Key Technology Trends for 2020

Author photo: Craig Resnick
ByCraig Resnick
ARC Report Abstract


Astute readers will observe that this year’s “Key Technology Trends” report builds on many of the same trends ARC Advisory Group discussed in last year’s report.  There’s a reason for this.  End users today are demonstrating an improved grasp on how disruptive technologies and approaches can be implemented effectively in their operations and across their enterprises to gain business value.  This is critical for any organization to not only survive, but to thrive long-term in a world where the only certainty is change.

In last year’s report, we discussed augmented reality for knowledge transfer, virtual reality for training and simulation, deployment of combined cloud/edge solutions, convergence of IT/OT cybersecurity, and digital twins.  As discussed in this report, in addition to the above, for 2020, some of the new technologies and approaches we’re tracking include deploying the next generation of Industrial IoT edge solutions; the increasing use of cyber-physical systems; accelerating the development of open process automation systems and standards; digital transformation shifting focus from basic digitization to full digitalization; applying systems engineering practices to industrial cybersecurity; and others. 

All are poised to either enter the mainstream or – if already there - to continue to gain acceptance.  All relate to the overall digital transformation of industry, infrastructure, and today’s increasingly smart cities and municipalities.

In no particular order, here are some of the key technologies that ARC Advisory Group analysts believe will increase in importance over the next twelve months or so.  Multiple ARC analysts, including Chantal Polsonetti, Dick Slansky, Harry Forbes, Valentijn De Leeuw, Peter Reynolds, Eric Cosman, and Mike Guilfoyle all contributed to this ARC Insight.  While far from a complete list, the technologies discussed in this report will almost certainly make an impact on industry, infrastructure, and municipalities in 2020.

Deploying Industrial IoT Edge 2.0 Solutions

The edge of industrial internet-enabled architectures is becoming increasingly important.  This is due largely to its often-critical role in determining the success of digital transformation strategies.  Initially focused on delivering timely, clean data to cloud-based applications, the edge is emerging as an entirely new ecosystem within the overall enterprise architecture.  Solution architects now rely on the edge not only for cloud integration, but also as a solution to address manufacturers’ concerns about latency, security, cost containment, and isolation for production environments.

Edge computing applications, particularly high-value analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) delivered via machine learning (ML), allow data to be processed near its source.  The spike of investments targeted at this space helps demonstrate its increasing importance.  IT and OT suppliers alike are introducing new Industrial IoT edge hardware, software, and solution offerings.  ARC now refers to this as “Industrial IoT Edge 2.0.” It offers important improvements in ease-of-use, self-service, and turnkey operation; while emphasizing business outcomes and application-specific solutions versus pervasive infrastructure.  Moving forward, Industrial IoT Edge 2.0 offerings will place greater emphasis on turnkey solutions that address specific outcome-oriented use cases.  This represents a shift away from a simple “run the operations” mentality to use of real-time data analytics to rethink competitive fundamentals.

Increasing Use of Cyber-physical Systems

While manufacturers ramp up to meet demand for the growing “smart product” market, they face challenges developing and manufacturing new and more complex products and systems.  These require tight integration between the computational (virtual) and the physical (continuous) worlds.  To meet these complexity and integration requirements, more cyber-physical systems will be deployed using advanced simulation platforms that cover model-based mechatronic systems engineering, embedded system design integration, and simulation models that validate product and system design in the physical world.

Key Technology Trends

Cyber-physical systems are an engineered system or mechanism controlled or monitored by computer-based algorithms and tightly integrated with both the internet and its users.  In cyber-physical systems, physical and software components are deeply intertwined and get much of their intelligence from the use of AI and ML.  Factory production lines, process plants for energy and utilities, and smart cities will depend on cyber-physical systems to self-monitor; optimize; and even run infrastructure, transportation, and buildings autonomously.

In the future, cyber-physical systems will rely less on human control and more on the intelligence embedded in the AI-enabled core processors.  These will run the devices, products, and systems that will be a pervasive part of the industrial world that produces them.

Accelerating Development of Open Process Automation Systems and Related Standards

Advances in hardware, software, networking and security, increasing global competition and cybersecurity risks, and the need to gain more value from automation technology will accelerate the development of open process automation systems and related standards.

For example, one initiative  is being driven by a collaboration of end users, including ExxonMobil, Aramco, BASF, ConocoPhillips, Dow, Georgia-Pacific, and Linde. These companies are members of the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) established by The Open Group to identify and select appropriate standards for technology and systems to support interoperability, avoid technology obsolescence, and deliver more business value.

The goal of this collaboration is to accelerate creation of a standards-based, open, interoperable, and secure automation architecture that addresses both technical and commercial challenges of current systems.

A recently developed test bed for use by the collaboration partners will act as the foundation for testing the performance and operation of individual components and standards.  The collaboration partners will nominate and prioritize new components, standards, and system features to be added and tested.  The results from the test bed will be shared with all collaboration partners and create a foundation for developing future solutions.

At the asset/application level, a parallel (and potentially converging) end user-driven effort, the NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA) standard for transferring field equipment information, continues to gain traction in Europe and elsewhere.  NOA uses a standardized information model to securely transfer field data from within the control system to cloud or on-premise applications for monitoring and optimization (M+O) purposes. 

The main purpose of NOA is to reduce the cost and effort required to integrate M+O applications while safeguarding real-time, deterministic process control and instrumentation.  NOA demonstrators have shown that the principles behind NOA are sound.  Proof-of-concept installations show they can be transformed to technical specifications and standards that could lead to marketable products.


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Keywords: Industrial IoT, Edge 2.0, Cyber-physical Systems, Open Process Automation, OPA, Digital Transformation, Digitization, Digitalization, Systems Engineering, Industrial Cybersecurity, Digital Transformation Council, DTC, ARC Advisory Group.

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