Paessler AG says its infrastructure monitoring tool has the capability of bringing data from the disparate systems in an industrial environment under a single umbrella from which insights can be gained across all aspects of the business.

The company’s APAC sales director Andrew Timms told IoT Hub that industrial companies typically have multiple systems and technologies managing various components of their operations, but few have been able to bring the data from all of these systems together to drive business prosperity.

He said that a wide variety of data sources can be aggregated, from the RFID technologies used in distribution systems, to plant machinery and their SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) interfaces, and even extending to IT infrastructure and customer-facing channels such as websites and mobile apps.

However, he added that industrial companies can use a monitoring tool like Paessler’s PRTG to provide not only operations-wide oversight, but management of particular components of the value chain.

“The teams and upper management of these industrial organisations could – with a unified monitoring tool – see every link in the supply chain and their products’ evolution from early stages right through to delivery,” he said.

“However, companies don’t realise they could take a tool like PRTG and deploy it purely for a specific industrial process monitoring use case, such as looking at conveyor belts and reporting on their throughput speed, for example.”

He said the power of a robust monitoring solution in an industrial setting is its ability to collate data from legacy systems using open APIs and translate and manipulate that data using modern interfaces and user-friendly applications.

“When you look at SCADA systems, for example, we can take their information, translate it into PRTG, then quickly create dashboards and live information feeds with alerting systems built into it instantly,” he explained.

“We can also provide smartphone applications to the equipment operators on the factory floor, giving them details of their equipment in real-time.

“Using an infrastructure monitoring tool in this way becomes an amazing proposition, and that’s even before you start to move to incorporating other business operations such as product distribution, the underlying IT infrastructure, or customer-facing websites.”

Avoiding alert overload

One of the benefits of a monitoring tool is its ability to provide alerts when certain conditions are met.

However, for companies who implement these systems and are not used to obtaining real-time information, there can be the tendency to generate too many alerts.

Over time, this causes notification overload, and leads to legitimate alerts being inadvertently ignored, according to Timms.

“It’s a bit like the story of the boy who cried wolf. So many alerting systems out there give false positives and too many alerts, and that causes people to stop listening to them, and those alerts become background noise,” he explained.

“We try to avoid over-notification with PRTG. One of the ways we address it is by incorporating alert escalations, such that if an alert for a critical system hasn’t been acknowledged, the application can send SMSes to people rather than emails or in-system alerts.

“This allows us to incorporate a chain of command in our notifications, going as far as required to ensure major issues are addressed.”

How close to the edge should you monitor?

Different technology providers in the industrial sector tout solutions that extend to various degrees out to the ‘edge’ of the network.

Some companies advocate the use of aggregators that act as the go-between from edge sensors and nodes to the backend systems, while others market their solutions on their ability to reach all the way out to the edge devices directly, negating the requirement for an aggregator.

The level of complexity for either approach increases when you factor in the age of certain industrial devices, and the potential lack of modern interfaces with which systems can connect to them.

Timms believes that there is no right or wrong method, and that each business’ needs should dictate the architecture of the connectivity and device management solution implemented.

“It’s dependent on the situation, and is actually parallel with the challenges facing IT managers today as their network infrastructure varies in age and functionality,” he explained.

“The key thing here is unifying the data from these different systems, with their different ages and connections, and putting them into a singular place that provides companies with the most value from their investments.

“Once that occurs, you can layer up the monitoring into an industrial or a business process, providing stakeholders with something that makes sense and has all of the components of the chain layered together and easily shown.”

To see how PRTG is helping Lanes Health reduce manufacturing costs, click here.