Centric connect.engage.succeed

New industrial revolution calls for network-centric approach

Geschreven door Ben van Lier - 01 mei 2014

Ben van Lier
During the opening of the Hannover Messe trade fair on 6 April, Dutch Prime Minister Rutte suggested in his speech that the German evolution to Industries 4.0 also meant a revolution for Dutch industry: “A revolution in which the classic industrial production and sales operations are becoming increasingly intertwined with delivering full-service and network thinking in the entire production process. Across borders. Product and price continue to be important, but are increasingly less all-determining for business success.[1]” With this statement Rutte made it clear that both Dutch industry and the Dutch ICT sector need to prepare for large-scale change in our industrial production which is based on new technological developments and on network-associated objects.

Network-centric approach

Thinking and working in networks (a network-centric approach) makes up one of the three important and fundamental components of the report [2] Smart Industry – Dutch industry fit for the future. Among other things it suggests that: “in the coming decade a network-centric approach to production will replace linear production processes with intelligent and flexible network approaches.” Two other important pillars of this development named in the report are the digitisation of information and communication within production and service processes, and the application and use of new production technologies. This last named pillar focuses specifically on developments such as robotics, new materials etc. Through the digitisation of information and communication within new globally-organised production processes, these will change in nature and form. The report believes that digitising these processes offers new opportunities: “to enable communication between all partners in the value chain, but digitisation of, for example, product quality, user characteristics and production parameters based on sensory systems will also be crucial to new innovations in the production process, products and services.” (2014:17).

New connections

An approach to producing and organising components, machines, products and factories linked in networks, and the associated organisational forms, demands a fundamentally different way of thinking about organising and (re)structuring organisations. The German sociologist Baecker [3] (2001) believes that existing ways of considering organising and (re)structuring organisations, and the way in which they are led or managed, must change radically to enable organisations to function in such globally-operational networks. This way of thinking must change from a hierarchical and functionally-oriented approach, to a horizontal approach that is oriented towards connections. This new approach must be aimed primarily at developing and maintaining relationships between the inner world of the producing organisation and the external environment of these organisations. New types of control and management of these new organisations also need to be developed and implemented. Not only can such new forms no longer be focused on the direct control over the execution or checking of available information, but they must in fact be aimed at the self-steering and self-organisation of small and autonomous organisational components within the network. Those components must be able to enter independently into connections with other components both inside and outside the producing system, thus being able to exchange and share information continuously.

Enterprise interoperability

Connections within intelligent factories as a system, and the connections of this producing system with its environment, come about on the basis of available possibilities for being able to exchange and share information between combinations of people and machines, independently of time or place. In the foreword of the Enterprise Interoperability conference bundle [4] it is suggested that this information must then be able to be understood by the recipient in the right way: “processes that receive, process and send information need to do this in a way that realises the interoperation goals; and services need to properly represent such interoperation goals to customers as well as to remote processes.” However, an approach like this still relies too strongly on the communication theory formulated by Shannon in 1948 [5]. That is because an essential starting point for this theory is made up of a fundamental choice established by Shannon, namely: “Frequently the messages have meaning, that is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual entities. These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem.” However, it is precisely this semantic, meaning and/or context from which the message arises, and the semantic and context within which the received message is processed, which is of essential importance in the development of a network-centric approach to producing and maintaining intelligent products and services, as I stated earlier. [6]

New relationships between man and machine

Conceiving, producing and maintaining products in networks might appear to be an independent development in itself. However, the evolution to Industries 4.0 or Smart Industries has its equivalents in a previous existence, in the form of concepts like the Internet of Things, Network Centric Warfare, Mobile Healthcare, High Frequency Trading or Smart Cities. Central points of departure in these concepts consist of a similar triple unity, namely the application of new technology, connecting people and machines in networks, and using available possibilities for exchanging and sharing information between people mutually, machines mutually and between people and machines. This generic evolution requires a scientific and social discussion on the new relationship between man and machine. No longer do people only share their networks with other people, but people share their positions in these networks with the increasingly more autonomous machines present in them. Braidotti [7] (2013) believes this change in man’s position towards new relationships within networks provides the motivation for a movement of anthropocentrism (in which man is central) towards a form of post-anthropocentrism. To enable this change in perspective, Braidotti believes that it is necessary for man to implement two changes simultaneously, namely: “shifting away from the hierarchical relations that had privileged man, requires a form of estrangement and a radical repositioning on the part of the subject.” (2013:88). Living, thinking, working, producing and creating in networks thus makes a fundamental change necessary to the perspective with which we currently organise, produce or regard ourselves as people within the networks which have arisen almost self-evidently around us.

Ben van Lier works at Centric as an account director and, in that function, is involved in research and analysis of developments in the areas of overlap between organisation and technology within the various market segments.

[1] Prime Minister Rutte’s speech (in Dutch) http://www.rijksoverheid.nl/documenten-en-publicaties/toespraken/2014/04/06/toespraak-van-minister-president-rutte-bij-de-opening-van-de-hannover-messe-2014.html
[2] Smart Industry – Dutch industry fit for the future. www.smartindustry.nl
[3] Baecker, D. (2001) Managing corporations in Networks. Thesis Eleven, vol. 66, August 2001, pp. 80-98
[4] IWEI (2013) Proceedings. Enterprise interoperability 5th International IFIP Working Conference IWEI 2013, Enschede, the Netherlands, March 2013. Preface
[5] Shannon C.E. (1948) A mathematical theory of communication. The Bell Systems Technical Journal. Vol. 27, July, October 1948 pp. 379-423
[6] Lier v. B. (2013) Can machines communicate – the internet of things and interoperability of information. Engineering Management Research, vol. 2 issue 1 pp 55-66
[7] Braidotti R. (2013) The Posthuman. Polity Press, Cambridge, UK. ISBN 9780745641577

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