Challenges to Manufacturing 4.0: Turning Legacy Software into a Digital Transformation Asset

With the right knowledge and partnerships, your existing software can be a catalyst for manufacturing digital transformation.

In an industry still dealing with persistent supply chain issues stemming from Covid, existing technology can and should be a guiding strength of manufacturing digital transformation. But all too often, technical issues and software vendor policies make it difficult for companies to make the most of their current software.

Nearly all manufacturers say they’ve encountered “at least one issue with data,” according to Of those same stakeholders, 97% report “losses in productivity and collaboration, which can impact their ability to innovate and delay responding to customers’ needs.”

Challenge 1: Maintaining Effective Cybersecurity (and a Stronger Supply Chain)

Cybersecurity remains a significant source of concern in manufacturing. Analysts have found manufacturing counts for 23% of all global cyberattacks. Proposed U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) regulations, which would require “covered entities” (including manufacturers) to “report cybersecurity incidents within 72 hours” of discovery, reflect just how serious the problem has become.

Notably vulnerable to supply chain disruptions, manufacturers must also take great care to defend against potential issues like remote intrusion and privileged code execution in the production and distribution sides of their operations. Failure to account for small details that are functionally outside the primary business’s control can cause issues that are almost impossible to fix in real time and cost manufactures and their partners millions.

With the potential cybersecurity and supply chain risks, the manufacturing industry’s reliance on legacy software is often portrayed as a negative. But digital transformation carries its own risks, many of which are difficult for individual businesses to control and account for.

Every new connection (or connected account) a company adds to its IT estate represents another potential intrusion. When they move away from on-premises operation and into the cloud, organizations often lose visibility into specific systems by assuming they have offloaded the risk to the cloud vendor, which is not necessarily true.

For manufacturers struggling with digital transformation without wanting to incur unnecessary risk, practices like software hardening can be a valuable approach. Securing legacy software often includes closing off connections and reducing vulnerabilities that lead to disruptive issues in the supply chain and within the primary company’s IT portfolio.

Product hardening can protect against certain flaws in vendor systems, reducing the incidence of leapfrogging attacks, which impact members of the supply chain and the primary manufacturer. Leapfrogging has been a factor in many high-profile supply chain incidents, including the $250 million Applied Materials attack.

Challenge 2: End-of-Support Software Slowing Transformation and Industry 4.0

Automation is frequently the number-one goal of digital transformation planning in manufacturing organizations. In their analysis, says that 37% of manufacturers have “failed to highly or fully automate any phase of their manufacturing process,” compared to 25% the site considers leaders in automation and digital transformation.

However, modernizing doesn’t mean doing away with solid, working software. To the contrary, automated manufacturing companies still place a lot of confidence and value in their legacy systems, software and otherwise. Widespread technology trends like the industrial internet of things (IIOT) largely exist to bring advanced data collection capabilities to existing systems, and software used in production is known to run essentially untouched for a decade or more without impacting productivity or slowing innovation.

Ultimately, highly automated leaders in the field still understand and respect the capabilities of their software, and vendor policies and practices attached to a given software product are often more disruptive than the product itself. End-of-support software announcements can throw highly efficient processes into disarray as manufacturing technology teams devise ways to move perfectly good, working software to new versions for little functional benefit beyond maintaining support.

Challenge 3: Diminishing Vendor Support Slowing Operational Efficiency

Success and failure are defined by adherence to precise processes, and adding new technology to the mix can create significant risk of disruption. Seamless interoperability is a must and an ongoing source of pressure for the technical and procurement stakeholders tasked with bringing new technologies into play.

Large software vendors don’t make it easy to achieve the level of insight and care that manufacturers require. Support levels can diminish the further a version gets from its release date. In general, vendors like IBM only offer Extended Support in two-, three-, or, occasionally, five-year intervals, and typical agreements can dictate the vendor is only responsible for finding and fixing critical defects in the first year. Following that, customers are stuck with only the fixes the vendor releases.

Lack of interoperability support can cause issues that make processes less certain, less effective, and less profitable. When the vendor doesn’t offer the right kind of support, acquiring new software and signing new enterprise license agreements might seem like the only viable option.

Challenge 4: A Troubling IT Skills Gap

Manufacturers will face over two million unfilled jobs by 2030, and the staffing problems won’t stop on the floor or at the warehouse. An IT skills gap also continues to make acquiring and retaining technical staff a challenge, and like most other industries, manufacturing IT has struggled to deal with the deficit.

A shortage so large is bound to hinder manufacturers as they implement new technologies, but it also makes managing and optimizing current on-premises software even more difficult.

Manufacturing is far from a plug-and-play industry in terms of the technologies and processes it deploys. Contextual understanding, built only through experience in the business’s specific processes, is essential for technical personnel whether the business is undergoing significant change or only making a few minor improvements. Finding someone skilled in the exact platforms a business uses can be all but impossible in the current hiring climate.

A Blueprint for Manufacturing Digital Transformation Success

In many cases, the on-premises software manufacturers use to uphold production and business processes can be managed by a partner. For highly automated subspecialties like auto manufacturing and food manufacturing, using third-party software maintenance (TPSM) can create millions in upfront savings versus vendor support renewal costs and enable access to global support experts that get things running again quickly when problems arise, even if the software itself is no longer supported by the vendor.

Securing older on-premises products is paramount for most of manufacturing’s IT stakeholders. With responsive software hardening practices and the ability to make security-focused configuration changes and code-level alterations to open-source components of major business software where needed, a TPSM provider can further extend the life of active software by reducing the associated risk.

TPSM providers can perform interoperability validation tasks that ensure manufacturers get the most out of planned new purchases – including new implementations and enhancements to existing software – and give you the tools to protect against potential issues through predictive analysis that pinpoints potential spots of friction. Occasional software issues are always a concern, but knowing when and where to expect them is always better than coming across a total unknown that slows or stops production until it’s resolved.

A TPSM provider like Origina offers access to a global team of independent IBM experts, all with decades of experience with the products manufacturers rely on. Some even wrote the code they now support.

Instead of struggling through a technology and industry skills gap, companies can keep SLA-backed support and maintenance on every piece of infrastructure they need to cover, even when the primary vendor is no longer willing or able to help.

Despite the many blockers thrown the industry’s path, manufacturers leaning on their current on-prem software can still innovate and optimize their systems to achieve successful digital transformation.

First step to getting there? Find a strategic partner who can take your current software to the next level.

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