Consumer grade mobile devices are ubiquitous. As the millennial generation’s seat at the corporate table grows, it will continue to influence the way we all live, play, and most interestingly, work.
Even in industrial settings, we now view all workers as mobile and when we use technology to cut the tethers to machines, production lines, and plants, we will demand the same levels of power, functionality, and ease of use that is already in our pockets.
LNS Research believes that the only way industrial automation providers are going to be able to deliver software that keeps up with these consumer driven expectations is to take a mobile-first approach to user interaction development, which begs the question: How can you tell if your automation vendor is serious about mobile?
Although the rise of mobility and IT-OT convergence are trends that are recognized and even marketed by many automation vendors, recognition and marketing alone don’t mean your automation vendor is taking mobile seriously.
IT-OT convergence is a trend that has been ongoing over the past 45 years and has three main facets, each with accelerating levels of adoption and maturity.
In the beginning it was all about moving away from proprietary systems to Windows and Linux-based operating systems. The next facet of the trend was focused on the network and moving from proprietary to standards-based protocols. In this newest facet, IT-OT convergence is all about the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) Platform and enabling smart connect assets, operations, and enterprises. This newest manifestation of IT-OT convergence is squarely where mobility fits.
Given this new paradigm, there are three types of major solution providers delivering value as part of the IT-OT convergence story and new IIoT platform: IT, OT, and service providers. Almost universally, all three of these vendor types agree no single vendor can deliver the full set of needed capabilities, and for the foreseeable future it will be delivered through an ecosystem approach.
This of course does not mean that all three agree on how the pie should be split and which delivers the most value. As automation vendors push to offer a larger and larger share of the IIoT value proposition, the ability to deliver software solutions that connect devices, data, business process, and people from sensors to the customers will be paramount.
In this environment, mobility and the user focused principles behind mobile developments is not a nice-to-have or an add-on feature, but a must-have and foundational piece of the software architecture and development.
With all of that said, here are a three ways you can cut through the marketing hype to tell if your automation vendor is taking mobility (and the IIoT) seriously:
- Creation of a software group or division. For decades automation vendors have been acquiring software companies and developing home grown software products. Unfortunately, the skill sets and mentality needed for building and growing a successful software business are very different than those needed for building and growing a successful hardware business. These differences are even more stark and impactful when one considers the likely move toward more and more Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings in the future. Those automation vendors with a leadership team that believes in the value of software and has brought all (or the majority) of software products and businesses into a common operating structure are much better positioned to understand the needs of customers, deliver a suite of software solutions that have a common look and feel to enable broad adoption, effectively deploy development resources, and build a software business model that is free from the pressures of using software to try and drive more services and/or hardware sales.
- Mobile-first and value focused development. Most industrial software providers, both IT and OT vendors alike, have matured while using a paradigm of developing software for the desktop or plant terminal first. Generally this has led many vendors to offer a user interface that is perceived as dated, crowded, creating information overload, and orchestrating process in a way that is system rather than user oriented. Automation vendors that move to a mobile-first development paradigm are doing much more than just creating native device apps or browser enabled software with HTML5. These vendors will be able to offer a consistent user experience across all levels of the enterprise that will enhance collaboration and enables users to easily control both what and how information is presented.
- Willingness to embrace digital disruption. Virtually every automation vendor today has one or several sacred cows that are a combination of hardware and software offerings. These products, like HMI and SCADA among others, are mature, highly profitable, and ripe for disruption from mobile and IIoT enabled offerings. Automation vendors that are taking mobile seriously are not scared to disrupt themselves and are actively testing how mobility and the IIoT can augment, extend, simplify, and enhance traditional offerings. Automation vendors that are keeping these products on the same incremental roadmaps that they have been on for the past five years or more are not putting their money where their mouth is and are much more likely to be disrupted by others.
As automation providers move to be a trusted partner for delivering IIoT solutions that span the value chain, it is important for analysts and users to hold them accountable to the marketing hype. Mobility will be a critical component of the overall value proposition and a great place to start the discussion.