Microsoft and BMW pair up for IoT Open Manufacturing Platform

Microsoft has partnered up with the BMW Group to launch a new initiative aimed at stimulating growth for IoT in the smart factory segment.

The Open Manufacturing Platform (OMP) will be built on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, aiming to have four to six partners by the end of the year, to help grow an ecosystem and build future Industry 4.0 solutions. The smart factory segment is promising much with the emergence of 5G, but with every new concept there is scepticism; someone always needs to drag it towards the finish line.

“Microsoft is joining forces with the BMW Group to transform digital production efficiency across the industry,” said Scott Guthrie, EVP of the Microsoft Cloud and AI Group. “Our commitment to building an open community will create new opportunities for collaboration across the entire manufacturing value chain.”

“We have been relying on the cloud since 2016 and are consistently developing new approaches,” said Oliver Zipse, a board member at BMW. “With the Open Manufacturing Platform as the next step, we want to make our solutions available to other companies and jointly leverage potential in order to secure our strong position in the market in the long term.”

BMW is already a significant customer of Microsoft Azure, with over 3,000 machines, robots and autonomous transport systems connected with through the BMW Group IoT platform, which is built on Microsoft Azure cloud.

Openness is one of the key messages here as the pair bemoan data silos and slow productivity created by complex, proprietary systems. The OMP aims to break down these barriers through the creation of an open technology framework and cross-industry community.

For both, the objective of this group is relatively simple. At BMW, the team wants to improve operational efficiencies and reduce costs, partly by taking back control of the supply chain, while Microsoft just wants more people, processes and data on Azure. The more accessible the smart factory is, more companies will become cloud-first, and the more successful the OMP becomes, the more customers Azure gains.

The OMP will provide community members with a reference architecture with open source components based on open industrial standards and an open data model. Through openness, the pair claim data models will be standardised to enable more data analytics and machine learning scenarios and usecases. For Microsoft and the manufacturers, its great news, for the suppliers not so much.

Openness sounds like a great idea, but with any fundamental change comes consequence. There will be numerous companies who benefit considerably from proprietary technologies and processes, especially in traditional industries like manufacturing, though those who resist change will be the losers in the long-run. The world is evolving to a new dynamic, where openness rules the roost, resistance only means future redundancy.

BBWF 2018: Telcos are starting to find their voice through openness – TIM

For years the CSPs have been a fading voice in the telco ecosystem, but control is being wrestled back through the open communities.

The challenge over the last couple of years has been a lack of control. Standards organizations and technological developments are controlled by the vendors, which in turn results in control the industry’s landscape. The CSPs are no-longer masters of their own fate, which is primarily their own fault, but according to Mauro Tilocca of Telecom Italia the open source communities are giving the CSPs a voice.

“We need to blend the strengths of standards organizations and open source communities,” said Tilocca at Broadband World Forum in Berlin. “This is the only way to get to carrier grade solutions.”

It’s amazing to think that in years gone CSPs used to be technologically innovative organizations. But tough market conditions and stress on profitability has seen a trend of outsourcing responsibility. In other words, outsourcing the risk element of innovation.

Speaking to other attendees at this year’s event, there is a feeling the CSPs of yesteryear wanted to be financing organizations. This might explain why there are so many accountants in leadership positions, and such a distaste for risk. Allowing others to innovate and then leaning on the findings is certainly a safer way to conduct business, sitting on the top of the stack realising the advances of others; standing on the shoulders of giants is a common phrase which can be applied here.

But the downside is a loss of influence from a technological perspective and future developments in the industry. This might have allowed the accountants to manipulate spreadsheets to make the financials of an organization healthier, but the standards working groups and research projects are dominated by vendors. The CSPs are having their roadmaps dictated to them because they have lost their voice in the ecosystem.

With open source and white box groups becoming more prominent in the ecosystem, the CSPs are starting to find their feet. Open source and open standards are becoming more regular fixtures of the telco world, and these are the groups which are designed to be led by the CSPs. Of course, these groups alone cannot dictate the terms of the industry, there is still too much knowledge and talent hiding away in the vendor-influenced standards groups, but the balance of power might be shifting towards a healthier position.

The outsourcing trend which handed control of the ecosystem to the vendors was a massive over-reaction from the telcos. Fear took over and too much risk was outsourced. Openness is leading a CSP renaissance, but it is still a bit early to call CSPs innovative.