Key Technology Trends for 2021

By Craig Resnick


For those of us at ARC Advisory Group who have been researching the industry for decades now, this is an exciting time to be involved in the world of industrial automation. Many of the once seemingly futuristic and potentially disruptive concepts that we wrote about in the past are finally coming to fruition. These include now-mainstream concepts such as digital transformation, open process automation, IT/OT convergence, and enterprise-wide integration. Technology Technology Trends for 2021solutions built on these concepts are helping manufacturers and other industrial organizations meet today’s real-world business challenges and gain tangible business value.   

In last year’s Key Technology Trends report, we discussed the concept of Industrial IoT Edge 2.0 solutions, increasing use of cyber-physical systems, open process automation, the shift from basic digitization to digitalization, and innovative approaches for industrial cybersecurity. Once again, this year’s list of top technology trends builds and expands on these and other technology trends.

To learn more, we encourage readers to participate in next month’s 2021 ARC Industry Forum, Accelerating Digital Transformation in a Post-COVID World. This year’s Forum will be held in a virtual, online environment. As it has for the past 25 years, the ARC Forum will provide a fantastic opportunity to learn from and network with your peers in other companies and across other industries.

Technology Convergence Morphing into Technology Fusion

The convergence of information technology and operations technology (IT/OT convergence) is progressing rapidly as industrial organizations realize it is key for successful digital transformation.

Connectivity and/or convergence between OT and IT is essential for businesses to compete. Manufacturers and other industrial organizations today face the increasing demand for tighter integration and more information.  In response, they have started to leverage Industrial IoT and Industry 4.0 technology and approaches, including 5G networking, cloud and edge computing, additive manufacturing, advanced analytics, digital twins, AR/VR, AI, ML, and other emerging technologies.

Increasingly IT/OT convergence includes IT/OT cybersecurity, which helps fill existing security gaps and ensures consistent security levels across the enterprise. Increasingly, convergence also includes the integration of power and automation, which involves converging information about electrical assets (such as in motor control centers) and the production process to help improve sustainability across the entire lifecycle of a manufacturing plant. Convergence between power and automation also provides an integrated, digitalized approach that in-creases interoperability and flexibility, reduces CAPEX and OPEX expenditures, increases production efficiencies, decreases unscheduled downtime, and improves overall profitability.

Rather than a trend, ARC believes that this convergence between IT and OT, IT cybersecurity and OT cybersecurity, and power and automation will become permanent, representing a true technology fusion. In 2021, look for the introduction of innovative solutions in which these technologies will be fused into a single offering.

Operational Resilience Becoming a Key Objective

One of the objectives of a company’s digital transformation journey is to ensure resilient operations to improve its capabilities to overcome today’s heightened business risks. These include increasing cybersecurity threats, new regulatory compliance mandates, and more strenuous plant and personnel safety requirements.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturers faced numerous challenges such as market and commodity uncertainty; rapid fluctuations in demand; supply chain disruptions; and the need to become more agile, efficient, and sustainable. However, the current pandemic magnified those challenges, leading manufacturers to focus on operational resilience as a key corporate objective.  

To achieve operational resilience, companies must often break down physical and organizational boundaries to more fully engage its work-force, connect teams, and enhance real-time collaboration.  Operational resilience also requires supply chains to be managed in real time to maintain their integrity, agility, and flexibility, enabling the supply chains to respond to market demand and shifts in material availability. Companies are deploying new methodologies to protect against unscheduled downtime and asset failures, ensure product fulfillment, protect personnel, and enhance security architectures.


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Keywords: Technology Convergence, Technology Fusion, Cybersecurity, Operational Resilience, Remote Operations, Edge Automation Platforms, Autonomous Operations, ARC Industry Forum, ARC Advisory Group.


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