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I have been reflecting recently on where we are in all the efforts, focus, and resources, that have been going into the building of our IIoT platforms. This has mainly been around the questioning of where they should fit within the needs of an ecosystem, the end outcome of our new industrial design in my opinion that enables digital transformation.
Let me offer up an initial case of why there is a need for a change in where we are in on IIoT platforms and their current emphasis and focus how we need to change the value equation out in the future in our solution designs and positioning of platforms, as a need to achieve. This is based on considering a greater ecosystem perspective, one that provides a sizable move towards a digital transformation we need to make.
Here I attempt to lay out the current position and suggest there is a case for change. The IIoT platform provider needs to change their value proposition urgently in my opinion, or move along a faster evolutionary curve certainly, to get clients seeing their own value-add endgame not just the IIoT providers race for dominating the platform space.
So let’s look at where IIoT platforms currently are and in my related post where we might consider some changes in how we are evolving the platform story.
So part one is below, part two is a click away, available as a follow-on to this post ( a doubleheader read)
Last week I was fortunate enough to be in one of those up close and personal sessions, having a further exposure to one of the leading IoT platform providers in the industrial space, Siemens Mindsphere. This got me thinking even more of where we are in this current platform race. I partly use them to illustrate the great progress but also the case for change.
I heard a very impressive story of the technology building and connecting-up going on within this Mindsphere platform. The growing funnelling of Siemens solutions onto this platform is gaining real momentum. They do seem to have significant growth and achievements in attracting new customers. I had the feeling that the use cases they continue to build were, as I call it, more proofing validation in further convincing others, one prospect at a time. So you get this impression it is a struggle to get scaling to the levels you really need. Something needs to change.
I missed the “wow” moment that adoption was moving to another significant level but I might be wrong here. A few days later Siemens made an announcement of partnering up with Alibaba Cloud for IIoT in China. This continues building the supply side and will be fairly significant but it is another side of a platform story, that perhaps is still not compelling enough. The demand side is where it becomes compelling for clients signing on as they see it is increasingly in their real interests, more than ‘just’ a new technology layer within the value proposition, it offers a real network of collaborators and co-creation. We are not at this point within most IIoT platforms today. We need to get there.
As an observation, firstly listening and then researching I do feel Mindsphere still lags on its API’s compared to others. It still is perhaps more internally driven in its outcome focus than it should be, it is driving clients to Siemens solutions, understandable but actually limited. Making the platform more open would add significantly.
The building of their technology stack keeps pace or is nudging ahead, of competitors in some places but this advantage erodes fairly quickly as it seems other simply race to catch up, or claims to have that piece equally covered off.
The hype with the marketing runs ahead of the reality, it seems for many.
I am not convinced they are telling the individual platform providers story, where they are a compelling proposition, they are in the crowd touting technology blurring any differentiation. Even with the digital twin a real value-add for Siemens and Mindsphere it is drowned out by a mix of marketing messages.
I also wonder about the robustness of the device management being offered to determine how these can manage multiple issues of legacy, individual IT design etc. Legacy is the really big elephant in any clients room. This seems to be not well addressed by most IIoT platform providers- why?
Finally, it strikes me part of the reason why we are not yet at a stage of rapid adoption, is we lack having industrial standards relating to platforms, to protocols etc so this alone restricts adoption and also is not providing the “goal posts” to unite each manufacturer to drive towards.
One place where we do have a move to clear standards is in Industry 4.0 and somehow most platform providers need to align themselves far more with that story. Bosch is the notable exception, they have a far more ‘holistic’ view of how they are approaching platforms, clients and industry 4.0. Others could learn from them
All of these issues are not just for Mindsphere but for all nearly other IIoT platform providers, holds adoption back for many I am sure.
Platforms are a digital jigsaw puzzle but they need to be far more.
Of course, building platforms is a little like building a puzzle, where each platform provider is constantly addressing many individual gaps, be these geographical, by industry, by the maturity of need and solution, by the individual client. You sense the energy, the commitment, and momentum but you wonder over the channeling of this, it seems still down in the trenches, client by client, case by case, technology-driven but is these “return proven?” Can that approach be sustained? Are there better solutions? We need to think about the “adoption curve” differently. We need to change the story.
I believe many prospective clients are sitting on the fence and simply not yet prepared to make lasting commitments to one platform solution over another. Something soon has to break. We still see these “walled gardens” claiming to be open, offered by IIoT platform providers but what actually is “open” is highly debatable.
Platform providers are in this chase for providing solutions that position themselves as better than others. Are they? That is the wrong race, it is the client’s needs that are central. With platform providers chasing each other with this heavy technology focus, the level of differentiation gets negated and it leaves clients back at square one- confused and reluctant to commit.
I sense there is this danger of seeing the lemmings effect, simply following or chasing each other, based on this so ‘intent’ technology focus, with the risk that many platform providers, will just simply go over a digital cliff. I’ll come back to that in another post but just picture this if things around platforms do not change.
You get the impression they are all racing to the same point, chasing technology nirvana. As they race ‘together’ they need to watch out for the eventual cliff as many will simply go over! Are they focusing on the right race?
I thank there needs to be a change. I will attempt to outline a different way in this post and the follow one- pointing to moving the emphasis to an Ecosystem design where platforms “simply” sit in the middle so all get greater shared value than today’s business proposition.
We need to stop for a moment and lift ourselves out of the trenches and see the blue sky.
What we offer today needs a change in emphasis, of thinking out the evolution of platforms.
I really think we are one of those ‘magic’ inflection points where the platform provides (and there are many, 450 and still counting) have a real need to shift their story. As platforms stand today, they are all chasing each other, quickly offsetting one platforms advantage over another. It is a very fractured market where the main emphasis is on extending platform through constant technology evolution. Platform providers are moving far to fast and are leaving the majority of the clients watching from the sidelines. Today we are only at the Horizon One stage, building platforms that are platform owner-centric.
Shifting the narrative is required
We are under no disillusion, platform building is hard, expensive and challenging work to keep pace, to create your new selling points that are ongoing and emerging to built even further onto a proposition of integrating new technology that is complex and increasingly necessary with existing systems and designs, all individually evolved on past investments.
Yet today, platform providers are simply just keeping pace with others. Differentiation is being hyped but often not believed as it seems transitory. Trust is a growing concern, not just ‘a given’ by clients. With the present emphasis on the technology within platforms and with everyone claiming their solutions are the right ones, hyping their own technology solutions we are in a race to nowhere. There is a better way.
So where does this leave the plethora of platform providers?
They will require very deep pockets if they can’t change and convince the manufacturers, many of their own existing clients, to get a real move on. Significant investments are being made, platform building does not come cheap. One senses that we are getting closer to a significant shaking out of platform solution providers.
Something fundamental does need to change if the adoption does not reach a greater mass and the platform vendor market does not rapidly consolidate. It is far too fragmented today.
Today’s narrative is tired, it needs shifting.
Nearly all manufacturers know they need to change, to become more digitally connected up but in my view, we need to change the story and bring the compelling case closer to their needs.
It simply is not good enough to blandly state we have a cloud-based, open (?) IoT operating system ( so who defines open) that can deliver on a wide range of devices and connectivity options, coupled with robust applications (well universal ones, mostly at present), advanced analytics (if clients can actually handle this to extract value) and closed-loop innovation( whatever that really means) and provide a ‘cherry-pick’ of API’s and device solutions
So I would argue that we need to change our story.
We need to shift our platform rhetoric into a vastly different one, one based on building the Ecosystem story, well defined in its understanding that needs a very intense focus on what it means within Industry design and expected outcomes.
The key message from my reflecting is “we do need to change our story, it is simply not about platforms“. It is thinking for the design for ecosystems, as put recently as “ecosystem mobilization” It is not going to be easy but if we do not change the story from platforms to ecosystem then we will see this lemming prediction happen.
We will be moving fast through the design of creation, evolution, and destruction if we do not change the current narrative, fixated on platform solutions and domination. We need to build the greater story around ecosystem design for the industrial world, that changes the current dynamics of the race within platform providers. It separates the value proposition that builds a more equitable co-creation environment.
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