Will System Integrators Become Service Integrators?

Will System Integrators Become Service Integrators? On the Automation World blog, Luigi De Bernardini’s analysis.

When I look back on my experience as a system integrator and apply the changes I see taking place today, I see two competing issues affecting the future of industry.

On one hand, as I watch industry interest move away from ownership and toward the service model, I suspect it will impact the way complex solutions for industry will be created. The rapid acceleration of this change is particularly noticeable today in the software world.

On the other hand, independent of any technological change or existing business models, the specificity of a company’s manufacturing processes constitutes a significant part of its competitive edge. Therefore this specificity is a value that must be preserved, nurtured, and valued.

Based on these two, somewhat opposed, realities, my first thought is that it will be very difficult for suppliers to market any new, complex system to support more efficient production as a packaged service that could also be tailored to specific business needs. Manufacturers still require a high level of system customization to adapt them to their culture, organization, and/or processes. Therefore, I suspect that, at least in the short term, the proliferation of available solutions as a service will solve simple problems that are well defined and repetitive rather than those problems that are more specific and complex.

Looking at the development of new solutions as a service from this perspective—as solutions to more simple problems—helps see how they could be useful components upon which more complex solutions can be built. I believe this path is the more likely one to be followed by industry because companies tend to deploy such services in a progressive manner, i.e., avoiding big projects, but solving specific, small problems one by one. This approach provides manufacturers with immediate benefits and enables them to dilute their investment. When manufacturers look to implement more complex systems, they typically do so only after having already implemented a diverse set of services based on different technologies—often offered by different vendors and without a common standard for easy integration.

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