I recently wrote a blog covering the biggest three lessons of the pandemic that will position SIs well for the future. You can read that here (Edge Computing for Systems Integrators). In it, I talked about the opportunities available to SIs in the rapidly expanding era of digital transformation (DX).
In this blog, I’d like to take a closer look at the changing relationships between end users, technology vendors, and systems integrators, and how SIs must think differently to gain an edge.
In the age of digital transformation, SIs can see the world is changing in a number of ways. Because of this certain considerations have to be made:
- Data is shaping the future, making software the right investment for end users, especially options that offer quick returns and enable continuous improvement.
- The goal for end users currently investing and deploying at the ‘Application Edge’ is for real-time contextualized data offering visibility to the operator and enabling drastic efficiency improvements by reducing downtime and maintenance expense.
- End users are looking for ways to focus their human resources on adding value rather than fire-fighting system based issues.
All of these considerations underpin the need for a continuous improvement approach that requires cloud-based enterprise-level software. By taking operational data to the cloud where there is enough computing capacity to manage it in context with various other enterprise-level data streams, companies can reap the compound benefits of AI.
What’s missing in this picture, compared to traditional data management for industrial enterprises, is the onsite datacenter, and IT infrastructure that has traditionally been supported in design and management by the SI. The server rooms, the networking, the IT infrastructure, the security, and the databases are being circumvented by the Edge to Cloud approach. And the result for the end-user is overwhelmingly positive.
Where does this shift, which has been accelerated by the pandemic, leave SIs who have traditionally made most of their money implementing, configuring, and selling support services to industry?
The risk for SIs is that it hugely reduces their relevance. It doesn’t remove it, and licensing is an important and growing revenue model. Moreover, few software vendors will want to get their hands dirty in the application arena – so it’s not that there will be no need for SIs – just that the industry will have to adapt or face the prospect of fighting for slices of a much smaller pie.
The Opportunity at the Edge
Reports and musing about all of this reducing the role of SIs in the Cloud era however are inaccurate. In fact, never has the skillset of SI engineers ever been in greater demand. Possessing, as they do, a strong Operational Technology (OT) bias on the application of IT systems, SIs are extremely well positioned to benefit from the era of change – if they, themselves, can sign up to a central tenet of digital transformation, flexibility.
SIs must help end users implement the Edge Computing platforms and solutions that offer OT functionality in a simple, autonomous, and protected way. Such implementations allow end users to start harnessing the power of data in real-time for immediate efficiency benefits, with the resilience that operational technology demands. An effective Edge Computing platform can take advantage of Always On (‘five nines’) availability, with virtualization allowing compute capacity for multiple edge applications in a web of decentralized computing. Vendor agnostic Edge Computing platforms offer a technology capable of running almost any existing or planned plant equipment. Meanwhile, the right solution must be simple enough for OT staff to operate and maintain.
By recommending and implementing such Edge Computing platforms, SIs are uniquely positioned to put themselves at the heart of the continuous improvement strategy of the end user. And this really is the crux of the matter. Just as digital transformation opens the possibilities for end users to be more flexible, more reactive to their markets, and even develop new business models, the same is true for SIs. New relationships with key customers offer SIs a closer, sustainable business relationship which is less project-based and much more collaborative in nature. Relationships that set out to be judged not on the successful implementation of a technology, but the business outcomes sought and achieved, then improved. A digital transformation partnership.
Furthermore, the successful application of combinations of technologies – for example, the implementation of Edge Computing to run specific industrial software with specific types of machines in specific industries, offer an opportunity for SIs to bundle and package up whole solutions. This approach is taking the strength and experience of SIs and productizing it. SIs then, can help their customers break away from a closed ‘black box’, vendor-locked architecture, and move towards fine-tuned, tailored solutions assembled by SIs using the very best ‘off the shelf’ technologies on the market. It’s a heady mix of possibilities ready to be packaged up and sold (with ongoing licenses) to end users who are increasingly focused on buying business outcomes rather than IT and OT integrations.
For SIs prepared to think differently, engage with their customers closely to form lasting relationships, and use their unique skills to package and implement outcome-based solutions, the Edge to Cloud era of digital transformation is one to be welcomed, not feared.
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