There’s an ongoing debate about the benefits of open- versus closed-architecture systems for many applications in the industrial products world. And this debate has become particularly relevant as the outlines emerge of an Industrial Internet of Things — a network of interconnected systems that drives value for industrial products and their users.
Advocates for closed architecture claim that systems work together better when they are expressly designed to meet a closely defined set of technology standards. Advocates for open technology argue that innovation is spurred when product development is not restricted by closed systems.
Given that industrial products rely on a number of different, complex platforms, it can be difficult to get all platforms working together. The case for open architecture? It allows systems to work together more effectively, thus improving both product functionality and the quality of customer service.
Industrial companies often rely on products composed of many complex platforms. The data generated by each one of these platforms can be critically important, and open architecture systems allow companies to capture and analyze data generated from each and every otherwise siloed system, regardless of where the data is generated.
Open Architecture Systems in Practice
The trucking industry provides a good example. Truck fleets depend on keeping their trucks up and running. Telematics systems, which monitor the health of various truck components from the engine on down, are a critical factor in keeping those trucks running. However, most fleets contain a variety of makes and models — almost all of which have relationships with a given, proprietary telematics service provider. How can a fleet simultaneously track all these systems and aggregate the results for analysis and action?
This is where an open architecture system can shine. It brings together the data points from all those telematics service providers, allowing trucking companies to gather and analyze this data across the board, leading to insights that can improve fuel efficiency, uptime and more. By comparing the data from a variety of trucks, companies can detect which trucks in the fleet are performing the best — and why. Without the ability to analyze the data from each truck in the fleet, drawing informed conclusions from a full fleet would be impossible.
Driving Home the Argument
Beyond keeping products up and running more efficiently, an open architecture approach also allows an industrial company better address the wants and needs of its customers. Let’s look at another example, drawn from the automotive industry, which may be closer to home for many people.
Today’s cars collect driver data from a variety of different sources, measuring everything from their entertainment preferences to their driving habits. With a complete view of driver data from multiple sources, car companies can be better informed about the behaviors and preferences of drivers, and can take action on improvements and future models that map back to these preferences.
Open technology also offers the potential to open doors for completely new products and services that serve existing industries. For example, defense contractors are using solutions that allow real-time video to be streamed directly from an unmanned aircraft to the cockpit of a military helicopter. An open architecture approach permits such solutions to be easily installed on multiple helicopter platforms, enabling the US Army to gather critical data from each and every helicopter system.
While arguments can be made on both sides, it seems likely that over time, the industrial products industry will increasingly move in the direction of open architecture integration. Such an approach will position industrial companies and their customers to work more efficiently, improve the quality of service, and deliver the latest in product technologies that address user needs.