Mobility, Big Data and The Cloud: Opportunities or Commodities?

Nov. 18, 2013
A control system integrator talks with several technology savvy clients and comes away with a mixed forecast on the hottest new technology trends.
There is no conference, magazine or airport terminal where people are not talking about mobility, Big Data and cloud computing. Those three terms, according to who is talking, identify technological trends with which all of us will deal, both at home and at work.
But are they equally important in all fields? Specifically, in the industrial and manufacturing fields, is it necessary to face them immediately, or are they just something to keep an eye on because they could be an opportunity for improvement in the future? 
To get a better handle on these questions, I discussed these trends with some Autoware clients who typically seize opportunities offered by technology and innovation. The results presented an uneven picture. However, it was clear that mobility, Big Data and cloud computing cannot be considered in the same way. They have different implications and repercussions that I will try to highlight here briefly.
Mobility is almost difficult to call an innovative trend because, in some ways, it can be considered a commodity. Everyone is now in the habit of accessing information anywhere at anytime. It is therefore natural for us to expect that same level of connectivity when it comes to accessing the information necessary for our work life. 
Regarding the management and processing of large amounts of data, the scenery is more diverse. For some companies this is absolutely a present day opportunity and need. For others Big Data is seen as an opportunity for the future. The key differentiator lies in whether or not the company has already implemented some production or process data collection system, thereby providing them some raw material to work with. 
The more forward-looking companies that have already installed some data collection system now have at their disposal a huge amount of data exploited only in part. The quantity of data they typically have on hand is large enough to prevent the use of standard tools to transform it into strategic information to support decisions. However, those companies have an exceptional opportunity to maintain the competitive advantage built in the past and, using the appropriate tools, to become even more competitive. 
From my conversations with clients, the Cloud is the most controversial trend. Among the three trends, cloud computing is certainly the one that, up to now, has had less impact on our daily lives, not because we are not touched by it, but because we are less aware of the role it plays. After all, our personal and corporate finances are basically managed in the Cloud by the banking system. 
This disconnect comes, in my opinion, from a combination of factors. One of the more significant factors depends on the type and size of the manufacturer. If using the Cloud is not an absolute necessity for a certain manufacturer, that business will not receive significantly more value from the cloud compared to a solution hosted on-site—from an economic point of view as well as in terms of  security, ease of maintenance or use. At the same time, cloud infrastructure providers are still primarily oriented toward promoting their services to the consumer and general business worlds, without focusing on manufacturing—which has very different needs and characteristics.
Though there is no uniform answer as to how manufacturers view these three predominant technology trends, we will all certainly be dealing with them for years to come.
Luigi De Bernardini is CEO of Autoware, a Control System Integrators Association member based in Vicenza, Italy.

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