Just two weeks ago, more than 30 of our most forward-thinking, long-time manufacturing software customers joined us in Foxborough to participate in our annual Proficy Advisory Council meeting. It was three days of high energy and phenomenal interaction. For many years now, this group of customers has assembled for a few days of give and take that is certainly valuable for us, and we hope for them.
Several themes came out of the discussion. Rapid organic and inorganic growth was a common theme mentioned as a challenge, albeit a good challenge. A handful of customers are embarking on acquisitions, and some are simply growing rapidly. And, some customers mentioned the need to deploy manufacturing software in the next three years to upwards of 500 production / packaging lines!
Another topic of discussion included moving manufacturing software technology to the Cloud. Four of the biggest concerns voiced by the customers were:
- Performance—being able to click through screens to drill down and change pages
- Latency—the time of refresh for real-time data
- Availability—how does the plant function when the Internet is down?
- Data security—most manufacturing data is proprietary; how do we keep it “safe” from the outside?
These are all very valid concerns, some of which can be lessened to a degree by defining the “Cloud.” A cloud doesn’t necessarily have to be off-premise outside of your firewall. It can be hosted internally, as well. Other concerns can and will be addressed through product functionality built with the Cloud in mind. In addition, some functions shouldn’t store their data in the Cloud. For example, if the application requires feedback to the PLC, is hosting in the Cloud really the right strategy? There will always be some need for on-premise applications—think real-time transactions versus near-real time.
On the topic of security, as one customer mentioned, “We are in the process of moving to the cloud for our email and stuff, which may include [product] recipes that are our competitive advantage. The Cloud may be more secure than our internal servers, so in the next five years, security [and the technology] is going to prove out very quickly.”
Today many businesses, including GE, are using Cloud platforms to house customer data, like Salesforce.com. I personally do my banking in the Cloud; it’s disruptive and, in my view, will change the manufacturing landscape imminently. We’ll talk more about Cloud technologies when we get to Minds + Machines in San Francisco! Hope you can join us!
In the meantime, how is your organization looking at the future of manufacturing with Cloud capabilities?