TechHub: Digital Industrial Transformations, Cyber Security Strategy & More

Digital Transformations: Linear and Exponential

This week Forbes takes a look at two distinct types of digital disruption.

Two very different pictures are emerging in transformation stories. Forbes defines linear transformation as transformation within the business that improves operations, whereas exponential transformation transforms the business itself— potentially changing the core business model of the organization.

Linear is like an upgrade— helping companies do what they do better with new technology. Exponential shifts the whole business model of the company— finding new ways to give customers value.

They are both important. So, which one are you?

At the end of the article, Forbes concludes that linear isn’t enough because investors don’t reward it.

“The pace of technological innovation is increasing at a speed that necessitates exponential transformation,” according to Forbes.

One piece of advice from Forbes is to handle linear and exponential change separately. Keeping linear along the lines of project management and exponential in its own silo, away from political or turf wars.

The first step in both types of change is to get started.

Gray Matter’s Director of Professional Services John Benitz has led teams through the Brilliant Manufacturing process, and now he can help you.

Gray Matter is offering an exclusive webinar, where we’re demystifying the beginning of the journey for you.

Highlights from the webinar will include:

  • How to create a transformation vision
  • The critical first three data questions
  • Biggest mistakes companies make in the beginning
  • How the GE Transportation Brilliant Manufacturing project started
  • What phase two looks like

Join us for the first part in our webinar series, “Transform Your Operation: Vision before Action,” on April 6 at 2:30pm EST.

Register for the Webinar

Digital Day in Chicago: Start Your Digital Journey

On April 10, join Gray Matter and GE Digital to learn how the Industrial Internet of Things can unlock new possibilities for your company. Learn from companies like Johnson & Johnson about the road to digital, industrial transformation.

Vice President of Product Supply Strategy and Deployment Bart Alfons Talloen develops and deploys new and innovative processes at Johnson and Johnson.

He’ll be talking about systems and technologies to improve production supply during GE Digital Day. You’ll also learn what drives J&J to take action, their vision for Manufacturing of the Future and the challenges that need to be addressed to move forward.

The event will also highlight:

  • Learning the value of the digital industrial transformation
  • Connecting with industry thought leaders and peers
  • Discovering tools to accelerate your transformation journey
Learn More

GE Signs Plans for First Cyber Security Solution and Largest Gas Power Plant in Latin America

GE Power has signed a multiyear agreement for a new combined-cycle power plant in northeastern Brazil, which will meet 15 percent of the energy needs of northeastern Brazil, making it Latin America’s largest gas power plant.

The agreement will include operations, maintenance, repairs, digital solutions and the first order in Latin America for its OpShield cybersecurity solution.

Opshield is a security solution provided by WurldTech, a GE company, for industrial and process control environments. It is designed to help protect critical infrastructure and controls networks, and has the ability to inspect operational technology packets and data flows. This allows for a deep protocol inspection and more control for operators.

Wurldtech provides products, such as OpShield, and services that help customers design, test, certify, and secure their internet-connected devices, ICS and other critical controls, as well as their site operations.  Fortune 500 customers rely on Wurldtech to protect their brand reputation in oil & gas, transportation, utilities, healthcare and many other industries.

digital transformations

3 Destructive Myths that Kill SCADA Upgrades

A system comprised of software and hardware working in unison is an amazing thing. If all goes well, you can keep your system running for a pretty long time.

Hardy, well-written software can chug along for months – even years – without failure. Industrial hardware is built to last, so it’s no surprise that companies are getting plenty of mileage out of today’s high-end PCs.

And sure, you can buy out-of-date components online. You can even find old drivers, patches, or workarounds.

But what if you’re in charge of a municipality’s computer system that ensures clean, consistent water is delivered to hundreds of thousands of homes? Or what if you’re in charge at a major food and beverage manufacturer?

Do you want your significant automation investment to run on hardware the original manufacturer put on the end-of-life list three years ago? Do you want the profitability of your operations to hinge on software that should’ve been upgraded seven versions ago?

While there are plenty of reasons why systems go days, weeks, or even years without being upgraded, much of the time these excuses are shortsighted.

Maybe it’s that there’s no room in the budget, the task seems too complicated, or there simply isn’t enough time to perform the actual upgrade.

But let’s back up.

SCADA Systems – The Backbone of Our Industry

SCADA systems, or supervisory control and data acquisition systems really are the backbone of modern industry.  They serve as the core of operations for thousands of production facilities, oil and gas companies, utilities and manufacturing plants.profServices

For those of us who are tasked with working with the SCADA, it’s our job to know how and when it’s time to upgrade our systems in order to keep them stable, effective, and most importantly, profitable.

But to be technical, what we’re really doing is avoiding all the challenges associated with obsolescence.

Remember when Microsoft ended support on Windows XP, the widely popular operating system? It’s estimated that even after April 8, 2014, the official date Microsoft would end support for XP, 30% of Internet-connected PCs were still running the obsolete operating system.

And even the U.S. Navy signed a contract with Microsoft to keep support going on the already discontinued operating system to the tune of $9 million a year.

Why would the Navy want to pay to use this obsolete system? Top officials said that ending the support contract would leave critical control and command systems vulnerable to attack.

Still, it’s obvious that no company, big or small, is immune from struggling with performing system upgrades.

When we talk about performing a system upgrade in the industrial space, we’re not referring to simply applying patches or installing service packs. For the purpose of this conversation, upgrades refer to:

  • Moving to newer versions of software, more importantly SCADA software, and away from older and potentially obsolete versions
  • Moving to newer versions of a driver or drivers depending on what your communication protocols are
  • Moving to newer operating systems and newer computer hardware
  • Some combination of the above

Planning and deploying an upgrade takes a little time and effort, and at times, requires a plan of attack. Especially when dealing with the hesitations that often surround an upgrade project.

Three common reasons why organizations fail to perform an upgrade are:

  • The systems upgrade is not in the budget
  • If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix it
  • Current personnel are unsure how to go about the upgrade

A SCADA Upgrade Project Isn’t in the Budget – This Year or the Next

It’s true, most departments work within a budget that is set well in advance of the period in which they’re currently working. So if the project rears its head in Q2, it’s arguable that the upgrade just isn’t in the cards at the moment.SCADA-Upgrade

And as for the resources needed to complete the project – both monetary and human – it’s reasonable that they have been allocated already.

This is an understandable dilemma. Organizations sometimes have limited resources. There is and will always be the threat of that.

The problem is when organizations choose to push off critical system upgrades by pointing to budget constraints year after year. Placing the blame on lack of resources only pushed back a necessary project and lets the system – which was already identified as nearing or at obsolescence – age further.

But consider this. In the period where a SCADA system isn’t being upgraded, yearly budgets will include line items for spare parts, maintenance work, services, training, capital investments, etc. All of those things are important, for sure, but the SCADA is the backbone of your entire network. Putting off maintenance to your bedrock system puts the rest of the network at risk.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

You’ve probably heard this adage before. It certainly holds a lot of truth in applicable situations.

But the phrase really applies where we’re making changes and the effort and cost are going to far exceed whatever relative utility we’re going to gain from making those changes.SCADA-Upgrades

In terms of your SCADA, however, that argument simply doesn’t apply here. A relatively new version of a SCADA system is probably going to include some improved functions and features, but we’re not performing a system upgrade simply for the sake of new features.

Take automobile maintenance. Buying new tires for your car can provide benefits like improved mileage or just a safer vehicle. If you maintain the air pressure, watch the tread, you should have little chance for experiencing an issue from that part of the car.

Ignore the air in your tires, and you could end up paying more and more in gas, a little at a time.

Upkeeping and caring for your car is not much unlike performing necessary upgrades for your SCADA system. After all, it’s those emergency roadside repairs that end up being the most inconvenient.

A Lack of Experience in How the System Came to Be Leads to Uncertainty

This is a pretty common situation. No matter the industry, many workers have shifting roles and many responsibilities. Sometimes we get thrown into situations where we may or may not be familiar with what’s going on.

And it’s in our nature to approach a new project such as an upgrade with some anxiety. As human beings, we don’t want to feel like we’re going out on a limb without having all the information needed.

This is especially true in the automation sector. It’s not too uncommon to run into systems where the software or hardware was installed and perhaps still maintained by outside solution consultants or integrators.

When it is time to upgrade the system, those who use it all the time probably do have a grasp on how things work together. But it’s a sure bet that they don’t have the total picture because they didn’t play a role in the install. Of course, it’s obvious how this situation could cause some major hesitation in the project’s timeline.

Whatever the hesitation around upgrading a legacy SCADA system, the leading factor in helping the organization to understand the importance of the project is to understand the true risk of doing nothing.

If any of these common situations sound familiar to you, find out how you and your organization can learn to overcome them in the whitepaper, “Three Destructive Myths that Kill SCADA Upgrades,” available for download.

Download Here


Wait a Minute – How Many People Are Still Using XP?

I’m going to admit it. I’m probably the only one ever to do it, but here goes.

I’ve always been a little freaked out by the XP-end-of-support page on Microsoft’s website.

First, there’s the dramatic headline – Windows XP support has ended – looming over the rest of the page’s copy in large black 44 pixel font. The sentence itself is lost amid an expansive, desolate pale-blue background.

It’s…unsettling.  Support is over, done, complete.  There’s no support.

And it doesn’t get better.

Just below the major header is a sentence you can’t possibly ever say to yourself without getting the smallest tinge of sadness:

Why is this happening?

I hope I’m not going too far when I say that the above phrase doesn’t necessarily lend itself to copy used for “software usage.”

It just sounds better suited for, well, moments on considerable frustration. Perhaps in what could be referred to as a “trying time.”

Try this for an exercise: Google “Why is this happening?”. There’s a lot there and not a lot of it is…nice.

[su_list icon=”icon: chevron-circle-right” icon_color=”#990000″]Related Reading


All dramatic embellishment aside, the page effectively states what has been known since XP’s creator made it official in April 2014 – Microsoft no longer supports the 13-year-old operating system.

No more security patches and updates. What Microsoft had been warning for quite some time had come true.

In no uncertain terms, Microsoft gives users two options:

  1. Keep using Windows XP – unprotected
  2. Upgrade

So if you don’t upgrade, at the very least, there’s the security risk — one that some say is being exploited now.  Toby Wolpe, a writer for ZDNet, says in an article that Windows XP is at the center of recent cyber security attacks, “predominantly targeting US banks.”

The only thing more unsettling than the risk is the amount of people that haven’t heeded Microsoft’s warning. Sure, some have, but certainly not all.

About 24% of the World’s PCs are Still Running Windows XP

According to NetMarketShare, 23.87% of all PCs are still running Windows XP.

In other words, nearly a quarter of the computers in the world are still running an operating system that Microsoft slapped end-of-lifed over six months ago.

That’s not all. The reason we know that 23.87% of computers are still running XP is because they are connected to the internet.

digital-map-1442178-mWhat about the computers we don’t know about? What about the PCs sitting behind government firewalls?  An estimated 10% of the several million of government PCs were still running XP by the cut-off date.

There’s a bigger population of systems to factor into the equation as well – non-PCs and embedded systems, which number in the billions.

So what exactly constitutes as a non-PC that runs Windows XP?

Well, it’s something you use every day and as it turns out, like, say, an automated teller machine.  And it’s probably running an outdated version of XP.

95% of All ATMs in the US Still Run XP

The next time you walk up to an automated tell machine think about this: You’re probably giving your bank card and PIN number to a machine that is running an operating system deemed “unprotected” by its very distributor.

According to the latest research, nearly all (that’s 95%) ATMs run XP.

broken-cash-point-16312-mThis is no secret.

Hackers have recently started injecting malware into ATMs to drain the machine’s cash – all without a card or a PIN number.

On Oct. 7, 2014, Kaspersky Labs’ Global Research & Analysis Team released news of a cyber-criminal attack involving malware “that allowed attackers to empty the ATM cash cassettes via direct manipulation.”

There have so far been four reports of hacked ATMs in the US. According to Kaspersky Labs, “the malware affects ATMs from a major ATM manufacturer running Microsoft Windows 32-bit.”

75% of Water Utilities Still Use XP

The simple idea that three-fourths of the nation’s water and wastewater utilities are running an unsupported, over-10-year-old operating system, speaks for itself.

So, let’s not belabor the point. Instead, let’s ask, what’s going on here? What’s keeping water facilities from making the switch?

utility-covers-1394418-mLast May, Matt Wells, general manager of automation software at GE Intelligent Platforms, told that said many utilities have a “if it’s ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to networks.

The machines that run huge utility plants are expensive and have lifespans of 30 years or more, Wells said. New applications can be added without touching the underlying operating system.

Additionally, plant managers worry about taking a system offline for upgrades. The switchover, Wells said, could drive up costs.

But then there’s the security issue. Specifically, the matter that parts of the critical infrastructure are using a system that, left unprotected, is five times more vulnerable to security risks and viruses.

This comes in a time when security firm Kaspersky Lab calls targeted attacks on computer industrial control systems (ICS) the biggest threat to critical national infrastructure.

There’s still a significant amount of businesses, plants, and utilities, running XP. Are you running XP? Have a plan for moving on? Not sure what to do next?

Get in touch with us and let us know if we can help.

9 Misconceptions Around an Upgrade from FIX32 to iFIX

In its time, Intellution’s FIX32 was a powerful automation solution that took full advantage of Windows 95 and Windows NT’s powerful capabilities.

At the time, FIX32 had more 32-bit installations than all other automation software vendors combined. But that time has passed and HMI/SCADA solutions have come a long way since then.

In its current iteration, iFIX 5.8, now a part of GE Intelligent Platform’s Proficy Suite©, offers support for the latest software standards, a robust SCADA engine, rich set of connectivity options, open architecture and highly scalable and distributed networking model.

iFIX is a superior proven real-time information management and SCADA solution, which is open, flexible and scalable.

The product is constantly evolving – version 6.0 is on the horizon. A recently developed iPad app, coupled with iFIX Webspace©, is allowing operators to easily and quickly harness the power of iFIX or CIMPLICITY on the iPad with minimal engineering effort.

Unfortunately, there are a many misconceptions surrounding the upgrade from FIX32 to iFIX. Horror stories of complicated installations abound. Fears of a complete systems re-architecture keep companies from moving forward.

The good news is, if properly pulled off, the move from FIX32 to iFIX can be relatively painless.

The purpose of this document is to dispel some of the myths around moving from FIX32 to iFIX so you can harness the power of this solution and move forward.

Misconception 1: I don’t need to do an upgrade – we have been running our plant without it for years.

If it isn’t broke, don’t FIX it, right? Wrong.

Trust us — your it department wants you to keep up with the latest Microsoft technology. iFIX delivers support for all the latest Microsoft operating systems including Windows 7!

There are many things that are enabled by moving to the new platforms such as easy to maintain historical data, centralized maintenance of configuration and pictures, thin clients, mobility (ipads), and web based clients.

Misconception 2: My current strategy — HMI With FIX32 — is adequate.

There are significant advantages in moving to iFIX.

There were over 300 “voice of the customer” recommendations incorporated into just the first version of iFIX. Since then it has undergone many majors releases all the way to version 5.8 and soon 6.0.

Here’s a few improvements to iFIX over the years:

  • Increased reliability
  • Improved trending
  • The iFIX workspace
  • Advanced failover capabilities
  • VisiconX interfacing to relational data
  • A vast IO driver library
  • A VBA based script environment
  • Integrated Windows security

Misconception 3 – An upgrade from FIX32 to iFIX will take too long to implement.

Simply not true.

As with any project, it depends on proper planning and a sound road map for attack. Our 20 years of experience with these kinds of projects tell us that having someone on the team that has been there and done doesn’t hurt either.

The biggest reason we have seen upgrades projects take a long time is the normal project problem of “scope creep.”

Fact: Most items that are done in an upgrade project that push the deadline back further and further are really new pieces of scope.

Misconception 4 – An upgrade is too risky to implement and hard to get started.

There are plenty of experts to help you in this and guide your journey. For example, we have over 15 experts just in our company who can do this task completely or be available as a project team member or coach.

As one of the leading products in the marketplace, there is an entire ecosystem around the world to support iFIX. With the modern environment that is extensible, it is easy for an automated tool to be used to aid the upgrade process as well.

Misconception 5: It will be too expensive and it’s like starting over. Should I just switch out to another brand of HMI?

GE has spent millions of dollars on upward compatibility so that you don’t have to.

The concept of the FIX desktop can even re-use all of your FIX32 graphics complete with script files if you wish. Or the conversion utility can help you migrate the old pictures completely to the native iFIX format.

There are also many wizards and productivity tools that we
can show you to help work within the new environment. Even
though you have driven your old ride for a lot of miles there is an attractive trade in policy that we can walk you through that is commercially viable. Your investment is protected today and tomorrow – 350,000 installations worldwide can attest to that.

Misconception 6: You will need a ton of training and the iFIX system is hard to learn and come up to speed on.

In our experience, if you understand how the FIX32 system works, you will be able to navigate your way around the iFIX with limited trouble.

The database builder concept is fairly similar and is still the backbone of the system. A concept of the “workspace” development and runtime replaces View and Draw.

We find that most engineers that maintained a FIX32 system can maintain an iFIX system. Instead of training, sometimes some assistance in doing the upgrade is prudent since it may be a one-time occurrence for your plant or facility.

However, if you still want to go the training route, we can certainly suggest a place to find the best classes available.

Still not convinced? Consider this: With iFIX 5.5, there is no need to manage multiple drivers in SCU anymore. Instead, you can use one IGS driver – a single interface, communicate with multiple vendor’s controllers (the IGS driver offers more than 100 protocols).

Misconception 7: Doesn’t GE own iFIX now and don’t they also own CIMPLICITY? My competitor sales person told me that GE was getting rid of one or both of them.

There are significant customer bases in both products.

There is also shared technology in IO drivers, encryption, historical archiving, web, advanced analytics, MES and mobility solutions. There is a robust product team, support team, and product roadmap for both iFIX and CIMPLICITY.

Misconception 8: The decisions I need to make about my systems are hard and complicated.

We are not going to sugar coat the situation, there are some good engineering trade offs to think about since there is so many more options with the new computing power and new software power. Here’s a question we get all the time:

“Should I replace my distributed architecture SCADA (which was more common earlier) and go with a redundant pair after the upgrade?”

In this case there are issues like duplicate tag names, picture directory locations, thin clients and the proper failover technique to choose. But this is all good news!

These are things that weren’t even possible when you installed the last system. You can stick with the current architecture and make no changes — no problem. But here’s the upside: the options for improvement are great as well.

Misconception 9: All HMI systems are about the same.

Not true. Some HMI systems deliver unique capability and iFIX does for sure. For example:

  • Mobility (iPad) support
  • True failover for redundancy systems and high uptime
  • Intelligent alarming
  • The ability to integrate workflow and electronic standard operating procedures.
  • In addition the unmatched ecosystem, the investment, and support power of GE make a commitment to iFIX a smart choice.

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