When you think about the digital future, you probably think about self-driving cars, disruptors like Uber and Airbnb, and artificial intelligence. What you probably do not think about, however, is factories.
Despite their outwardly staid appearance, the industrial and manufacturing industries have been at the forefront of the practical application of technology and automation for decades. This evolution has culminated in what is called Industry 4.0—a vision of the smart factory and the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT).
And, I believe, it may be a blueprint for the future of IT across all industries.
A software-defined world
I recently wrote a special report about the evolution of Industry 4.0 for Built.ioentitled, “A Software-Defined Industrial World: Using APIs and Microservices to Enable Industry 4.0.” The report focused on the evolution of the Industry 4.0 movement and implications of emerging technologies on the space, but I think the underlying message is impactful to organizations across every industry.
In the report, I posited that there are two critical elements that will drive differentiation, technology adoption and business acceleration: data and integration. I believe this applies to all organizations.
As organizations continue to embrace the philosophies of the software-defined enterprise, it becomes apparent that the ability to create, capture and monetize proprietary data becomes a chief driver of competitive advantage. And in any large organization, it is impossible to do that without the ability to rapidly capture and integrate that data no matter where it resides within the enterprise.
Cracking the integration challenge
While the industrial and manufacturing industries have some unique integration challenges merging Operational Technologies and Information Technologies, the fact is almost every organization struggles with integrating disparate data that they create in silos throughout the enterprise.
The preparation, normalization and integration of data is often thought of as a technical, “behind the curtain” type of activity, but as data becomes a chief driver of advantage, the ability to rapidly and universally integrate data and derive insights from it is becoming a critical capability.
Numerous organizations are stepping up to help enterprises tackle this problem. Companies such as Reltio, igauzio, AtScale, Semantify, Paxata, Maana and FusionOps all take modern and unique, but divergent approaches to the problem space.
Each of these technology companies may be the right fit for the right organization, but the key point for enterprise leaders is that they must pay careful attention to this evolving market space. The ability to harvest, manage, integrate and expose data is becoming one of the chief drivers of an organization’s competitive advantage. IT leaders who fail to recognize its importance will do so at their peril.
APIs and microservices are critical
While it will develop at different rates in each industry, the IoT clearly will be a factor for nearly every organization. The application of IoT will create a treasure trove of data for organizations, but it will also further complicate the data management and integration challenges.
Organizations must, therefore, adopt a cloud-based and software-driven approach that offers them the flexibility to integrate data from across the digital landscape—whether it exists within their direct control or not. This need is why RESTful APIs will be a fundamental building block for every organization as they attempt to address this challenge.
The lightweight, asynchronous and stateless nature of RESTful APIs makes them an ideal choice for creating a data ecosystem that allows data to flow freely across the enterprise and amongst operational partners. The use of a microservices architecture—an approach in which an organization constructs an application as discrete units of execution that communicate via APIs—makes this approach more powerful and extensible.
The combination of these two approaches, when integrated with sophisticated methods to ingest, normalize, manage, consume and share vast amounts of data, lays the foundation for organizations to create data-derived competitive advantage.
Accelerating to the future
We are still at the very early stages of this evolution. Industry 4.0 companies, such as GE Aviation, are leading the way and experimenting with new data-driven business models. While it is still too early to say which approaches will prove superior, it is clear that leveraging proprietary data to create advantage will be a model every enterprise organization must follow.
Organizations that can create data ecosystems—that can most rapidly integrate and incorporate new internal and external data sets and can most effectively leverage their proprietary data to identify unique insights or monetize their data in unique ways—will be the ones that rise to the top.
Founder & Institute Fellow
Charles Araujo is a technology analyst and internationally recognized authority on the Digital Enterprise, the Digital Experience, and the Future of Work. Researching Digital Transformation for over 10 years, he is now focused on helping leaders transform their organizations around the digital experience and to reimagine the future of work. Publisher and principal analyst of The Digital Experience Report, founder of The Institute for Digital Transformation, co-founder of The MAPS Institute, and author of three books, he is a sought-after keynote speaker and advisor to technology companies and enterprise leaders.