Redefining hardware and software companies

Brian Robinson, Global Leader, Software Development Improvement Program, ABB


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The lines that distinguish a software company from a hardware company are becoming blurred. Whether it is on the assembly floor of an automotive plant or in a data center that powers Facebook, software is the unseen technology that makes the products and services consumers use every day possible. The industrial software market is growing at double the pace of the hardware market, and worldwide engineering companies that were historically recognized as equipment providers are now actively involved in large scale software development. There is much to be gained from integrating information technologies (IT) and operational technologies (OT) together. By converging IT with physical equipment, it is possible to redefine a company's service offerings and enable real-time upgrades to system functionality that dramatically increases productivity and efficiency. Today, a workstation that monitors a plant-wide chemical process can also be used to control power allocation across a wide range of devices and scales. Higher level OT software, such as that used in data centers, can measure, analyze and optimize the power needs of a specific installation, in real time, to maximum efficiency. Today, much of the functionality of a product resides within the software. Physical systems used to house a product are designed to be similar between different applications, leading to easier maintenance and repair. Moving more of the differentiating functionality into the software part of the product brings about faster feature development and more innovation within the same hardware device. For example, a software-based system could roll out new features every four to six months, with no change in hardware and minimal downtime, while the traditional hardware based system usually deploys new features on a 6-7 year timeframe when a new hardware platform is ready. Overall, this evolution can distinguish a company among competitors when executed correctly. But, there are many challenges. When is a product ready to go to market? Frequently, software products are released quickly, and then future software upgrades improve that software over time. What is the opportunity in the research and development of software? What are the best strategies for communicating planned advancements? How are revenue strategies impacted? As the physical engineering companies continue to emerge as major global software players, the cultural landscape between physical and software makers will drastically shift and the discussion will continue. Join me to talk more about this during an online discussion at ABB Automation and Power World (APW) expo on Wednesday, March 27 at 3:00 p.m. APW attendees, as well as the general public, can participate in a webcast discussion by registering here to ask questions, offer feedback and interact with the experts in real time. ABB ABB Automation & Power World