Five Architectural Features that Make Connected Solutions Different: Collaboration
In the last posting, I talked about Resilience as a key attribute of a "connected world" automation architecture. By the way, thanks Rick (of Lighthammer & ThingWorx fame) for your comments on the prior post…I agree with you that location awareness/mobility, heterogeneity and replaceability are key attributes of a resilient architecture. You did get me into a tight spot, as I had "mobile" as one of the "top-5" in its own right, but more on that for a later post, as I want to focus this one on collaboration.
IT-enabled collaboration changes industries. Full stop. We can all see examples around us where this has happened and continues to happen. The fundamental hypothesis remains the same—a community of individuals enabled by the right IT platform can outperform the individual. And this is not just about buying and selling or sharing pictures or booking the right hotel for your next vacation. Increasingly, collaborative platforms are used to drive velocity through value chains and most recently, as a way to accelerate and refine intellectual property pursuits. Some of my favorite examples are platforms/communities like topcoder.com, quirky.com and kickstarter.com.
Given that, and back to the idea that the "platform" should make it easy for us to do what we may have done in the past out of sheer will and effort, the two key aspects of collaboration that we should expect in an automation platform for a connected world should include the following:
1. Easy creation and sharing of content protected by peer-review-type mechanisms (similar to the ones found in platforms like Wikipedia). Let’s face it, 80% of what we do when automating a process is quite common, yet many in our industry still treat 100% of what we do as "secret sauce." An automation platform that allows individuals and companies to create, share and consume validated content will allow all to go faster—and spend more of the time on the "secret sauce" of each company's process. Sharing does not need to be free either; ideally collaboration can come together with a variety of business models to support it (think app-store like).
2. Easy sharing of data between the end user of the equipment and the maker of the machine. To the end user, this level of sharing should drive faster, more efficient support experiences. To the "maker," whether external OEM or internal provider, access to this data can be a significant accelerator in next-generation development cycles. We like calling that the power of "owning", "sharing" or "selling" the data produced by the fleet of control systems, understanding that what is appropriate to own, share, or sell may be different by customer and application.