Cybersecure solutions and open automation take center stage at ARC Forum

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This June, hundreds of industry leaders from over 40 countries gathered in Orlando, Florida, to exchange ideas at the 2022 ARC Industry Forum. Why is it such an important annual gathering? Because the show enables constructive conversations with vendors and end users to share business concerns and priorities. The ARC Industry Forum also allows us to receive customer feedback to improve their business achievements, engagement, and value gain from Schneider Electric solutions.

Nurturing customer relationships and elevating partnerships have, in my opinion, always been the key to success across shared industry goals. So, the opportunity to walk around and listen to customers in person was an excellent time to exchange like-minded initiatives. Primary topics at the event revolved around three key ideas: cybersecurity, sustainability, and open automation.

Of note, while at the show, I heard many industry customers express their desire to move away from a verticalized-open system, i.e., being “stuck” to one vendor. Instead, many attendees expressed a shift towards being vendor agnostic—to have a truly open process automation solution. Many embraced organizations pushing for these ideas like Open Process Automation™ Forum and Universal Automation.Org.

This push towards being vendor agnostic is why we saw co-innovation take center stage at ARC Forum Orlando. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, when industry leaders rally together, the possibilities are endless. Many vendors are beginning to see the benefits of co-innovation; and it’s why it felt fitting to announce our recent collaboration with Intel to extend EcoStruxure™ Automation Expert via the creation of a Distributed Control Node software framework – based on the premise of universal automation. This will ultimately speed up the development of software-defined control systems and supply valuable real-time analytics.

But what happens as digital integration occurs at a plant? Attendees asked the question: how can we create value at a rate that data grows?

The data that companies can collect grows at an exponential rate. So, the challenge now is to create value that corresponds to the growth of data. A prominent factor for this speed of growth is hyperconnectivity or integration between the plant, people, and processes.

Schneider Electric has proven solutions to support this acceleration by analyzing data and turning it into clear action – enabling operations to work more efficiently, autonomously, and innovatively. Many industry customers begin that journey with platforms that enable open process automation by decoupling hardware from software. For instance, EcoStruxure™ Automation Expert is the first software-centric industrial automation system to create step-change improvements throughout the complete operational lifecycle. And it is a big step toward achieving more energy-efficient processes.

Where sustainability and cybersecurity align

I’ve held many roles throughout my professional career in industrial automation from sales, consulting, marketing, services, and cybersecurity, to leadership. At Schneider Electric, our core benefits in process automation come down to three main areas:

  • Software, which enables efficient energy and process design and operation
  • Energy optimization of resources and decarbonization to achieve efficiency
  • Automation to optimize energy by reducing the cycle of design and resource use and thereby improve productivity and, ultimately, profitability

At the center of these ideas is sustainability. Similarly, it was a considerable topic at ARC Industry Forum–some sessions focused on creating digital twins and how these complex simulations are utilized for real-time advisory, predictive analytics, and enhanced business decisions. Others talked about the workforce of the future and how open process automation and digital transformation are attracting the next generation of employees.

Another topic that spoke to me was industrial cybersecurity — an area I’ve been involved with since 2006, and I was glad to see it discussed.

I remember the days when we barely spoke about cyber. Cybersecurity is now more than an IT problem with corporate attacks expected to reach worldwide annual costs of $10.5 trillion by 2025. Operational technologies across process industries have begun experiencing cyber-attacks, too. So, identifying potential gaps and learning where the digital risks are become a necessity when building cyber defense perimeters, especially against ransomware. And that’s one piece of the puzzle.

While at the show, the awareness of cyber-attacks was much more prevalent and the necessity to remove vulnerabilities to malware to rapidly increase operations’ architecture was spoken to. Knowing what opportunities hackers use to exploit building infrastructures and smart systems, and accelerating solutions, are key to digital transformation and improved cybersecurity. And customers are maturing their strategies and knowledge against cyber-threats, embracing products – like from Schneider Electric – that are designed for security.

Particularly in one session at the ARC Industry Forum, a small panel of industry leaders across various segments, ranging from ExxonMobil to Goya Foods, shared individual cases where they’ve overcome cyber threats and took the initiative to implement secure systems.

As I mentioned previously, when it comes to a strong offense, reducing cybersecurity risk means doing so throughout the whole operation. And industrial systems can be more protected with partnerships or collaborations with other like-minded cybersecure companies.

The trajectory of industrial automation

Energy efficiency is sustainability. How industries across mining, energy and chemicals, pharmaceuticals, etc. get there is a matter of how we invest in digitization and turn data into profits while working towards the customers’ needs of a greener future.

Open automation and cybersecure solutions will help – it’s just a matter of how much we’re willing to listen to each other and collaborate. I encourage you to join us at the next ARC Industry Forum – a hub for exchanging ideas across energy efficiency and cybersecurity, and how Universal Automation factors into it all.

Access the full 2022 ARC Industry Forum online, register here.

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