Rockwell Automation manufacturer poll finds tech paralysis | TechTarget

Rockwell Automation manufacturer poll finds tech paralysis | TechTarget

Complexity, a labor shortage and a fuzzy return on investment have hampered technology adoption among manufacturers trying to modernize operations to stay competitive.

The sheer number of technology options to improve manufacturing efficiency left almost a third of manufacturers surveyed this year by industrial IT provider Rockwell Automation in a state of "technology paralysis."

"The amount of noise that manufacturers are hearing these days is a bit overwhelming," said Jerry Foster, CTO of Plex Systems, a Rockwell company that provides manufacturing execution systems. "They don't have a lot of [financial] room to make mistakes."

Manufacturers are overwhelmed by vendors with similar technology for improving the quality of finished goods or predictive maintenance of factory gear, said IDC analyst Marcia Walker. All claim to provide data lakes for storing raw data for analytics powered by AI or machine learning.

"People get into this analysis paralysis because they want to pick the perfect thing, And it's hard to do when they all sound the same," Walker said.

Manufacturers' expertise is also in systems very different from those sold by IT vendors, Walker said. Manufacturers understand programmable logic controllers and industrial automation and control systems, not Kubernetes, containers and cloud-native architectures.

"They're just speaking different languages," she said.

Released last week, Rockwell's annual survey of more than 1,350 global manufacturers also found that the number of companies struggling to reap an ROI from the technology they bought rose from 26% in 2022 to 43% this year. Foster acknowledged that vendors could do more to help manufacturers deploy modern technology, particularly at the edge or in a public cloud. "There's some work that can be done to help these manufacturers go from just putting things in place to using it in a way that benefits them," he said. "So I think that's where the disconnect is -- at least a big part of it." Tech ROI in manufacturing involves more than just IT systems, Walker said. Manufacturers often see enormous benefits initially. But it becomes more challenging to achieve incremental improvements after the initial problems are solved. There's some work that can be done to help these manufacturers go from just putting things in place to using it in a way that benefits them. Improvement in manufacturing also require technology and operational changes on the factory floor. "People might blame the technology ... but if you dig beneath the covers, it's a much bigger challenge than that," Walker said. "In my experience, very few manufacturers accurately measure their ROI." Nevertheless the confusion over the best use of technology has led vendors to change their sales approach. For example, with its HPE GreenLake edge to cloud platform, HPE focuses on providing management services that would lessen the burden of maintaining complicated edge technology. "We are in a different world in the sense that with the HPE GreenLake edge-to-cloud platform. We are able to solve the entire infrastructure problem, not just, 'Here is my product and here is what it can do,'" said Latha Vishnubhotla, chief platform officer at HPE. To keep vendors honest, manufacturers are holding them to their promises. "Typically, in the proposal phase, there has to be some kind of credible ROI calculation," Walker said. HPE sees a trend in companies seeking more vendor accountability through service-level agreements or other metrics. The company is working on addressing the requirement. "That's something that we are evaluating," Vishnubhotla said. Skilled labor shortages contribute to manufacturers' increasing use of managed IT services for initiatives like edge computing for real-time analytics and less urgent data analysis in public clouds, according to Rockwell. This year's survey found that 46% of manufacturers lacked the skills to outpace competitors during the next 12 months, compared with 35% last year. "For the last two years, the first thing out of everyone's mouth has been the labor shortage," Foster said. "It's a serious long-term issue that can affect the industry." Antone Gonsalves is networking news director for TechTarget Editorial. Since the mid-1990s, he has worked for UBM's InformationWeek, TechWeb and Computer Reseller News. He has also written for Ziff Davis' PC Week, IDG's CSOonline and IBTMedia's CruxialCIO, and rounded all that out by covering startups for Bloomberg News. He started his journalism career at United Press International, working as a reporter and editor in California, Texas, Kansas and Florida. Have a news tip? Please drop him an email.

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