A Sustainable Future

After a year of uncertainty, confusion, and disruption, suddenly people are talking about sustainability.  Public opinion, government policy, and economic realities seem to be converging on this theme, pushing us towards creating a more sustainable future.  The pandemic has underscored the need for us to be more effective and resilient in many ways.  For industry, this points to digitization.

At a recent AVEVA World Digital event, Craig Hayman, AVEVA CEO said, “As business leaders, it’s our duty to go further and faster than we believed possible to realize a sustainable future through digital transformation.”  Summing it up, he calls this the “Decade to Deliver.”

He is talking about delivering on the promises of Industrial IoT, of Industrie 4.0, and digitization.  We are at a critical juncture.  Many people are looking for jobs, and there is lots of work to be done.  Thankfully, we have developed the necessary technologies, ready for use.

Staying connected

“Covid-19 is a massive catalyzer of digital adoption, because people want to be more efficient, we want to be more resilient. Therefore, things have to be connected, ” said Jean-Pascal Tricoire, Chairman and CEO of Schneider Electric, in that same on-line conference.  “We want to operate things from remote, to enforce social distancing. ”

The need is there, and so are the resources.  “All of this has been accelerated, ” continued Tricoire, “by the massive recovery packages like no other in history, put in place by countries, and a large part of those are about digital and green.  Because countries have understood that you can’t dissociate a step-change to sustainability from digitization. ”

In the AVEVA World Digital presentations, the links from digital to sustainable were made clear through example after example.  Emerging technologies for carbon capture, plant optimization, circular systems, remote access, solar parks, wind farms, decentralized power grids, and more―all rely heavily on digitized data communications.  Since most CO2 emissions come from industry, transportation, and buildings, securely connecting them in real time to IT platforms empowered by AI promises to make them greener and more sustainable.

The Great Acceleration

Mike Walsh, futurist, author, and CEO of Tomorrow explained how the pandemic has opened new opportunities.  It has unleashed, in his words, “the great acceleration. ”  We are now living a full decade ahead of the predictions, he says, in a space that we could only imagine twelve months ago. He sees three rules in play:

  1. It is no longer “digital disruption, ” now it’s digital delivery. We are all disruptors now. If you are not a digital business, you are no longer in business.
  2. There is no such thing as “remote work”, just work. Each of us has more mobility and autonomy than ever before, and that will require documenting our decision-making, relying on data, and acting on it more quickly.
  3. AI will not destroy jobs, but it will change them. Rather than doing work, we will be increasingly called upon to design work. We will need to bring more of our humanity to the table.

Who would have guessed that a global pandemic would accelerate a need for digitization?  Whatever the reason, all this digital data needs to be connected, and this is where Skkynet shines.  We have the tools and experience to meet current and future demand for the secure, real-time data communications used in remote access and the convergence of OT, IT and the cloud.  We are playing our part to help ensure a more sustainable future for industry and for the planet.

Embracing Automation in Tough Times

What do a car-parts maker in Germany, a chemical plant in Singapore, a mine in Latin America, and the American health-care industry have in common?  Due to the global pandemic, all of them are automating their systems more than ever before.

A recent article in The Economist, Bearing fruit: After years of dithering companies are embracing automation, recounts how the pandemic has pushed many companies to take the plunge and automate their plants, warehouses, and internal systems.  Sales of robots have doubled for some popular models, and remote connectivity has gone from luxury to necessity.

“Bosses have boasted of automating their operations for years without an awful lot to show for it,” the article says. “Covid-19 has spurred them to put their money where their mouths are.”

Automation goals are changing

The fact that this is a pandemic-driven response is illustrated in a Bain Automation Survey of 500 companies, showing that goals for automation have changed dramatically.  Before the pandemic, the leading reasons for automating were to lower costs, increase performance, and grow revenue.  Since the pandemic, improving business resilience, lowering risk, and generating business insights are at the top of the list.

Projected adoption rates have doubled for sensors, Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, and Artificial Intelligence (AI), according to another survey of 1001 supply-chain professionals.  A third survey quoted in the Economist article shows that a full 80% of companies surveyed had accelerated their adoption of digital employee interaction and collaboration.

Beyond automation, and expected to be even a bigger wave, is the resulting data, and how it gets used. The article says, “The pandemic’s bigger long-term impact may be a fuller embrace by firms of data their operations generate, and predictive algorithms to help guide real-time decisions.”   Major automation companies like ABB, Emerson, and Rockwell are racing against smaller start-ups and consultants to turn the real-time and archived data from their systems into actionable intelligence.  The resulting efficiencies have led to a prediction from Allied Market Research that process-automation product sales will rise from $1.6 billion two years ago to just under $20 billion by 2027.

Connecting the data

All this data must be connected.  Data from the sensors, devices, and automation systems on the plant floor has to be connected securely, in real time, to the managers, analysts and decision-making executives in corporate HQs.  Factories spread across the globe need to share data seamlessly and securely.  Workers staying at home require remote access to processes in the field.  For all of this to work, robust data communication is crucial.

This explains why, despite the pandemic and economic slowdowns in major world economies, our customers have been hard at work building and expanding their systems.  Management in these companies are embracing automation, as a hedge against uncertainty and an investment in data-driven solutions.  Our job is to ensure that they get the data they need, easily, rapidly, and securely.

Industrial IoT in 2020 and Beyond

As the new year and new decade of 2020 begin, all indicators point to continued growth of IoT and digital transformation in the industrial space. A recent Gartner analysis sees no slowdown in growth of Industrial IoT markets. In areas as diverse as manufacturing, natural resources, automotive, and healthcare, the rate of adoption is expected to increase.

“Economies, jobs, and personal lives are becoming more digital, more connected, and more automated,” according to CompTIA’s IT Industry Outlook 2020 report. Here are a few of the trends in data communications that the report highlights:

  • Redefining IT Architecture for Digital Transformation – “As with cloud computing and mobile devices, the groundwork has been laid for IoT to advance digital transformation.”
  • Increased Demand for Integrating Platforms, Applications, and Data – “According to CompTIA’s Tech Buying Trends Among Small & Medium-Sized Businesses, the top technology area where SMBs need the most work is integrating various platforms, applications, and data. Large businesses are focused on integration as well, but they have more internal resources that they can lean on.”
  • A Proactive Approach to Cybersecurity – “The theme of cybersecurity over the past decade was a shift from a purely defensive mindset to a proactive approach that combined technology, process, and education. … organizations are beginning to treat cybersecurity as a dedicated function.”

Another publication, IoT World Today, has published 6 IoT Security Predictions for 2020. Among these, two stand out for us as particularly relevant. On the one hand, there is a growing awareness among plant engineers and managers about the need for OT security. “Customers I talked to with OT environments are very nervous about security,” said Andrew Howard, CEO of Kudelski Security. “And I think [this trend is] likely to accelerate.”

On the other hand, IoT World Today editors are seeing the concept of secure-by-design gain wider acceptance. They quoted Hima Mukkamala, senior vice president and general manager, IoT cloud services at Arm saying, “Security will be a key factor in the decision-making process for organizations as they look at deploying IoT infrastructure in 2020.”

Looking further down the road

In past years, many IoT forecasts looked ahead to the year 2020. Now that we are here, most people are accustomed to the idea of an Industrial Internet of Things. So what lies ahead? Here are three intriguing possibilities:

Quantum Trends and The Internet of Things
Chuck Brooks, Chair of the IoT and Quantum Computing Committee of Quantum Security Alliance looks at some of the expected advantages of quantum computing for the IoT, as well as potential pitfalls.

Swarm Robotics and IoT
Swarm robotics, inspired by ant and bee colonies, is a technology that coordinates large groups of simple robots to cooperate and perform complex tasks that a single robot cannot do.

Microbiology for the IoT
Harnessing bacteria as IoT endpoints? It might not be as far-fetched as it seems. Equipped with their own sensors, processing engines, and data storage, bacteria have come under the microscope in a whole new way―as candidates for the Internet of Bio-Nano Things (IoBNT).

All of these endeavors in the near and distant future share a common requirement―secure, real-time data communication. It seems we have quite a decade ahead of us.

IoT for All

With each passing year the IoT (Internet of Things) becomes more familiar, more of a household word. What once seemed a futuristic dream—having billions of devices connected and chattering over the Internet—is now almost taken for granted. Case in point is the IoT For All website whose very name speaks volumes. It seems that everyone is using or at least touched by IoT in one way or another.

At the beginning of the year, IoT For All published an article Where Is IoT Headed in 2019? that collects and distills the thoughts of industry experts regarding the near future for the IoT. Although not specific to Industrial IoT, there was significant discussion on several themes that are of interest to us here at Skkynet:

Secure by Design

Several experts have predicted that the rapid development of the IoT with little attention being paid to security will lead to widespread attacks in the coming year—often directed at industrial and infrastructure targets. At the same time, they lament the lack of robust security solutions built into hardware, software, and services. James Goepel, CEO and General Counsel for Fathom Cyber mentioned new regulations in California that mandate a secure-by-design approach to the IoT. “I think we’re going to see many more states, and possibly the federal government, following California’s lead and creating legislation that imposes new cybersecurity-by-design requirements on IoT manufacturers,” he said. Skkynet’s customers will be ready, as they have been employing our secure-by-design approach to the IoT for years.

Edge and Hybrid Computing

This year “will be a defining year for edge and hybrid computing strategies as IoT and the global network of sensors pile on more data than the average cloud has had to handle in the past,” according to Alan Conboy, working in the Office of the CTO at Scale Computing. “This transition will officially crown edge computing as the next big thing.” This has certainly been our experience. As interest in edge computing grows, we are seeing a corresponding demand for Skkynet’s edge computing and hybrid cloud solutions.

Remote Access

“Experienced engineers are hard to find and those they do have can only visit so many remote sites in a year. Enabled by 5G and the speed with which data can travel through the air, AR (augmented reality) will enable engineers-in-training to be able to have instant intelligence about a device on which they may be working just by pointing their tablet towards it,” said Jeff Travers, Head of IoT Connectivity Management at Ericsson. Much of this remote connectivity will depend on secure, real-time, two-way data flow. Again, Skkynet’s unique approach to Industrial IoT solves problems that many managers and executives are only now beginning to realize exist.

In short, the future continues to brighten for IoT in general, and Industrial IoT in particular. At least part of our mission is to make the move to IoT as smooth and easy as possible. We want it to become the logical choice for anyone who considers it—so that it really does become IoT for all.

Wider Adoption of IIoT Forecast for 2018

With the New Year upon us, now is the time to look back at 2017 to see how far we’ve come, and look ahead to see what’s on the horizon.  After sifting through a number of predictions, it seems that most of the pundits agree that the forecast is good.  The Industrial IoT continues to grow steadily in popularity, as it becomes one of the leading application spaces for the IoT.

“There’s no question the industrial side of IoT is growing rapidly,” said Bret Greenstein, VP of IBM’s Watson IoT Consumer Business.  “In a way, it’s kind of supercharging manufacturing operators and people who do maintenance on machines by providing real-time data and real-time insights.”

“It’s clear that the internet of things is transforming the business world in every industry,” says Andrew Morawski, President and Country Chairman of Vodafone Americas. “As the technology has evolved over time, adoption among businesses has skyrocketed.”

Finding business cases

As part of this growth, the forecast is to see companies begin to apply the knowledge they have gained from small-scale test implementations and pilots to build solid use cases for IIoT technology.  “The focus is shifting from what the IoT could do to what it does, how it fits in business goals and how it generates value,” said J-P De Clerck, technology analyst at i-SCOOP.  We have seen this among our customers here at Skkynet, and we plan to share some of their experiences and use cases later this year.

Edge computing becoming a necessity

Most analysts foresee growth of edge computing as part of an overall IIoT solution.  As we explain in a recent Tech Talk, edge computing means doing some data processing directly on an IoT sensor or device, as close as possible to the physical system, to reduce bandwidth and processing on cloud systems. Daniel Newman, a Forbes contributor says, “Edge networking will be less of a trend and more of a necessity, as companies seek to cut costs and reduce network usage.” He sees IT companies like Cisco and Dell supporting the move to edge computing in IIoT hardware, as well as the industrial providers that you would expect, such as GE and ABB.

Security remains a fundamental challenge

There is one thing that pretty much every analyst and pundit agrees on: security is still a challenge.  Various ideas are being discussed.  One commentator suggested that companies making large investments in IIoT have gained or eventually will gain the expertise and resources needed to meet the challenge.  Others suggest that an altogether new model might be necessary.  “We have reached a point in the evolution of IoT when we need to re-think the types of security we are putting in place,” said P.K. Agarwal, Dean of Northeastern University’s Silicon Valley in a recent Network World article. “Have we truly addressed the unique security challenges of IoT, or have we just patched existing security models into IoT with hope that it is sufficient?”

As we see it, patching up existing models is not the answer.  Providing secure access to industrial data in real time over the Internet is not something that traditional industrial systems were designed to do.  As more and more IIoT implementations come online, and as companies search for robust systems that can scale up to meet their production needs, we believe they will come to that realization as well.  Our forecast for 2018 is that an increasing number of those companies will begin to realize the value of an IIoT system that is secure by design.

Embracing an Automation Economy

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, automation has been a steadily growing trend for the manufacturing and process industries, to the joy of some and the dismay of others.  On the one hand, automation is synonymous with lower production costs and higher quality, providing more consistent output with less physical labor.  On the other hand, from time to time there is concern about job loss as machines replace unskilled labor, and put people out of work.  As far back as 1779, so the story goes, a young weaver’s apprentice named Ned Ludd vandalized a couple of knitting machines, thus becoming the namesake of the Luddite movement, a group of skilled workers who violently protested one of the world’s first industrial automation initiatives.

Now there is a new automation revolution taking place that may have an even greater social impact.  Thanks to new digital technologies like artificial intelligence, big data, robotics, satellite geopositioning, and others, jobs that we once thought only humans can do are now seen as potential targets for automation.

“In the past, automation was largely restricted to simple manual or procedural tasks,” said Carolyn Wilkins, Senior Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada, in a recent speech to the Toronto Board of Trade. “Today’s technology makes it possible to automate an increasing number of cognitive and non-routine tasks across a wide range of industries.”

The impact of automation on virtually every employment sector for the near future was the subject of The Future of Employment by Carl Benedikt Frey & Michael Osborne of the University of Oxford.  “According to our estimates around 47 percent of total US employment is in the high risk category,” the paper states in its conclusion.  “We refer to these as jobs at risk – i.e. jobs we expect could be automated relatively soon, perhaps over the next decade or two.”

Some of the jobs most at risk were in categories like “Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders” in various industries.  This what we might expect, given the recent robotics trend in manufacturing.  More surprising were job categories like hotel desk clerk, agricultural inspector, bill collector, animal breeder, restaurant cook, and legal secretary.  Twenty years ago, who would have imagined these occupations being automated?  Yet most of them will be in the next twenty years, according to the study.

What now?

Where does that leave us?  “What we need to do is embrace the technologies in areas where we can make a difference and promote productivity,” recommends Carolyn Wilkins.  She mentioned in particular the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) as “solid foundations that provide a platform for future learning.”  Perhaps she is right.  The Oxford study lists a number of occupational areas with a low chance of replacement, and engineering is among them, for sure.  And for those with a more humanistic interest, health care, education, the arts and entertainment are other options, as they also are not expected to be automated any time soon.

At Skkynet we our doing our part to make automation easy to embrace, by making our products and services convenient and affordable.  And internally, we are always looking for ways to streamline our work flow.  The more we automate the boring and repetitive jobs here in the office, the more time we have to do the cool, fun, and interesting stuff that keeps us at the leading edge.