The ubiquitous availability of compute power opens up technology avenues even to smaller players.
In a recent post, we looked at five technologies that play a key role in Industry 4.0, with cloud computing being one of them. But cloud is so fundamental to Industry 4.0 efforts, especially when it comes to making Industry 4.0 within reach for companies of any size, I thought it deserved a closer look in this follow-up post.
First, some numbers that make it clear: cloud use is booming. Nearly all (94%) of respondents to the Flexera 2019 State of the Cloud Report use either public or private cloud offerings, and 84% use multiple cloud services. Worldwide, the public cloud services market is projected to grow by 17.3% in 2019, to a total of $206.2 billion, up from 175.8 billion in 2018, according to Gartner. More than one quarter (28%) of all spending in key IT markets will shift to the cloud by 2022, Gartner predicts. Those markets include infrastructure software, system infrastructure, and application software.
While it’s hard to say what percentage of cloud use is dedicated to Industry 4.0 efforts, it’s clear those efforts depend heavily on the availability of cloud services. At a base level, companies need cloud storage services simply to handle the onslaught of data from Internet of Things (IoT) applications that drive many Industry 4.0 levels.
Cloud Helps Bring AI to the Masses
As the same time, cloud computing services are crucial to efforts such as artificial intelligence and machine learning (ML), which are increasingly required to help companies make sense of all that IoT data. As Gartner puts it, cloud can help “democratize” AI.
“AI, one of the most disruptive classes of technologies, will become more widely available due to cloud computing, open source, and the ‘maker’ community.’” Gartner says. “The notable change will be its availability to the masses.”
That change is already occurring. Companies such as Indico and Rulex offer cloud-based AI tools intended for use by business people to automate business processes and decision-making; no data scientists required. (Full disclosure: I’ve done work for both companies and was impressed by both.) It’s a mind-boggling idea when you think about it: the power of AI is at the fingertips of literally anyone in the company. Indico says you can create a working model to automate a business process in an hour.
Cloud computing is also a boon for the companies that make these tools, making it possible for even smaller firms to deliver powerful applications. Harvard Business Review reports on KenSci, “a small Seattle-based healthcare analytics company,” which uses ML techniques to provide real-time predictions about mortality, readmissions, and other health-related risks for patients. Clearly, such applications require plenty of computing power. “Relying on the cloud, KenSci has been able to quickly scale up and offer its services worldwide, without building a sizeable IT infrastructure beforehand,” HBR reports.
Another firm mentioned in the same story is Pivothead, a company with 25 employees that makes wearable technologies to help the blind and visually impaired. “Information collected by the wearable sensors are sent to the cloud, processed through machine learning algorithms, and transformed into speech or text, in order to help the client navigate the surrounding environment,” HBR reports. Industry 4.0 technologies helping the blind to “see”—how cool is that?
Enterprise Cloud Strategy Required
A word of caution when it comes to cloud is to ensure you have a cohesive strategy, rather than a series of rogue deployments in different groups.
A study commissioned by Oracle found a majority of companies are struggling with that effort.
“To date, many enterprise cloud models have consisted of little more than a loose collection of disparate cloud apps and storage, from a range of vendors. As a route to innovation, this approach just isn’t adequate, and 62% of businesses said they need an integrated approach to cloud,” Oracle found. The same study found 60% of businesses see an integrated enterprise cloud strategy “as the route to unlocking the potential of disruptive technologies at the heart of industry 4.0, such as robotics or artificial intelligence.”
I’m with them.