Software solution selection is often a difficult, contentious process for industrial companies, especially when the breadth of functional stakeholders weighs in on their disciplinary needs and biases. Everyone throughout the enterprise wishes to get in on the game, as they strive to align strategically with corporate objectives and each other. If CIO’s and IT directors aren’t already feeling pressure from functional business leaders (and perhaps even the c-suite) to assist with and steer the convergence of operational technology and IT into an operational architecture, we dare say that their company might now be more than just a bit behind when it comes to digitalization, smart manufacturing or Industry 4.0.
The Industry 4.0 / smart manufacturing race is all about the Industrial Internet of Things —collecting, analyzing, and making use of as much data as possible, usually to create competitive advantage. Asset performance management (APM) is the low hanging fruit for artificial intelligence, particularly in asset-intensive industries like oil and gas, mining, metals, utilities, and plastics and rubber to name a few.
As a company’s Digital Transformation initiative marches firmly ahead, the dialogue about “the perfect APM platform” will surely come up, not just once but perhaps repeatedly or continuously over the next several years. That’s not to say that its APM platform will change repeatedly year after year. But if it hasn’t changed for a few years as the company’s business changes, there’s a very good chance that the company will need to at least examine what it has in place every 12-18 months.
Why can’t a business just “set it and forget it?” According to Dan Miklovic, research fellow at LNS Research, “Businesses can grow non-linearly because of mergers and acquisitions (M&A), sudden demise of a competitive product or company, market whimsey, or even leapfrog success because of Digital Transformation. A solution that’s meant to handle 10 percent year-over-year growth might suddenly choke if faced with a sudden order of magnitude increase.”
Making matters more interesting, the industrial world continues to see new APM platforms emerge along with the usual attrition through partnerships or M&A’s—all of which is taking place at a more accelerated rate than ever before. Much of this activity has revolved around maintenance-related applications, although manufacturing operations management, quality, IIoT and other enterprise applications and analytics vendors are seeing similar activity. Automation vendors, systems integrators, consultants, professional services, and even the software vendors themselves fuel the debate about solution selection, often skewing perceptions. They’re (usually) not intentionally distorting the lens, but they do have sales objectives that naturally create bias.
Market hype—not just from solution sales and marketing content, but also from so-called “experts” who haven’t ever actually walked in an operational leader’s shoes—makes it nearly impossible to thoroughly yet objectively research and understand the vendor landscape without it being a full-time job. Thankfully that’s where research guides, reports, and analysts come to the rescue, as objective third-party resources.
Most of the time, an industrial company might research the vendor landscape informally, before budget approval and preparation of requirements documents. In most cases, that kind of exploration provides information about use cases along with more specific details about vendors’ positioning, presence, and potential in the market. This intelligence expands companies’ understanding about the spectrum of what’s possible.
Many manufacturers use analyst resources to assist where necessary, since the range of support spans selection guides, advisory services and help with request for proposal (RFP) construction and vendor evaluation. The most critical element in software solution selection is collaboration between the IT head and functional business leaders to ensure requirements are defined at an appropriate level. Where APM platforms are concerned, some suppliers have built out (or are building) a rich set of capabilities that today address many or most capabilities to run an Industry 4.0 facility, but probably not all. Other vendors have focused on a narrower spectrum of solutions, and some on a single functional area. Today’s industrial company should strive to understand the landscape, quickly identify which vendors to investigate further and only then conduct a detailed functional analysis. Given the rapid pace of product evolution, look to the right resources to help you examine functional capabilities at a micro level, and create a shortlist of potential vendors. The right framework ultimately means your company can qualitatively evaluate suppliers and identify which software platforms strategically align with APM 4.0 to support your smart manufacturing or Industry 4.0 facility. If your company is talking about APM solutions, the APM 4.0 Solution Selection Guide by LNS Research provides a wealth of information not easily accessible elsewhere that can facilitate objective evaluation.
>>Diane Murray senior marketing and research associate, [email protected], is a senior marketing and research associate at LNS Research, which provides advisory and benchmarking services to help Line-of-Business and IT executives make critical decisions.