We noted with great interest the just-announced transaction by Rockwell Automation. Their investment in ThingWorx-maker PTC has the potential to propel and accelerate the digitization of industrial processes. This can only be good news for Rockwell customers who want to unlock the business value of process and operational data, not just for the classic predictive-maintenance use cases, but also to optimize production parameters in light of changing business conditions.
This transaction represents a major step forward in recognition by the industry’s most important vendors that the IoT is here to stay; it’s highly valuable; and better tools are needed to unlock its value. We applaud the greatly-improved potential of new IoT applications to generate the inputs for next-generation visibility. As we have written before, the three ingredients for better risk-management of industrial processes are: better data, better analytics, and better skills. The PTC investment will make it easier to get better data to feed the rest of the stack.
Taking a deeper look, the Rockwell/PTC hookup reflects a quite distinctive but little-remarked feature of ICS/OT networks: that is, that industrial-process networking is so dependent on timing determinacy, reliable delivery and other factors, that systems and automation vendors significantly control and often even design customer networks.
Customers typically have much less flexibility to manage ICS/OT networks than they do with IT networks. This has long been an issue in OT security and asset management, for example. Its importance will increase as new applications leveraging ICS/OT data are developed. On the other hand, the Industrial Internet of Things is an entirely different reality. We’ll explore that in a future post. ICS/OT domains also contain much proprietary technology, something that many large organizations are uncomfortable with but reluctant to challenge. The Rockwell investment in PTC may reflect a recognition that the new generation of OT applications will need extensive support from controls and systems vendors.
It remains to be seen whether key customers will embrace this pattern, or demand more openness as the headlong rush to digitization continues.