Interview number 3 of our virtual round table: Jim Ten Broeke, Business Development Manager IIoT at Advantech Europe
IEN Europe: What are the main challenges when talking about digitalization? How to limit the side effects of the digital adoption?
J. Ten Broeke: The challenges are numerous, but one I’d like to point out is that solutions have to work within existing communications and IT architectures, and within existing physical and environmental constraints of the installed processes and equipment. There is a lot of legacy equipment across Europe we simply cannot circumvent. In industrial IoT, something like 70-80% of the things that will be monitored already exist and are already deployed. System interoperability is very important, and carefully selecting the right system integrators/ECO partner is crucial to achieve digitalization successfully.
However it may be implemented, digital transformation is fundamentally about using data to make better decisions, increase efficiency and create extra value for customers. Strangely enough, today’s easy access to data can create an actual barrier to achieving digital transformation. It can also be easy to become drawn into trying to achieve too much too quickly, to set over-ambitious goals making the project too complicated and impossible to deliver.
Advantech is big enough to provide stability, but small enough to listen. Our development plans are constantly informed by the feedback we get from our community of partners and users, and our solutions have some very specific market focusses. We’re not trying to be everything to everyone, just to be the best at what we do – this means the voice of the customer is never lost in Advantech. I would say that’s a great way to limit the side effects of digital adoption.
IEN Europe: How much is digitalization part of your company’s strategy and why?
J. Ten Broeke: Supporting customers and partners with their Digital transformation projects is one of the core competencies of Advantech. The concept of digitalization isn’t new, of course. The difference now is that manufacturers can use vast computing power to model their operations in a way that simply wasn’t possible before. One of the keys for manufacturers to improve their processes and gain greater efficiency, is to acquire better insights into their operations through data gathering. This creates huge swathes of data that must be stored and analysed. Advantech and its partners can provide customers with the hardware and software capabilities to leverage this data and drastically improve operations in a huge range of industry sectors, including health, logistics, transport and energy.
IEN Europe: Digital thread or digital threat? What’s your opinion?
J. Ten Broeke: It’s a good question – and it’s actually a question that goes to the very heart of the company’s raison d’être. My opinion is that in today’s modern economy, there is now a clear shift from “digital threat” to “digital thread”. There is much greater emphasis on delivering innovative solutions than ever before. And we are witnessing this shift every day.When Industry 4.0 was first conceptualised and put forth, digital threat might have been a normal reaction in some circles. Come to think of it, I suppose any shift in paradigm was bound to be met with resistance. But that was a few years ago, and whilst there is still a degree of resistance to change today, decision-makers have grown to realise the potential of a well thought-out digital transformation. It makes sense on a business level, and it makes sense on an environmental level too. No wonder digital thread, as you phrase it, is the talk of the day.
IEN Europe: What’s the role of IoT in today’s factory? Why is it so important to undertake the digital transition?
J. Ten Broeke: The role of IoT in today’s factory is growing fast. For manufacturers, it will drive maximum flexibility, optimization of processes and logistics, resources efficiency, and cost reduction in general. And it also provides a route to regulatory fulfilment by increasing audit trail capabilities, for instance. We are learning everyday new ways to harness the power of IoT – some that were totally unsuspected, but that are a by-product of greater machine sensing capabilities and data acquisition. It is, therefore, absolutely vital for businesses to embrace this transformation and embark on a digital transition programme.