The IIoT edge environment, where enterprise-level IT processes interact with the production-driven OT landscape, currently represents one of the largest areas of opportunity within the overall activity surrounding digital transformation. The sheer number of edge initiatives pursued by IT and OT suppliers, as well as standards committees, trade organizations and other industry participants, is but one indicator of the perceived potential for edge activities to drive incremental performance improvements.
After listening to a recent radio interview with a musician inspired by acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road project, I was struck by the parallels between his analysis of the edge effect on music and culture and the current focus on IIoT edge activities. To paraphrase, he cites the edge effect in ecology as the point where two adjoining ecosystems meet to create greater species diversity and new life forms, blending disciplines to make new discoveries. In his work as an artist, this translates to advocating the influence of a variety of global cultures, including ancient ones, to create new works that would not be possible if musicians worked solely within their own ecosystem.
In another example he extends this concept to advocating the need to add Arts to the current STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) emphasis in education, or migration from STEM to STEAM. In his view, this type of “edge integration” results in innovative new possibilities due to the collaboration, flexible thinking, disciplined imagination, and innovation required.
What strikes me is the parallels between these assertions and the business value propositions inherent in the IIoT edge activity: product and service innovation, new business and revenue opportunities, entirely new service-oriented business models in traditionally capital-intensive industries, and new insights from legacy installations, among others. These parallels are most obvious if we view the OT and IT environment as separate ecosystems that have traditionally operated solely within themselves, with limited interaction.
The edge effect concept as it relates to the IIoT is just beginning to reveal the significant opportunity for business value improvement and potentially disruptive innovation. This speaks to the need for continued efforts toward connectivity and collaboration between IT, OT, design, service, and other enterprise entities, as well as continued focus on the primary business objectives driving the collaboration. These efforts in turn will allow businesses to leverage the edge effect for new and exciting growth opportunities.