Impressions from the sps ipc drives Italia 2017 fair

The sps ipc drives 2017 fair which took place in Parma last week has been dominated by the Industry 4.0 theme, which was already lurking in last year’s edition (see the mini-reportage about that).

All visitors coming from the south entrance (photo) could visualize the IT/OT convergence (Information Technology/Operational Technology). They were greeted by a “Focus know-how 4.0” area, occupied by the big names in IT (and no longer by startups like last year …): Oracle, Microsoft, CISCO, Hewlett Packard Enterprise. IT companies 2, 5, 10 times larger than the largest of the OTs landed at this historically OT-oriented fair with sober stands, inhabited by senior staff from business support and not from marketing. The contrast with the huge stands of the other halls, full of plungers, communication cards, industrial robots and the usual circus of (let’s face it) borderline pornographic assistants, was impressive.

But apart from the fair gossip, at this edition you could get a full picture of the competitive landscape of Industry 4.0 platforms, i.e. of those “cloud operating systems” equipped with all the utilities needed to work on the data, so that system integrators can develop solutions around them.

The PaaS (Platform-as-a-service) relevant to the industry 4.0, in order from OT to IT, from specialist to generalist are:

  1. Siemens MindSphere
  2. GE Predix
  3. PTC ThingWorx
  4. DATABOOM by the Italian system integrator Hi-Logic
  5. IBM BlueMix
  6. Microsoft Azure

(I may miss a few: I would appreciate it if you report back !).

The competition is open, and I’m sure (as I was a year ago) that the operating companies and even more so the equipment manufacturers will be very cautious in choosing one platform over the others. Everybody fears that they will go the same path as the platforms for mobile apps: only one remains (Android), it is more important than hardware, and it has cannibalized the entire value chain.

Keep in mind that true innovation in a complex value chain like automation and industrial processes can not be brought forward by a lone supplier or a lone customer (no matter how large they are): but they can do it together with an ecosystem of subcontractors, maintainers, developers, integrators … it is a war between ecosystems (see Ron Adner and Rahul Kapoor “Right Tech, Wrong Time” Harvard Business Review November 2016).
Industry 4.0 is like the electric car: it is not enough to buy the car, you need gas stations, a transmission network capable of carrying the current and above all the electrician down the road ti can get it started that particular Monday. What is certain is that soon there will be many electric cars.