. And finally, always build on industry standards to make future changes easier.

A consistent thread running through these blogs is that you can’t do IIoT all at once. Take a thoughtful, incremental approach. And keep it simple by choosing a virtualized, continuously available infrastructure for your IIoT projects—just what Stratus offers. We hope these ideas plant some healthy seeds for IIoT projects you can pursue the rest of this year.

Celebrate IoT Day – Join the Conversation


April 9, 2017 is the 7th annual IoT Day. While it seems like every day has become a national day of something, IoT Day holds a special place for Stratus and our customers as it reminds us to take a step back and think about the important issues surrounding the IoT, and specifically the industrial IoT.

This year’s event comes at a critical point as smart manufacturing is increasing drastically in the United States and Industrie 4.0 is seeing a similar rise in Europe. All of this requires investment and analysis of IIoT solutions that enable manufacturers and other industries like water and wastewater to succeed in a connected world.

Whether you are facing budget cuts, challenges with aging infrastructure or simply seeking process improvements, IIoT solutions can help you meet your goals. The key is to determine how to seize this opportunity. That is why it is vital to have frank and open discussion about the challenges of capturing immediate business value from IIoT, integrating legacy equipment into IIoT environments and the relationship between industrial automation and IIoT during this period of industrial revolution.

Earlier this year we predicted that 2017 was the year that companies will need to get educated about IIoT and that prediction remains true. However, becoming educated about IIoT requires access to manageable data and analytics. Once you have that information you need to understand how to put into action. That is where the industry conversations that happen on days like IoT Day come into play. Talk to your peers, listen to where they have seen success and where they encountered challenges.

If you haven’t started to deploy IIoT solutions, the time is now. I encourage you to use today to start assessing how the IIoT can help your business, and then find a way to start the transformation in small steps.

The first step is to begin modernizing your existing operational technology. This will deliver tremendous benefits in terms of reliability and manageability right now, and create a solid future-ready platform on which to build your organization’s IIoT strategy. You can start this process by setting-up a trial or pilot project to get a real-world look into how the IIoT will advance your business priorities. Or, if you’ve already started this transformation, then take some time today to evaluate how far you’ve come in the past year, and where you’d like to be at this time next year.

In an effort to help expand awareness around the IIoT, we urge you to join conversations today on #IoTDay and @StratusAlwaysOn. We will be sharing interesting stats about the IIoT throughout the day, and would love to hear how the IIoT has evolved in your workplace and what changes you’ll be making to your IIoT strategy over the coming year.

Securities firm in Greater China achieves continuous availability of its core trading system

3.30.2017Building Security, Fault Tolerance, FinancialBy:  

Wanlian Securities Co., Ltd. is the first standardized securities firm in Guangdong province, China. Its business scope touches everything from securities brokerage, securities investment consulting, securities trading, and securities investment activities, to securities underwriting and sponsors, and proprietary trading in securities. Providing such a wide range of individual and institutional financial services that rely on real-time financial data and transactions requires Wanlian to keep all systems running smoothly at all times.

Unfortunately, even a brief interruption in trading system availability could result in significant financial losses for thousands of customers. Like many other companies in this position, downtime is simply unacceptable for Wanlian. The firm’s strong commitment to providing exceptional customer service combined with strict regulatory compliance requirements led them to rethink their approach to system availability.

Wanlian Securities evaluated various software- and hardware based availability solutions, conducting detailed tests and comparisons to determine which option would best meet their high-performance requirements. After an in-depth assessment process, the company selected the Stratus ftServer system: a fault-tolerant platform that provides an open architecture with long term high availability. ftServer offers easy installation, simple configuration and management, and cost-effective maintenance.

The ftServer system has enabled Wanlian Securities to meet rigorous CSRC (China Securities Regulatory Commission) requirements for trading system availability while minimizing customer risk of financial losses due to system downtime. As a result, the company has successfully enhanced customer loyalty and strengthened its reputation and share within China’s financial services market.

Yu Bin Deputy Director of Centralized Trading, Operations Information Technology Center, Wanlian Securities commented “Stratus ftServer system is the ideal availability solution for the securities industry, where there is zero tolerance for transaction processing downtime or any other risk that could lead to data loss. This fault tolerant platform has delivered continuous availability to meet the stringent reliability requirements of the CSRC, company leadership, and our operations and maintenance staff, while providing customers with a fast, secure, and always-on trading system.”

Click here to read the full case study

Wanlian is just one of the many customers to choose Stratus when comparing their options. In fact, according to a survey of our customers, the majority say their top reason for buying Stratus includes superior availability and world class customer service compared to competitive alternatives. We invite you to check out more testimonials and case studies describing their experiences and success.

Thinking of choosing virtualized high availability software over a continuous availability solution? So were 50% of Stratus customers until they learned this…

3.8.2017Cost of Downtime, High AvailabilityBy:  

In a recent survey of over 500 Stratus customers, 50% responded that they were also considering virtualized high availability software during their buying process. “Aren’t HA (high availability) solutions good enough?”, “Can’t we just have a good DR system in place?”, and “Do we really need continuous availability?” are just a few questions that come to mind when exploring availability options.

Does this sound familiar? Here is what our customers learned as they compared options during their decision process:

Reaction is not prevention

Downtime prevention methods include a full range of options, from disaster recovery (backup and restoration), to data replication, to application failover and restart. Despite their differences, the one thing they hold in common is that they are reactive solutions – they cannot stop an outage from occurring – resulting in the very real risk of lost data and halted processing.

Choosing the right availability solution requires understanding your cost of downtime

A common way of distinguishing between availability solutions is by their percentage of availability. Traditional high availability solutions (such as clustering) can have an availability percentage of 99.95%, or 4.38 hours of downtime per year, where a continuous availability solution guarantees an availability percentage of 99.999+%, or between two and a half and five and a quarter minutes of unplanned downtime per year. These percentages may not seem like substantial differences, but they could mean the difference between hours – and big dollars. According to the Aberdeen Group, the cost of downtime went up $260,000 per hour on average between 2014 and 2016.

The Stratus approach

While HA solutions can be sufficient in some instances, Stratus’ continuous availability solutions are vital for applications and systems that are business critical, especially when they reside outside of the datacenter. When it comes to industries where system failure, or even an hour of downtime could mean destroyed reputations, damaged environments, the loss of thousands of dollars – or even worse – lives, anything less than continuous availability is simply not an option.

That is why our customers rely on Stratus to prevent the failure from occurring in the first place – and guess how operationally simple it made their lives.

Here are just a few examples of what those same Stratus customers have been experiencing:


Want to learn more about availability options? Click Here

How Much Does Downtime Cost Your Organization?

2.8.2017Cost of Downtime, Fault ToleranceBy:  

Across the spectrum of industries, one thing all companies agree on is that the cost of unplanned downtime is quite substantial. The vexing question is how much?

Surprisingly, a survey of operations people found that 71% of respondents admitted their company is not tracking downtime cost with any quantifiable metrics. That means most companies won’t know what an outage costs until it occurs and by then it’s too late to prevent such an incident.

In stark contrast, Stratus customers are keenly aware of how unplanned downtime could impact their businesses. In fact, a recent TechValidate survey of 533 Stratus users identified the five biggest cost factors from unplanned downtime:

Loss of Productivity – Think about a critical production line sitting idle for hours or days. Or dozens of employees forced to revert to manual processes during an outage of operations systems. One of our manufacturing customers calculated their cost of unplanned production downtime at $33,000 per hour.

Loss of Revenue – If you can’t process and fulfill customer orders due to failed systems, revenue is inevitably reduced. For one Stratus customer-a national stock exchange handling more than one billion trade messages daily-even a few microseconds of downtime can mean revenue losses of tens of thousands of dollars.

Damage to Brand and Reputation – It’s a simple fact: When customers lose confidence in your business, they may go to a competitor. This also makes it difficult to attract new customers. In some cases, it could take years to rebuild your brand image and restore lost revenue.

Loss of Data – When critical systems fail, you could lose valuable transactional and historic data, such as intellectual property, customer records, and financial accounts. Without proper data protection, the cost to your business could be in the millions of dollars.

Non-Compliance – For highly regulated industries, such as public utilities, unplanned downtime can mean stiff fines. Regulators often require demonstrable proof of continuous data availability. The cost of non-compliance can quickly add up, and in some instances result in suspension of your operating license.

With these considerations in mind, and the fact that every day we help customers size these variables based on their inputs, we developed an online Stratus Cost-of-Downtime Calculator. This tool helps professionals like you figure out the full financial impact of downtime on your organization. Check it out, it will help you easily determine how quickly downtime can affordably be prevented.

And assuming your business could benefit from a solution that prevents downtime, we recommend a three-step approach that is extremely reliable and cost efficient:

  1. First, virtualize your critical systems to drastically reduce the number of physical systems in your environment—and the number of potential points of failure.
  2. Next, run your virtualized systems on Stratus always-on servers. With integrated redundancy, Stratus servers ensure continuous availability of your virtualized applications, without a single point of failure or risk of data loss.
  3. Finally, for maximum protection, mirror the always-on Stratus solution to a geographically remote site. That way, even if you lose your production site, your business keeps running.

The Stratus philosophy is simple—the best way to avoid the major costs of unplanned downtime is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Proven Approaches to OT Modernization: How to Modernize with Sustainable Return


Continuous improvement has been a theme in the industrial space since the second part of the last century. It’s not just a sound management philosophy – quite naturally, additional efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility go a long way to adding value in processes that are repeatable and continuously running – it’s a way of life for many an industrial manager.

The technology available today is allowing for a degree of automation and process control that was not imaginable even just a few years ago, applicable in ways that impact not just a process but entire infrastructures. The primary payoff is, of course, increased productivity and more efficient processes. In addition, modern automation systems and OT also provide operators with data that can be used to further fine-tune operations.

Whether they are driving incremental improvements or looking for those breakthrough changes, industrial managers have utilized operational technology (OT) advances to get complete control and maximum value out of their processes. And as OT is aging in many plants, industrial managers are looking for ways to modernize while ensuring returns on any such initiatives. Across industrial plants, there have been several sure-fire approaches to ensure such immediate returns:

  • Avoiding additional complexity
  • Ensuring visibility and control
  • Looking for the big wins
  • Preventing major risks and unplanned costs

Avoiding Additional Complexity

The industrial internet of things (IIoT) is already happening. Interconnected sensors are able to monitor every step of every process, and the shared data allows for instantaneous adjustments to industrial operations. Advancements in miniaturization mean these sensors can literally be placed anywhere, which gives operators an unprecedented view inside their plants. A combination of systems, software, networks and computing power are necessary to make it all happen. At the same time, such advancements are driving increased reliance on technology. They may require technological skills that may not be available within every plant. Furthermore, some advanced technologies may create a level of complexity that adds costs, implementation headaches and has uncertain payoffs. Not only that, but in many a case, the additional data generated remains unused or misunderstood. So industrial managers need to make sure their new solutions are simple to implement and operate in order to avoid the extra costs and assure immediate returns.

Ensuring visibility and control

Modernized industrial technologies are promising higher visibility into processes, additional data points as well as control mechanisms to be able to constantly optimize. Ongoing monitoring allows for real-time, or almost real-time, adjustments. For instance, Naveen Kumar – a senior industry analyst for Frost & Sullivan who focuses on industrial automation – points out how “with

sensorization of industrial assets, failing parts in an asset can be spotted very early to avoid undesirable downtime consequences.” However, with multiple systems and new sources of data, it sometimes takes additional time for the data to be assembled, consolidated and analyzed before corrective action can be taken. Which, of course, means that processes have been running at sub-optimal levels for a while before that insight was uncovered. So, industrial plants need tools and technologies to ensure that all systems are monitored, “a single pane of glass”, so that operators can make decisions in real time. Furthermore, they need tools to ensure that all systems and monitoring software are continuously running – any outages or downtime in such systems would lead to the dreaded situation of “flying blind”, i.e. resulting in unmonitored and sub-optimal operations. In addition to the lost optimization opportunities, such downtime incidents create significant risks from an operational, safety and environmental perspective.

Looking for the big wins

Continuous improvement and efficient operations is often about the incremental changes. While those are still valuable, the operational and financial gains that can be generated with certain modernization initiatives can also result in major leaps in either improving yield, flow-through and output, or significantly decreasing costs. It is those “big wins” that are most assured to generate immediate returns and the kinds of modernization projects industrial managers should be considering.

Preventing major risks and unplanned costs

It is easy to picture such “break-through” improvements in the form of extra output or decreased consumption of raw materials, energy or resources. What industrial managers don’t always appreciate are the hidden risks, which, when avoided result in massive savings. There are a couple of reasons why such risks may be overlooked. One would be an underestimation of the likelihood of the bad event happening. The other: lack of information or inaccurate assessment of the extra costs incidents result in. And quite so often such costs are hidden or unpredictable. Knowing the size of such unplanned costs and having accurate historical information on the frequency of such incidents in the past are the main tools to assess the immediate returns of technologies they can use to prevent them.

Consider the case of unplanned downtime: on average, an industrial plant experiences 3.6 unplanned downtime incidents per year. In money alone, each incident is a potential disaster; the estimated hourly cost of unplanned downtime ranges from $10,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour, especially in discrete and process industries. Multiplying the two results in an estimated annual cost of unplanned downtime that few plants can afford to ignore. And while unplanned downtime is primarily measured in money, it can also impact relations with customers, lead to environmental and safety risks, and ultimately impact a company’s reputation.


With modernized operational technologies plant operators can generate gains in efficiency, prevent unplanned costs and monitor operations better. Addressing the big opportunities and avoiding the big risks by simple to install and run solutions are the most proven approaches to achieving immediate returns on such modernization.

To learn more on how advances in modern operational technology are reshaping plant operations for maximum efficiency and uninterrupted operations, download the Stratus Best Practices Kit for Modernizing Automation. To learn more how Stratus can enable your continuous ICS availability, visit

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