Australia’s manufacturing sector is undergoing a period of seismic change as new, disruptive technologies and economic realities take hold and new markets emerge. Despite recent doom and gloom over closures, the industry is poised for a resurgence if it can quickly embrace innovation, diversification and market changes. It’s no wonder Industry 4.0 has moved to the centre of the conversation. By Keith Buckley, Managing Director for Riverbed A/NZ.

More than just a flashy catch-phrase, Industry 4.0 is a merging of trends and technologies that promise to reshape the way things are made. Its goal: make manufacturing faster, more efficient and more customer-centric and detect new business opportunities and models. The biggest challenge to embracing it: knowing where to start.

According to a recent study by Deloitte, while Australian executives are optimistic about the potential of Industry 4.0, few (2%, compared to 14% globally) are confident they’re ready to lead its implementation. So, where’s a manufacturer to begin? Just as the strength of a building lies in its foundation, so too does the successful implementation of digital technologies rely on its underlying IT infrastructure. If you skimp on either, and something fails, it’s not an easy fix.

A recent Riverbed survey of Australian IT decision-makers on the future of IT revealed that nearly all (99%) believe legacy network infrastructure will have difficulty keeping pace with changing demands of the cloud – this includes the cornerstones of Industry 4.0: the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), machine learning and artificial intelligence. In order for manufacturers to establish a firm foundation for Industry 4.0, it’s clear that a fundamental rethink of the networking – and of the tools used to monitor, measure and manage it all – is needed.

Step 1: Rethink old-school approaches to networking

Though often overlooked, the network is an absolutely essential link in an organisation’s ability to successfully implement digital technologies. However, traditional networking technology was designed long before the cloud was formed. While the world at either end of the pipes has changed dramatically, networks haven’t changed much since the 1990s.

As organisations embrace disruptive technologies and hybrid networks, add more users, applications and devices, and become increasingly mobile – legacy approaches to managing it all have remained much the same: hardware-centric, manpower-intensive, rigid and error-prone. As a result, these networks have the potential to be a major roadblock for Australian manufacturers in their drive towards transformation.

Enter the future of networking: SD-WAN, or software-defined wide area networking, a set of capabilities that enables the network to be more flexible and efficient – especially as businesses look to connect offices, workers and “things” to the cloud and for hybrid networks. SD-WAN supersedes the managing of individual network devices using arcane command line interface commands and scripts, automating some of the most complex network tasks. In addition to driving cost-savings and operational efficiency, it helps make organisations more agile, transforming the way they’re able to innovate.

Step 2: Modernise the edge

Branch offices and manufacturing sites are where business gets done, but they’ve become an expensive roadblock to digital transformation due to limited IT expertise, islands of aging infrastructure, inefficient operations, unreliable application performance, and massive volumes of unprotected data.

The rise of IIoT and Industry 4.0 will only make these challenges become more pronounced. The explosion of data coming out of a new, highly-connected environment will overtax legacy IT operations and expose the business to increased risk. All of this is creating a new focus for IT: “the edge”.

A modern edge infrastructure replaces costly islands of IT in each location with a single platform that combines cloud networking technologies like SD-WAN, storage caching and high-performance computing, collapsing data into the data centre or cloud where it is 100% secure. Application users still benefit from superior, local-like experiences at the edge, and all IT operations are managed from a central location to bring new levels of agility, performance, efficiency, and security to the business.

Step 3: Get an end-to-end view of performance

In the era of Industry 4.0, complexity threatens to reign. With apps, devices, and data coming from everywhere, the number of blind spots in the application delivery chain will increase exponentially. One glitch in the performance of a business-critical supply chain app can cause a ripple through product delivery that grows into a wave crashing on the bottom line.

Now more than ever before, the performance of applications and the networks that deliver them are vital to technology adoption and value realisation. And the key to delivering great app performance is understanding what is happening. This requires visibility into everything that impacts app performance – code, network, user experience – to detect and fix issues instantly. Visibility will help ensure it all runs as expected – that manufacturers can be agile and operate efficiently – and ultimately succeed in a highly competitive and rapidly changing marketplace.

Taking the revolution in stride

All revolutions are disruptive, and Industry 4.0 is no exception. It poses risks, but it also offers tremendous opportunity: for new products and services, better ways to serve customers, new kinds of jobs, and completely new business models. Success in the digital era will require manufacturers to take this revolution in stride, embrace change and commit to a start. Focus on the foundation and get to building.