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New Service Frontiers for the Intelligent Edge: Delivering a Differentiated User Experience

Howard_Bowland

The Internet of Things is driving a new era of distributed computing, as compute and storage power migrate to where the “things” are – out at the Edge, the IT realm beyond the data center and the cloud, where our technologies meet the massively data-rich world of objects, people, and places. The rise of the Intelligent Edge will profoundly change the ways that businesses shape their production processes and infrastructure. But its influence will extend far beyond that. It will deeply impact how companies consume services to help them transform and thrive in this new environment.

The outlines of a new kind of services platform are starting to emerge, one that holds great promise for organizations that want to capitalize on the enormous opportunities that the Intelligent Edge opens up.

Why the Edge is different

Intelligent Edge.jpgThe Edge is a new kind of technology environment, and it calls for a new kind of services approach. Location becomes a huge factor. The equipment may be in places that are difficult to reach – a remote facility like an offshore oil rig, for example, or one where access is controlled, like a nuclear plant.

IT expertise – or rather the difficulty of accessing it – is problematic, too. Companies often do not maintain a staff of skilled IT resources in these dispersed locations, and they have no interest in building that kind of capability. Typically, and especially in industrial processes, IoT initiatives are led by a combination of OT and IT functions – and the two disciplines speak very different languages. You can insert sensors into your processes, bridge analog data measurements into digital, put it all on a network and install compute to do analytics. But what happens when something needs to be changed or simply maintained? Now you’ve got IT where you never had it before, with people who have an important focus on running the operation and are not familiar with running IT.

Put these two factors together, and you have a very different situation from the centralized and closely controlled environment of a data center or cloud, where you have people who are skilled in IT best practices immediately available, either on-site or remotely, to ensure smooth operations.

The Edge experience is the user experience

There’s a kind of immediacy about the Edge, too, that you don’t find with IT delivered by data centers. A data center IT team’s experience of the IT outcome is not directly connected to the user’s experience. But at the Edge, there’s no buffer between the IT outcome and the user experience. If you’re in an airport and you’re trying to use a wayfinding function to get to your gate, and it isn’t working, then you’re not a happy user. Or if the guest wifi is spotty, you don’t care if the airport outsourced it to a third party and all of the access points are working and the packets are moving. You only care about the fact that you’re having a bad user experience. The IT experience is the user experience.

Or consider the same concept in a manufacturing context. Whether a production line is working as expected or not will depend on many factors, but when we introduce IT into the OT to create IoT then the operational experience is very dependent on the IT experience. When it stops working, the benefits you get from automating that line or automating decisions about it will go away. In a very real sense, at the Edge, the IT experience and the user experience are the same.

A new model for services at the Intelligent Edge

However different the Intelligent Edge may seem – and it is very different – some things don’t change. Just because IT now reaches beyond the data center, it doesn’t mean that you can afford to reduce your focus on uptime and best practice. You may find the opposite, in fact – minimizing downtime is even more critical. There may be less redundancy and resiliency when Edge devices are controlling manufacturing processes, for example, than there is in a well operated data center environment

The way I see it, services need to evolve to a new Edge-ready model that encompasses evergreen priorities as well as the new realities driven by the IoT. I’ve outlined such a model in the figure below.

Journey to the Intelligent Edge Figure 1.pngJourney to the Intelligent Edge Figure 1Services need compelling consumption economics. The pay-as-you-go, service-on-demand dynamics that we’ve all learned to associate with the cloud will continue to be a dominant force in services at the Edge. Security will gain even greater importance, demanding an end-to-end treatment, a thread running through everything, OT and IT. Real-time monitoring and remote management of equipment – longtime features of HPE’s hardware, software and service capabilities – will be crucial.

Simplified provisioning is essential in a world where IT is moving into new spaces. Services must be easy to procure, easy to deploy, and easy to manage. They should be effectively invisible, a Transparent IT. One way to think of Edge gear and services is like the cable box you have at home; the cable company expects you to plug it in but that’s about it. Everything else happens via intelligent software and smart people at the other end of a cable. You shouldn’t need an expert on the ground to service it; you can do a whole-unit swap and the unit can reconfigure itself and become part of the infrastructure without any loss of capability.

Companies will still need to focus, first and last, on their business and operational objectives, of course – but they may get some help from business outcome analytics delivered as a service. Access to experts who can provide guidance and support will be fundamental to the model and a core component of any large-scale inroad into the industrial IoT.

In the absence of in-house IT field support, centralized repairs and augmented-reality assistance will transform the way companies operate and support their Edge environment.

Leading for the long haul

The rise of the Intelligent Edge will bring a new simplicity and transparency to services. The journey to the Edge will be an exciting one, and it will shape companies and whole industries for many years to come. It will require not only careful attention to the technology, but to the people and processes involved as well. The cultural shift that will be required to enable the full benefits to be realized will require leadership from the very top of the organization. Business leaders will find it worth their while to seek out service partners with the expertise and experience to lead for the long haul.

To learn more on this topic, take a look at the presentation below. If you're ready to get started, go to our webpage, HPE Pointnext Advisory and Transformation Services, and chat with one of our representatives. We are here to help your organization thrive at the Edge.   


Howard Bowland
VP HPE Pointnext Services, Intelligent Edge,
Hewlett Packard Enterprise

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About the Author

Howard_Bowland

Vice President of HPE Pointnext Services for the Intelligent Edge portfolio & OEM Services business.

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