The future of automation is here: Five predictions for data over the next five years

Credit: ID 28690754 © Kyolshin | Dreamstime.com

You might have heard the phrase “Data is the new economy” – but what does it mean? In the modern economy, as automation becomes ubiquitous in business and homes, data is captured and measured everywhere, and the COVID-19 crisis has arguably only sped up our complete conversion to a digital economy where all activity is data-driven and data-informed.

With this in mind, what does the next half-decade of automation and data development have in store?

1. People can and will work anywhere, thanks to the cloud

As we’ve seen over the months since the first lockdown began in late March, the ability to access data from anywhere with an internet connection is invaluable. Infrastructure (the restrictions on Auckland Harbour Bridge traffic while repairs were undertaken in 2020) and public health and safety (COVID-19) issues mean that for 2020 at least, the centralised office model requiring widespread commuting and gathering is no longer the most feasible for productivity. The biggest transformation in data over the past decade has been the adoption of cloud services, which are now in standard use by companies and individuals, and this will become an even more pervasive feature of Big Data globally.

2. Businesses can sell their proposition and product based on excellent data reporting and automation

A rapidly growing area of data development is in the industrial commercial space – factories, plants, manufacturing sites. Many companies have been using automation for a while and are now seriously developing their digitisation and data capacity. A good example is a New Zealand dairy cooperative which produces milk powder for export and uses our Ecostruxure technology to innovate its processes and capture and report data to global clients.

In a dairy processing plant, this data records everything from the moment the raw milk enters the facility through every stage of processing, from heating to treatment to refrigeration and

packaging – so the chain of custody and quality of the product is fully visible thousands of miles away and communicable through the cloud and secure software platforms. The same is possible through the physical exporting and shipping process. This transparency afforded by data analytics and monitoring allows a New Zealand business to compete with the best of the best on the world stage, selling its products to the highest bidder wherever they are.

3. Cutting-edge data security will equal business security

Both security of supply and the protection of data itself are essential to the future of automation. There are risks posed to data centres (where data is physically housed) from the likes of natural disaster and network outage, and the owners of centres mitigate against the risk of power loss by creating systems that can run off-grid.

A lot of Schneider Electric’s work around data systems and software platforms involves optimisation, monitoring and equipment management, which many businesses aren’t inclined or able to do themselves. This can range from checking data sets to prove they are working optimally by comparing how a company’s data-dependent assets are performing against others of the same type anywhere in the world; to updating firmware and ensuring all assets are updated to the latest version and password-protected wherever they connect to a data centre.

Security and equipment management minimises the risk of horror stories such as companies failing to change the batteries in back-up generators – then when there’s a power outage, the back-up fails and the system crashes quickly. In such a scenario there can be a long recovery time – several days is not unusual – to recapture data and get systems back online.

In the case of a major communications company to which we have provided data centre services for the past few years, the existing batteries installed by another supplier kept failing well short of the promised lifespan of three to four years. We are converting the whole business to lithium (on a 10-year warranty), which increases the overall value proposition of the company based on an increased run time, lower battery footprint and lower risk of repair. Lithium is well-established in markets such as Sydney, but this business is one of the first in New Zealand to adopt it.

4. There is an answer to ‘acts of God’

Some events are out of a CEO’s or board of directors’ control. Say a vehicle crashes into a power pole in a commercial area, causing a transformer supply outage in the street and loss of power to local businesses. What is the solution to ensure business continuity and protect

data? More businesses are de-risking operations and pre-empting the worst-case scenario by outsourcing this problem to data services providers; we have observed that even as some companies downsize and rationalise in the COVID-19 era, they are willing to invest in data protection and cloud services that ensure security of data and communications no matter where staff are based. This means that even if the central office – or any other site – is hit by misfortune, clients and customers will never know the difference.

5. Investment in IT infrastructure will deliver big returns

Oceania Healthcare is New Zealand’s largest retirement village group, and over the past three years it has undertaken a digital infrastructure transformation across its 46 sites to replace an aging and inconsistent system and install easy-to-use equipment, centralise the management of hardware and software, integrate and standardise platform solutions, and install robust and reliable back-up for critical infrastructure.

Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure IT Expert software was chosen to monitor and manage the sites remotely. The cloud-based app allows users to proactively monitor and manage their IT equipment with customisable dashboards, remote device management, alert and alarm notifications as well as analytics for smarter decision-making. For a multi-location group such as Oceania Healthcare, the solution allows easy access to all sites from one tool.

Now at each care and village facility Oceania Healthcare has IT network infrastructure, wifi infrastructure, emergency nurse call systems, clinical nursing stations and admin offices. To ensure these systems are online and available 24/7, APC Smart UPSs with 1 or 1.5kVA network management cards have been deployed throughout the sites, with a service agreement in place for maintenance support to ensure the products continue to work optimally and there is no risk to residents or services from a power failure or outage. At the larger facilities, an APC battery system has also been installed to support critical loads for up to two hours. This ensures the IT systems which house residents’ information, and critical nurse call systems, are always available.

For a complex business which provides some of the most critical and valuable human services, the certainty that comes with insightful analytics and predictive maintenance schedules – reducing the risk of downtime – has given Oceania Healthcare reassurance over the quality of resident care, as well as a significant competitive advantage.

Jason Molloy advises businesses of all sizes on data centre design, management, security and upgrades, and on software management systems, power and temperature management.

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