This article was originally posted on Forbes Technology Council.
The struggling economy and tech industry slowdown dominate the headlines. Those who have been in the workplace for more than 14 years may remember the last contraction phase. What most commonly pulls the tech world out of deceleration is the advent and adoption of a new technology that drives significant business benefits, and it's helpful to look back at hot trends that may not have delivered on their promise.
Industry 4.0 is a good example of a potentially massive disruptor, yet, after eight years, most articles are still discussing its promise instead of its successes. It’s common to see phrases like “notoriously difficult” in papers and studies. Can a new take on Industry 4.0 help lift tech, and the broader economy, out of its funk?
Industry 4.0 is meant to be the melding of the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing, dramatically improving business efficiency, flexibility and productivity. There are both software and hardware innovations defined within Industry 4.0. To explore the challenges that have slowed its adoption, let’s focus on the five software categories (pulling from Boston Consulting Group’s nine technological pillars).
Big Data Analytics: The ability to collect, store and analyze large amounts of data from different sources to gain insights and make better decisions.
Simulation: The ability to simulate and model complex systems and processes, allowing businesses to optimize and test different scenarios before implementing changes.
Horizontal And Vertical System Integration: The integration of different systems and processes within a single organization, as well as the integration of systems and processes across other organizations in the supply chain.
Cybersecurity: The protection of data, systems and networks from unauthorized access, theft or damage.
Cloud Computing: The use of remote servers to store and process data, allowing access to data and applications from anywhere, at any time.
Collectively, these categories represent difficult data integration and data analytics challenges. And yet, there has only been one approach to solving this problem: a data funnel. The accepted approach to the software architecture for Industry 4.0 is (a) implement a Kafka-like system that can collect tons of IoT and location data on the fly, (b) store it in the cloud, (c) attempt to kick off various analytics and AI projects to make sense of all the data.
Too often, teams end at step (b) with nothing except large data storage bills to show for it.
This approach has two core failings. First, it expects most of the analysis (if the analysis is done at all) to occur after the fact—hours, days or months after the data is received. While it can provide pretty charts and graphs for senior execs, it cannot make real-time insights nor affect real-time changes in the real world. That leads to the second challenge. Triggering real-time changes in the real world requires a different technology, a messaging system that isn’t just a collection “funnel” but one that can send messages back to connected devices in real time. This is where Edge Messaging comes in. Edge Messaging represents the missing piece of the Industry 4.0 puzzle, the salve for those “notoriously difficult” frictions that have slowed Industry 4.0 to date.
Edge messaging enables data processing and communication at the edge of a network, closer to where the data is. This contrasts traditional messaging “funnels,” which typically process and route data down into a centralized server or cloud-based service.
In edge messaging, processing and analyzing data in real time becomes much easier. Analysis can happen “in-region” within Points of Presence (PoPs) nearer to the devices themselves, and then PoPs synchronize to provide a single consolidated view. This core benefit means that data is collected quicker, and insights are made in real time, opening up a much bigger world of possibilities to affect change in real time. This speed, leanness and agility can give companies the needed edge.
But even more importantly, edge messaging systems are connected bi-directionally to these devices. This means that regional PoPs can make localized decisions and send control signals back to individuals or groups of devices. Centralized systems can also look at a population of devices globally and immediately control everything from power consumption, server configuration, physical and electronic security systems and device configuration and control. If the devices (or their hubs) are IP connected, they can leverage Edge Messaging, even if they are behind firewalls, proxy servers and other network configurations. Beyond fewer IT projects to implement, there are cost savings as well. Edge messaging reduces the amount of data sent to a centralized location, so businesses can reduce bandwidth usage and save money on data transfer.
These real-time signals aren’t just for controlling IoT devices. A good edge messaging system uses the same core technology to connect to human devices, smartphones and browsers. Teams can see insights in real time, dispatch requests occur instantly and modern user interfaces become easy to build off of the same data streams that the Edge Messaging systems are processing. This further reduces the complexity of any IT project (end user-facing apps) required with any Industry 4.0 implementation.
In addition to improving product and overall speed of implementation, Edge Messaging can play a protective role. An unfortunate by-product of economic volatility is increased cyberattacks, but Edge Messaging can reduce a company’s cybersecurity threat profile. As previously mentioned, with traditional messaging systems, data is sent to a centralized location for processing, which can increase its exposure to vulnerabilities and bring a higher risk of data breaches and unauthorized access. With fines and reparations being tens and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars, reducing or eliminating as many attack vectors as possible is a wise decision.
Edge messaging enables us to process data and communicate in real-time. It offers a range of benefits, is a critical technology for businesses looking to stay competitive in Industry 4.0 and plays an increasingly important role in driving innovation and growth across various industries.