"Companies whose investment processes demand quantification of market sizes and financial returns before they can enter a market get paralyzed or make serious mistakes when faced with disruptive technologies" Clayton M Christensen - The Innovator's Dilemma. The excerpt above sums up what I believe may be happening in the system integration space with regards Industrial IoT (IIoT) implementation and will be the subject that I seek to address in this post.
There are a lot of system integrators who are IIoT savvy,but most are filled with skepticism and they still see it as a hype. So they eagerly wait on the sidelines for the wave to pass or to adopt the technology next year or the year after when the hype has died down. Another reason could be that they do not yet fully comprehend the opportunities afforded by IIoT. Whatever reason they may have for dragging their feet, the reality is that those who fail to act quickly will be forced to share the plant floor with new competition.
But here is the kicker, there is a new breed of integrators crossing over from the commercial sector. The ones that specialise in smart devices. They are willing and ready to move into manufacturing and industry in general. However, automation systems integrators are well positioned to fill the gap now more than ever, because in most businesses the acquisitions of IoT solutions has shifted from being handled by the IT department to operations. And due to an existing relationship between operations and system integrators they happen to speak the same language and it will therefore be easy for systems integrators to liaise with IIoT vendors and quickly step in to fill the void. Consequently, with investment in the knowledge of embedded systems, wireless applications, front-end and back-end solutions they can provide an entire chain on IIoT and in turn offer efficient systems to the user. Creating a win win situation.
Want to know the best part? Nowadays, almost all automation devices are being shipped IP and cloud ready. The challenge though, as i have personally experienced, is that IIoT vendors are still emphasising on locking in market share. Making it difficult to aggregate all the information from different sensors and devices onto a single platform as opposed to using separate cloud components for each device or sensor. But then again this also presents itself as an opportunity for the IIoT savvy system integrator to act as a differentiator by providing solutions that make it easy to move data between systems, unlocking all the value for their customers.
The idea is simple. The data that is already being used within automation systems for operation happens to contain a wealth of useful information for running the business more effectively in areas such as energy consumption, asset utilisation, supply chain management and predictive maintenance to name a few. Its not just connecting to the PLC and exchanging data, its something more. Its about the system integrators getting involved as the needed experts on big data, connectivity and cloud computing e.t.c. Because no one, not even the vendors have as much knowledge as system integrators on the businesses these IIoT systems are being sold to.
In conclusion, Its only a matter of time before non-automation companies come down into the manufacturing space and I envisage it getting a little bit crowded. What action can be taken? System integrators need to start building their skills in applying these technologies and incorporating fresh ideas.