Sunday, September 8, 2013

Megatrends: The Cloud, Big Data, Mobility: Why Should You Care?

I've written a lot over the past year on the 2013 Megatrends that we see for industrial automation: The Cloud, Big Data, and Mobility.  When we first started talking about the cloud more than a year ago, the overall response we got from our customer base was "please no." There was no interest in the cloud--it was seen as disruptive technology that had no relevance to an industrial environment.
Then came virtualization, and things changed.  With virtualization, to use Microsoft's analogy, it's like putting your application in a suitcase, and then being able to carry it with you, and set on top of any operating system.  That operating system can reside on a single computer, or the cloud--it doesn't matter and the application operates, and performs, the same.  Invensys announced virtualization support for both prevalent platforms, VMware and Microsoft's Hyper-V, over a year ago as well, and it's had a fast and steady uptick in usage.  It saves money, hardware space and IT costs by placing multiple OS's and applications on a single box, and IT then has less infrastructure to support and upkeep. And for the industrial automation customer, it meant that they could be current with operating systems and software updates, without worrying about new hardware or OS hardware requirements. 

So the uptick of adoption of virtualization lead the automation buyers to be less hesitant, and more open, to cloud-based offerings. Just short of 18 months, we find offerings for historians, mobile device reporting, MES, etc. all cloud-based.  As I said in my posting on September 5th, there are a lot of benefits to the cloud--scalability, elasticity, cost-effectiveness, and automation users are now starting to enjoy those benefits without the fear of security breaches or losing control of your application.

So now we turn to Big Data.  Any manufacturing or industrial enterprise is overriden and burdened with data--the processes alone generate thousands of data points per hour--and the trick is getting information out of all the data.  Enteprise Manufacturing Intelligence is one way to get the information you need out of your data, by relating things such as shifts, energy use, throughput, or yields with days, times, and other values.  It shows the relationships in context with when it happened, or why it happened, to allow you to do not only "if then" analysis but "why" analysis, over a single or multiple plant environment.  There are many EMI vendors out now, as well as "Business Intelligence" applications that can reach down into manufacturing.  All are optimized for processing and presenting "big data" into useful information that you can act upon.

Lastly, there's Mobility.  It's a natural for any manufacturing or industrial entity, because it allows you to access or interact with your data collection, or workflow, or other applications on-demand.  You can find most any industrial application today--HMI, MES, Workflow, or EMI, with a mobile component. Why? Because it's helping both operations and workers be more effective--doing their tasks where they are, versus in front of a desk or standing in the plant.  It also brings the data to you in a format that is optimized for the the device--whether it's a handheld smart phone, or tablet.

So there you have it--megatrends that are oriented to the industrial automation industry's needs.  We've come a long way in just a couple of years, and we are seeing even more improvements ahead of us--helping you to become more knowledgeable, productive, and predictive, bringing efficiencies and cost savings directly to the bottom line.

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