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Schneider Touts IT/OT Convergence

Information transformed into real-time intelligent decisions can help businesses succeed in the future.

After hearing about it for as long as a decade, the convergence of AV and IT has officially taken hold.

These days, though, a new kind of convergence is starting to take hold: the convergence of IT and operational technology, a pairing that is helping companies turn information into real-time intelligent decisions.

This new type of convergence was front and center during the 2014 Schneider Electric Influencer Summit in the company’s new headquarters in Andover, Mass.

We’re in an age of urbanization, industrialization and digitization, says Schneider chief marketing officer Chris Hummel, with projections showing 70 percent of people will be living in cities by 2040.

“Urbanization, industrialization and digitization will all enrich our lives, but they require lots of energy,” says Hummel. “But, if left unchecked, they’ll require 50 percent more energy by 2040. Everything we know is going to be rebuilt. Everything we know is going to become more efficient. Connected systems will change the way we work, live and play.”

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Laurent Vernerey, CEO of Schneider Electric North America, expects the company to move away from its longtime focus on products and transform into a company that’s more interested in providing solutions. The company works in several vertical markets, including water and wastewater facilities, health care, oil and gas factories, data centers, mining headquarters, OEM machine buildings and utility companies.

Vernerey emphasized the importance of Schneider being involved with projects at the design stage as a way to more seamlessly incorporate offerings that bring IT and operational technologies together. Through its Thunderbird weather tool, Schneider can help utilities dispatch the proper number of people in advance of storms, leakages and the like. Today, only about 30 percent of utilities are connected to the smart grid, says Vernerey.

The Internet of Things, says Schneider Chief Technology Officer Pascal Brosset, “is both an evolution and a revolution.” But companies have to tread lightly when trying to force revolutionary thinking on their clients, he says.

“Customers don’t like revolutions, so our job is to bring it gradually to them as an evolution,” says Brosset. Both enterprise and control systems are gravitating toward the Internet of Things and Big Data, he says.

“IoT provides the context and Big Data provides the scale that’s been missing,” says Brosset. “That leads to operational intelligence.”

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To achieve that, companies need to provide IP-enabled smart devices that are pushing data to a virtual IP network. The IP network should include data services (filtering, aggregation and correlation); data management; and business and integration logic. Most importantly, the entire setup MUST be secured, says Brosset.

“Safety is always a top priority,” says Clemmens Blum, executive vice president of Schneider Electric industry business. “You can’t put that lower on the list to optimize your company’s profitability.”

As the system’s capability goes up, its security goes down, says Blum. Secure design, he says, “starts at the chip level.”

Blum questions the emphasis on Big Data, saying there are better ways to measure effectiveness.

“Big Data is less important than the right data at the right time put in the right context,” he says. “You have to measure [how much energy] you waste, make it transparent and help people understand. We can achieve huge savings with the technology we have today.”

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