Innovation Convergence: The Future is Now

I love hearing from tech leaders who live and work on the bleeding edge. Topics that the rest of us consider futuristic are addressed by tech pioneers in the context of here and now – just as necessary and commonplace as prioritizing your to-do list or choosing a restaurant for tonight’s dinner. At a technology law conference in Austin last week, leaders from companies like Tesla, Rackspace, and Dell highlighted how developments like 3-D printing, genome editing tools, and autonomous vehicles impact business and culture. My key takeaway: the future is now, and it’s leaving a lot of slow-moving companies in the past at ever-increasing speeds.

The idea that my 16-year old will be among the last of humans who will learn to drive a personal automobile is startling. Shared self-driving fleets will safely, efficiently and inexpensively transport the next generation to their destinations, eliminating the 23 hour per day inefficiencies of most privately owned cars. Examining the social and microeconomic implications of such collaborative consumption in sectors like transportation, co-working, and tools is even more astonishing.

We’ve all benefitted from the exponential growth in computer processing power in ways even futurists couldn’t have imagined a generation ago. Similarly, ancillary technologies have experienced Moore’s law in tandem, enabling a convergence of collaboration and innovation across virtually every industry. For those of us in the Industrial Control System (ICS) industry who straddle the contradictory worlds between ubiquitous connectivity and 30-year-old automation systems, we must ask, “is the ICS industry keeping pace?”

Arguably, the process industries have not benefitted relative to their importance in our economy and lives. We’ve seen vast improvements in sensors and devices for gathering data. We’ve significantly enhanced production and asset performance. But we are just starting to address the convergence of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT), standardization and opening of ICS architecture, and securing of proprietary automation assets from cyber threats. As an example of this, in a February blog entry I wrote about ExxonMobil’s collaborative approach to directing innovative change in ICS architecture, a move that would finally allow ICSs to leverage beneficial technologies and best practices.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us. It is changing the way we live, work, and relate to others, as though the last few decades haven’t been transformative enough. Ushered in by The Internet of Things, the velocity of disruption is creating whiplash across our cautious, slow-adopter ICS industry. Even so, data visualization, predictive analytics, and machine learning are as relevant to plant operators and security officers as mapping the human genome is to a geneticist. Forward-thinking companies such as PAS leverage these technologies to access and optimize big data and operational information in the plant environment, redefining operational, safety, and security outcomes. We can’t afford to allow our critical infrastructure cyber-physical systems to lag behind technological innovation, because threats to plant reliability, safety, and security won’t wait for us.

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