Bernd Gross is the newly-appointed chief technology officer of Software AG, having joined the company as part of its acquisition of Cumulocity, of which he was chief executive. Now, as the Internet of Things continues to mature, he explains how organisations can access common foundational technologies and tools to accelerate their deployments, while still keeping focus on the unique, business-specific elements of services. Gross believes that by adopting this approach, companies will be able to start quickly and get to the benefits of IoT more rapidly, thereby demonstrating return on investment and stimulating further commitment to IoT services.
IoT Now: As IoT matures it is becoming attractive to more and more organisations. Costs are clear, value is demonstrated by early deployments and there is greater choice of solutions – so IoT enablers can be matched to budgets and the requirements of specific applications. Can the democratisation of IoT help the market develop?
Bernd Gross: Today, the use of IoT is not evenly adopted across industries and markets, with many organisations still struggling to understand the value of IoT to their organisation. These organisations are increasingly realising that gaining the necessary understanding is not a paper-based exercise and a better option would be to get started with a single use case and prove the return on investment from IoT in the real world with an actual project.
Modern technologies like Software AG’s Cumulocity IoT cloud-based tenants, Cloud Fieldbus industrial device integration agents and self-service analytics allow anyone able to use office productivity tools to build their own IoT solution. Historically connecting devices has been complicated, analysis of the data has required expensive data scientists and integration of the insights into the business has been fraught with difficulties. This has meant that solutions have only been available to the few.
For IoT to become democratised further and open to more organisations, options that offer a quick start with minimal impact on existing IT and operations technology (OT) infrastructure are a priority.
IoT Now: What is your vision for the IoT market at Software AG?
BG: What we are seeing in the market is a dramatically changing digitalisation landscape. Enterprise digitalisation from the IT back office, so to speak, is expanding towards a truly connected world. Everything will be connected and will communicate, and this market vision drives demand for Software AG’s products. We see this demand especially in integration; companies need to be able to integrate enterprise apps from their existing investment, and also to future-proof device integration for industry and machines. They need cloud integration, including software as a service, and data integration. Data must be accessible in order to have a truly connected world.
Other demand comes from the IoT platform side. Enterprises going forward want to digitalise to improve operational efficiencies and generate new business models. They want to increase intimacy with their clients. They must be sure of the quality of their data collected from integrated devices and machines. They must ensure that their newly connected environment is stable. The openness of their IoT platform gives them the ability to innovate towards customers.
We have both of these platforms, a world-class integration platform and a world-class IoT platform, ensuring companies can address devices, cloud and data. This is strategically important in the new era of digitalisation.
IoT Now: Please can you give examples of how companies are maximising their IoT opportunities?
BG: One good example is Nordex Group which has adopted Software AG’s Cumulocity IoT to manage production, and ensure energy production is optimised through continuously monitoring its clean energy wind farms. The Nordex Group has connected 23 gigawatts of production using our cloud and edge technology to centrally manage edge devices, continuously refine operations and perform predictive maintenance, which also maximises turbine uptime. Nordex is now able to access the vast dataset from its wind turbines globally in real-time to generate new services and drive operational efficiency.
Global customers demand global solutions. Our machinery producing partners, such as Dűrr and DMG MORI, are world champions in their specialisms of machinery manufacturing. Digital services are defined around machines, as a wrap-around, to then be sold globally.
Another example is Abu Dhabi which has successfully completed an innovative smart city project using Software AG’s Cumulocity IoT. The Abu Dhabi City Municipality is running the pilot phase of a five-year project for smart cities and artificial intelligence (AI) that is designed to digitally transform the environmental, social and financial aspects of urban life to improve the lives of Abu Dhabi’s citizens and visitors. The proof of concept covered a range of use cases, from air quality monitoring and waste management, to smart parking and swimming pool monitoring.
IoT Now: How are you seeing IoT as a globalised market developing? Are regional differences disappearing as more global solutions are developed?
BG: While it’s true that global services are being developed which cater for very specific needs, the consumption of these services is highly related to the economic and geographical demands of specific regions. We therefore see more Industrial IoT (IIoT) in nations with a heavier focus on industry and manufacturing and more agricultural IoT in nations with a higher agricultural GDP. This, to a degree, dictates the pace of adoption as sectors with more mature use cases see greater uptake and deployment while emerging IoT areas are still getting started.
Industrial IoT is leading the way and therefore industrialised nations, such as Germany and China, are good examples of global markets that are deploying IoT solutions at volume. However, there are exceptions which do not rely on national strength in specific sectors to stimulate IoT growth. We see telecoms operators building their own IoT business services for smart city-style services, for example. The infrastructure scale that telecoms operators have at their disposal means they are able to move into a broad range of services very quickly. We would expect national activities by these operators to continue to result in peaks and troughs in uptake across nations.
IoT Now: Is the development path for deployers of IoT services still a barrier that needs to be addressed? It seems that only a few solutions enable organisations to start quickly and increase in sophistication, functionality and scale as the need arises. How important is it that this clunky changing of the gears as deployments proceed is smoothed over?
BG: This is an extremely important question. We have seen the need for companies to look at IoT differently and to cater for all user types. Business users want to use IoT immediately – so we cannot target the developer community only. Aspects of the IoT solution, integration for example, need to be simpler so that business users can integrate business data without having a big IT integration project to manage. Or so that product managers can define smart product offerings through sales capabilities and configuration. We empower business users with intuitive user interfaces, integration and IoT platforms.
Platforms such as Cumulocity IoT are built for business users and allow people that are skilled in using standard office productivity tools to build their own IoT solutions in minutes, whilst also allowing skilled developers to enhance these solutions further. The addition of solution accelerators and self-service analytics makes service development simpler and faster still.
IoT Now: How does Software AG help organisations manage their device connections? Which technologies are you utilising to enable improvements in connecting devices?
BG: There is a huge challenge with the considerable fragmentation of the things which companies want to connect. This is very different from internet connections, which are homogenous. It all boils down to the business case. If device connectivity is too big and you spend too much money connecting things, it is very difficult to formulate a positive business case.
Our approach has been to be very open in terms of device connections, device agnostic if you like, which allows Cumulocity IoT to connect with any device over any network for any use case. We believe that the device connections should be predominantly self-service, where devices advertise their capabilities and can change these capabilities throughout their lifetime.
In addition to this we have developed a number of technologies to simplify connections to: machines supporting industrial fieldbuses, like Modbus, CAN bus and OPC-UA, with our Cloud Fieldbus concept; Sigfox and Actility LoRa low power wide area networks (LPWAN) devices; and most recently, Lightweight M2M (LWM2M) devices.
Our implementation of LWM2M is recognized by industry experts as market leading and allows our partners and clients to take full advantage of the benefits of the technology. I believe LWM2M is a game changing technology which solves two often-stated problems. The first is device interoperability and the second is to have a continuously updated device catalogue. Devices supporting LWM2M simply need to publish their LWM2M device protocol definition, this is uploaded to Cumulocity IoT and any number of devices of this type can connect.
By supporting a publicly available standard for device management and data consumption, Cumulocity IoT allows customers to implement seamless, multi-vendor solutions while avoiding vendor lock-in for both the IoT platform and connected IoT devices.
Our overall approach, and these specific technologies, reduce the cost of IoT and increase the speed-to-market and speed-to-value for our customers.
IoT Now: Connection is only part of the challenge, once the data has been collected and transmitted it needs to be analysed in order that insights are created. What is Software AG’s approach to the challenges of doing this efficiently?
BG: This is a big topic for us at Software AG. We are always looking at ways to optimise and simplify IoT data management. In the past, companies had to use historical analytics and invest heavily in data science expertise. Then after a few years they started to adopt real-time data analytics, so we introduced a streaming analytics engine into Cumulocity IoT. Then a year and a half later we saw demand for predictive analytics. We offer capabilities on our platform that focus on simplifying and democratising access to data analytics. This is empowering business users to individually tackle their business data in an efficient and easy way.
Our recent acquisition of TrendMiner, and its integration into Cumulocity IoT, provides us with a powerful industrial self-service analytics capability, which allows domain experts to leverage machine learning to identify and trigger actions from finding finger prints of events in the machine data streams. By using TrendMiner enterprises can capture a significant proportion of the value of their data without employing a team of data scientists.
IoT Now: The next step, once the insights have been created, is to combine the IoT data into enterprise business processes. How is IoT data being integrated into traditional enterprise IT and what methods are being taken to bridge the gaps?
BG: One of our unique capabilities at Software AG is that we combine world-leading integration with a world-leading IoT platform from Cumulocity IoT. This combination is strategically important for companies that want to drive value out of the newly connected world. We simplify integration with hybrid integration, integration Platform-as-a-Service (iPaaS) and Cumulocity IoT-as-a-Service. Companies can now simply interconnect on-premises apps, cloud apps, devices, machines, data pool and more.
Integration also requires the management of workflows between the different platforms, solutions and applications. The workflow capabilities of our leading webMethods integration platform have recently been bolstered through the acquisition of Built.io and the absorption of its technology into the integration stack. This capability further extends our 170 pre-built connectors to accelerate common hybrid integration tasks.
IoT Now: Any journey starts with a first step. What can be done to encourage organisations to make that critical initial move into IoT so they are confident they can start quickly and achieve rapid results?
BG: At Cumulocity IoT we encourage clients to try out our knowledge and offer a free trial of our cloud service; from there we go into tailored piloting, expanding and enhancing the service in an agile manner based on real participating customer and stakeholder feedback; and commercialize the project. Land and expand is our motto – start small and then expand while learning, eventually adding machine learning and AI capabilities.
We have recently added a new Quickstart package into our portfolio to accelerate the customers’ initial steps even more. IoT Quickstart is carefully designed to get real-world IoT projects off the ground with minimal complexity for the customer, and allowing them to focus on the business outcomes. These engagements are consulting lead and cloud service delivered, running over a few short weeks, thereby reducing the associated time commitment for the customer. They include a series of collaborative workshops to plan, build roadmaps, enable in-house IT teams and ultimately build live IoT solutions that deliver measurable benefits in a short space of time.
A good example of this is Uptime in the UK which is the innovative remote monitoring arm of the UK’s leading independent supplier of building pump services, Deckpro. Using the Quickstart approach, the Uptime team were able to maintain their focus on the business and OT challenges whilst allowing the Software AG team to take away the complexity involved in the conception of their service.
In essence this is how we envision the democratisation of IoT. We foresee companies buying common IoT service building blocks from vendors like Software AG and tapping into our expertise to accelerate their deployments but, critically, the experts remain in control of the service and industry-specific capabilities that are at the core of the individual service.
I encourage you to meet us at Mobile World Congress and Hannover Messe in the coming months. I look forward to meeting you and discuss how IoT can add value to your business.