Edge to Cloud: How Do We Get There from Here?

Ryan Spurr

In industrial automation, we spend a lot of time focused on connecting things at the edge and doing something useful with data. This might include machine-to-machine automation, edge decision making, or passing data to business systems (think CMMS, ERP, and MES). In my last blog, I discussed data acquisition and protocol management, the integration of data with other components, and the challenges of connecting a diverse range of things.

Let’s be honest: Connecting machines across east-west traffic on an industrial network is one thing. But what about connecting almost anything across domains and corporate infrastructure from the customer with the cloud?

Besides the immediate obstacles that cross your mind, there are also some outstanding reasons to connect to the cloud. First, connecting sensors, machines, and systems in the factory helps to instrument end-to-end manufacturing processes. Connecting those same things to modern cloud services unlocks a whole range of capabilities and can lead to competitive advantages. Second, embedding edge compute and connectivity into finished goods creates new business models for manufacturers. The cloud is full of modern offerings to build a brand new client service on top of including software as a service and cloud infrastructure. In fact, the majority of cutting-edge business system platforms are first offered in the cloud, and then eventually on-premises, if at all. Changes in cloud capabilities and availability are what has driven manufacturing to become the #1 spending industry for public cloud offerings.

Connecting things to the cloud is just the beginning. We also must aim to understand why we’d invest in these technologies. What problems are we trying to solve? What stakeholders are involved? How will we measure success? It’s important to understand what corporate goals your company seeks to achieve and how these solutions solve a multitude of business challenges, or uncover new growth opportunities.

Once we understand how to improve process or meet corporate objectives, connecting things to the cloud has never been easier. There are a wide range of enabling technologies—from data acquisition and edge hardware, software with vast driver and protocol libraries to support the complexities of operational or fielded devices, and automation that easily integrates with modern platforms, including the top cloud services like AWS, Azure, GCP, and more. These technologies make the task of interconnecting anything easier and set a foundation that allows your manufacturing business to address a wide range of existing and future pains points. Because of these technologies, the business potential (most importantly, return on investment) is much higher than the initial use case.

Of course, there are other great reasons to invest and connect data, and integrate with cloud, besides access to modern processes, scalable and resilient global resources, or speed to value. On the operational side, other benefits might include gaining access to high performance computing, digital twins, scalable AI solutions, and business systems designed from the ground up to integrate with modern data and IoT protocols—making digital process integration more of a reality.

Whatever your organization’s interest in the cloud, it’s clear that manufacturers are adopting cloud solutions to improve operational excellence or to transform customer experience. Connecting and integrating all things at the edge to the cloud is the next practical step to deliver information to a diverse range of stakeholders. By leveraging modern technologies, we can connect all things that matter across the value stream, and leverage cloud to bring that data to life.

You don’t have to go it alone! Connection’s Manufacturing Practice can help you connect, acquire, integrate, and use industrial data to improve visibility, automate processes across complex infrastructures, and achieve new business outcomes. Let our team work with your experts on the right technology stack and software to integrate your industrial operations with cloud.

To learn more about technologies and services that connect the edge to the cloud, contact one of our manufacturing specialists today!

Ryan Spurr is the Director of Manufacturing Strategy at Connection with 20+ years of experience in manufacturing, information technology, and portfolio leadership. He leads the Connection Manufacturing Practice, go-to-market strategy, client engagement, and advisory services focusing on operational technology (OT) and information technology that make manufacturers more digitally excellent.