Automation IIoT

8 Stages Frame IIoT Success

EP Editorial Staff | December 1, 2021

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provides a structure that can lead to a positive digital-transformation outcome.

By Alex Erives, Motion 

Fifteen years before the PLC was invented, Abraham Maslow wrote A Theory of Human Motivation (1943). This began a concept in human developmental psychology now known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. His paper breaks down the stages of growth that human beings experience in fulfilling basic needs (for survival) and more psychological needs (belonging and self-esteem). At the pinnacle of his hierarchy, Maslow identified “self-actualization” (fulfilling one’s full potential) and, toward the end of his life, he added “self-transcendence” (fulfilling a human desire to impact the world around us).

The physiological and psychological needs of humans closely parallel the needs of industrial and manufacturing businesses. For an organization to determine the next step in its digital-transformation journey, it’s essential to understand where needs lie with respect to how they create value. Only after meeting its “physiological” needs will an organization be truly ready for widespread IIoT adoption. Of course, the digital-transformation journey begins with a single step: identifying where you are today.

Interestingly, there’s nothing necessarily “digital” about this hierarchy’s first few stages. The relevance of these stages, in general, is taken from decades of development in manufacturing (especially the lean process), business, asset management, reliability engineering, quality, and maintenance best practices. 

Following Maslow’s original implementation, an organization’s needs can be broken into two classes:

• Deficiencies
• Growth opportunities.

The needs are structured in a hierarchal fashion, such that the base needs should be met before an organization will have the ability (or desire or capacity) to work on and achieve the hierarchy’s next stage.

Deficiency needs

In this hierarchy, there are four deficiencies:

Business vision and value: It’s interesting to note industrial parallels to human needs. Manufacturing sites consume resources much like humans consume food for energy. For a site to operate successfully, it needs to deliver value to the various stakeholders. Articulating and understanding your organization’s value proposition is central to ISO 55000:2014, an international standard for asset management. With neither line of sight from the boardroom to the shop floor, nor a common understanding of the value a company creates, waste and deficiencies are sure to grow. Any digital-transformation initiative should be aligned with the organization’s vision.

Functions: As industrial manufacturers are asset-intensive organizations, it’s important to identify the functions these assets are supposed to perform. After all, an asset’s function will transform consumed resources into something that can generate value. Being able to identify these functions is an important element of reliability-centered maintenance (RCM). Like IIoT, RCM has a long and storied history, and it happens to share a part in an organization’s digital-transformation journey. Without satisfying this stage, IIoT could mistakenly be deployed to protect functions irrelevant to how an organization creates value.

Design: In this stage, an organization creates a design (or manages an existing design) to perform the functions described in the previous stage, generating the previously stated value. The design stage should be aligned with the lower stages. Additionally, poor design could be detrimental to grow into more advanced stages. Whether a planned design’s end user is a maintenance technician, operator, production supervisor, or a plant’s reliability engineer, the importance of their input cannot be overstated. It is rare that an IIoT device could fix deficiencies from this stage.

Installation & commissioning: This stage is last in the deficiency needs class, yet it’s often overlooked and sometimes taken for granted. Proper installation and commissioning are needed to ensure design intent is met. In an industrial setting, poor installation could mean a lack of attention to machinery alignment or inadequate torquing of flange joints. These kinds of errors can lead to failures before an asset’s value is realized. IIoT is sometimes useful in this stage, used to detect errors in installation and commissioning in the early stages (though it may be more cost-effective to address errors with improved training and procedures).

Organizations trapped in a constant cycle of equipment failures, production interruptions, and reactive maintenance may conclude IIoT and digital transformation is not for them. They may feel like their organization is still struggling with basic blocking and tackling and needing to walk before they run.

If this describes your organization, then getting the basics right is the first step in its digital-transformation journey. Only specific, targeted, and limited application of IIoT is recommended for organizations in these early stages.

Growth needs

As with deficiencies, there are four levels on the growth side of the hierarchy:

Planning & scheduling: All industrial equipment has an estimated-life limit, and most will likely fail long before that time ever comes. Proper planning and scheduling of repairs and replacements is necessary for each asset’s life cycle. Good planning can improve maintenance productivity by more than 50%. Although good planning and scheduling do not necessarily require it, proactive use of predictive maintenance and IIoT will help by feeding necessary and critical information to the maintenance work process, such as how and when an asset will fail. This is the first growth need, and gaps here probably stall more digital-transformation journeys than any other stage.

Reliability strategy: The next growth need is an effective reliability strategy. W. Edward Deming established the essence of this strategy when he said, “It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best.” Reliability-centered maintenance is a process of selecting appropriate strategies for a given organization’s needs (knowing what to do) and developing a strategy that supports meeting an asset’s functions while consuming the fewest resources. If an organization doesn’t identify the correct reliability strategy, it cannot reach the next stage of its digital-transformation journey. Many IIoT pilot projects begin with this stage in mind.

Wider application of IIoT and a more advanced digital transformation are very closely related to the upper stages of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: self-actualization and self-transcendence. To highlight their importance, we will label them as Maslow did.

Self-actualization (Internal digitalization): This next-to-last stage of the digital- transformation journey follows a digitalization of the entire organization and allows true line-of-sight operation. An asset and the wider organization can then reach their full potential, whether that’s measured in barrels per day or widgets per hour. When we think of IIoT being adopted across an organization, this is where we see it happen. This stage is where the hype may be, even though we may begin deploying IIoT technologies in specific applications in the earlier stages.

Self-transcendence (Digital transformation): Much like Maslow’s self-transcendence (a human need to fulfill something greater than oneself), the pinnacle of digital transformation extends beyond the organization. For asset-intensive organizations, this may extend to their supply chain or even to their customers. For suppliers, correctly deploying IIoT in this space could mean moving from selling a product or a service to sharing a digitalization vision across multiple organizations. A great example of this is an IIoT-enabled electric motor automatically triggering a maintenance work order (internal) and simultaneously notifying the storeroom and supply chain of the need for specific parts (external).

Organizations developing IIoT pilot programs or looking to expand their application should understand their growth needs, ensuring the greater organization is ready for the changes that come with digital transformation. As the digital-transformation journey will affect the entire organization (as well as some of its partner organizations), it’s important to have a solutions partner with broad experience in those areas—resulting in the smoothest evolution. EP

Alex Erives, Industry 4.0 Application Specialist at Motion, headquartered in Birmingham, AL (, has broad experience in reliability, engineering statistics, vibration analysis, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and many other areas that deliver value to customers. For more information or to learn about P2MRO Industry 4.0 technology, visit 


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