Using embedded software strategically

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Embedded software is developing into a strategic tool that companies use to compete. Structures and budgets for hardware and software development must follow this trend and be checked and adapted more frequently.

Various key topics related to digitalization are overwhelming industrial development departments and those responsible for embedded software in particular. Besides the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), catchwords such as connectivity, security and maintainability come to mind. And embedded artificial intelligence is making its way onto the scene.

In many cases, developers recognize the potential that these trends have to offer their companies quite early. However, management does not always appreciate the significance and rapid speed of these changes.

The share of value added to machines and systems by software has been increasing steadily for years, and many innovative product features are now the result of software and networking. Furthermore, examining other branches of industry also illustrates how quickly established markets have been shaken up by the appearance of competitors with digital business models.

“Living” product features with embedded software

So it is high time for software to become a strategic focus area for management. Every executive who uses a smartphone can imagine how customers’ requirements with regard to the products of device, machine and system manufacturers change. Embedded software creates living product features with short innovation cycles. Examples include operability, reachability, security, maintainability and new services—aspects that have an effect on a company’s own positioning and value creation models.

The use of technical software must now help to reach strategic company objectives. If positioning is not determined by price, can suppliers be particularly confident when they recommend products? Or is convenient yet secure operability more important? How will any data that is generated be handled? Will it be used for added-value services? If a manufacturer of medical devices says, “What we are developing here is a type of modular cell phone with our therapy system’s integrated control system,” is the potential associated with that clear?

One example of a way to position yourself in a digitalized market early are the industry platforms that are emerging in Germany that collect and aggregate machine and sensor data and prepare it to create added-value services. In this case, the sovereignty of one’s own data and local storage in Germany play an important role.

Securing one’s ability to compete

The reference here is to 365FarmNet in agricultural technology and ADAMOS—or Adaptive Manufacturing Open Solutions—in machine manufacturing. Both illustrate how teaming up to develop sector-specific platforms and standards is working for medium-sized players in Germany. They make data from the machine level available as the basis for new services and interaction with customers, operators and suppliers. And: both systems occupy key positions in their respective markets, so it is difficult for competitors to get past them.

Motivated technology platforms of this kind—from the embedded level up to the Cloud—serve as a basis for data- and service-based value creation models. They are a key factor in securing one’s own ability to compete. The objective is to use data as a raw material and fourth factor of production before others do. Another task of strategic technology leadership must be to align marketing, sales and purchasing to changing products and new services that can still serve as a unique selling proposition.

If the use of embedded software with a flexible, secure link to the Cloud is not promoted fast enough, then participating in the other direction, i.e. in emerging new markets, is not possible. If quality remains unchanged, the appeal of these types of machines and systems to interested parties tends to decrease.

Besides capable developers, the strategic use of embedded software goes hand in hand with adapted development models, processes and the use of open industry standards. It is also important to keep one’s own technology chain flexible and maintainable during the entire lifecycle to be able to respond quickly to changes in the market environment. Because one thing is certain: Those changes will come!

 

Dr. Uwe Kracke, emix

Dr. Uwe Kracke, CEO of emlix GmbH, Göttingen.