Digitalization of the built environment opens a whole new world of possibilities to utilize technology, data and machine learning solutions. It’s becoming commonly known that the hidden diamonds are waiting to be discovered. And the race has already started. Small tech companies and start-ups are the enablers of flexibility for the big companies to reach the strategic targets taking also the built environment into account. I can’t underline enough that operational technology of the built environment is an enabler for any business - banking, googling, food production, paper industry, aviation, engineering - you name it.
As you can imagine, the possibilities are endless. The service suppliers are developing integrated platforms for running the properties via one user interface. That’s a good start and may also be a requirement for some projects. One UI for all of the systems for dozens of years to come may still be utopia (note the long life cycle of some of the OT systems), but one may always require a strong vendor lock if it’s the best solution for a strong partnership. At the same time another end user or investor is requesting flexibility, modularity, cost effectiveness, reasonable service levels and contracts and most importantly the products that fit the company’s approach and strategy. This is where we need the endless power of the small. And this is where we need to concentrate on the APIs, data and their consumers - software developers, the real end users of application programming interfaces.
An interesting approach is a group of companies, big or small ones, that provide complementary solutions that are smoothly integratable - with a proven connectivity - to build a solution to cover the customer’s needs (request always a real life demonstration!). It sounds interesting for an investor but it makes me wonder. How to keep the lines straight; how to make sure the salesperson does not sell e.g. the company’s own security solution that is not a part of the “ecosystem” over the security solution that is. And in this arrangement who is selling to whom? Which of the companies is the one selling the ecosystem’s services and under which name? Do they all have the required knowledge to represent another company or system? How does the customer find the right door to open? This joint arrangement may need a name, an organization and a strategy for the ecosystem to underline the partnership and not to confuse the customer, not to mention good communication.
Another approach could be well documented open APIs and standard data models to make it possible for the solution provider to harmonize, analyze and consume the data required in different use cases - cost effectively and flexibly. I can imagine this might sound a bit unrealistic in an environment digitalized and developed in the shades and grown bigger than IT itself. But to move mountains towards sustainable direction we need a holistic approach, courageous and powerful people and open discussion to take the steps forward while not making all of the same mistakes IT has done but learning from them. This is where we need cooperation through the silos and between operators on different maturity levels.
Leading the way in the jungle of operational technology towards secure solutions and smooth cooperation requires courageous people passionate about making things happen - smoothing the way for the industries dependent on a well-functioning built environment. Leading the change is about prioritization and risk management. It’s about power, ability and courage to make cross-functional decisions impacting all the strong-built silos. The dependencies of the OT environment can be complex and strong - even critical. That’s why visible and understandable operational technology is better than hidden and secret, and why we need open discussion regardless of the size of the organization. Luckily, we already have examples of sophisticated solutions and courageous industry leaders to make the change visible.