The Industrial Internet of Things is quite a hot topic right now, and we are actively focusing on meeting the challenges of, and influencing, this megatrend with our customers and partners. As explained in a blog by Greg Conary, we are approaching the advent of the Industrial Internet of Things as an “evolution” rather than a “revolution”. While much of the research and comments in the market focus on what IIoT will mean to end users, manufacturing companies and the like, today I will talk about the impact of IIoT on system integrator businesses.
First and foremost, I believe IIoT offers system integrators an opportunity for growth in the short and long term, but investment in knowledge and people needs to start now. There are many phases during the IIoT evolution where system integrators can anticipate growth, if they are prepared.
Configuring control systems in the IIoT age
We are already designing the control systems of the future that will be built to take advantage of IIoT. Technologies like cloud and mobile will become more prevalent, which means system integrators will need to build their skills in applying these disruptive technologies to the control system. The good news is that system integrators are typically at the forefront of technology changes (we are engineers after all) but continued investment in training and hiring of good engineers, with fresh ideas on the application of IT-based systems will be key to ensuring that knowledge is improved and maintained.
As a trusted advisor on IIoT
An important factor was highlighted at the recent CSIA annual conference, where Automation World reported system integrators need to evolve “from a project-based partner to a strategic solutions provider who can help manufacturers with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), system performance improvement, and predictive maintenance.” This means that system integrators can step into the role of a trusted advisor to lead their customers through the changes and challenges that IIoT presents as those customers seek process and business optimization. In the short term, this will mean system integrators need to be across the latest automation technologies so they can navigate their customers through these developments and shifts in industries.
Fill the skills gap of the end user
Manufacturers are already telling us about the skills gap they are facing with regards to engineering staff. From experienced baby-boomers retiring to the lack of young people entering the industry and those who don’t have adequate experience and skills to effectively replace the generation that is leaving, this gap will only grow with the introduction of IIoT.
To reference Automation World and CSIA again, it’s 2014 report highlights how system integrators have the opportunity to expand their businesses and develop ongoing relationships with customers, initiating recurring contracts for services, support and maintenance as well as helping them address the challenges of IIoT without the need to hire additional engineering staff. Smart system integrators will take advantage of this opportunity and fill this gap for companies who can outsource engineering requirements to meet the skills shortage.
As a process improver/consultant
The development of IIoT will enable more assets to communicate with each other more seamlessly and with greater efficiency, delivering an enormous amount of data to users. But what will a business do with this data? How will they interpret this into meaningful and actionable information to improve their operations? Helping users manage and leverage this data is a long term growth opportunity for system integrators.
As technology solution providers designing and delivering IIoT systems, the role of system integrators will shift from system engineering to also include IT and data management, providing customers with services like network and database management as well as data mining services to turn that data into information. System integrators will need to invest in their people through training and certification, up-skilling them to ensure they can deliver expertise in these new skill sets.
It seems that there will be opportunities aplenty for system integrators that invest in understanding IIoT and the technologies that will enable it. There also appears to be a market for those system integrators that want to expand their capabilities into other areas enabled by IIoT. Life will certainly be different for system integrators, but the question remains, even with these new possibilities, will IIoT make life any easier? What do you think?