IW: There still are plenty of plants that require you to turn off your phone, or set it to airplane mode, for security reasons. What are you working on to open the floor to enable that outside device usage without fear of them becoming easy entry points for hackers?

BC: That’s been a big barrier in the industry, and one of the biggest surprises. Two, three years ago, customers were just not interested and said we would never be available to bring them into the plant. … All of a sudden, we’re seeing requests that say mobility is a requirement and don’t even bother bidding if you don’t have a mobile option. Big changes there. I think you’ll see much more acceptance of this technology in plants come pretty quickly.

Cybersecurity is one of the biggest barriers to implementing all this technology. IoT is this concern for cybersecurity and data protection, and when we build our products, we build security right into them. … Some of our customers might not want to modernize because they might not want to connect their systems to any kind of network. What I’m seeing is some of these older products are being attacked, and they were built in an age when we didn’t know what cybersecurity was. There are ways to get into these old control systems.

IW: How many people have you worked with or talked with that are like that?

BC: I couldn’t put a number on it. But the opportunity for migration of systems is staggering. It’s such a huge business opportunity to help our customers modernize their systems. We still have controllers that were built in the 1970s and are still in plants. … Competition is going to drive it. The leaders will have the benefits, and they’ll have a competitive advantage, and that’s going to force the others to move.

Smaller companies can now move faster in adopting IIoT, and you’ll see some smaller companies do some spectacular things with this technology that’s going to wake up the big guys.

IW: How easy can that process to upgrade two, three, four decades really be?

BC: It’s actually a big strategy for us to make it easy. On-process migration is the key. On-process migration means I don’t shut the plant down. I’m running my process, and I’ve now migrated from 1970 to 2016 without a hiccup in my plant. That’s the vision. We have that in migration from certain technology … The display used to control the plant in 1970, that exact same display will run today on 2016 technology. It’s like if you’re an old gamer — I used to be a Galaxian guy, and I can play Galaxian on my iPad — it’s the same kind of thing. And now you have time to build a better display, and you can do it at your own pace.

The alternative is to do a rip-and-replace: shut the plant down, rip out the old control system, spend millions to put in a new system, retrain all your operators. Can you imagine how risky that is?

IW: Since last November, what are some of the trends or the products around IIoT that you’ve seen that you’ve really liked and have stayed top of mind?

BC: My personal favorite is just mobility, and what mobility can offer in terms of making things easier to do — workflow, collaboration, things you couldn’t do before. I also always tell people that cloud changes the world. Cloud computing is spectacular because it has infinite computing power and infinite storage. What you can do with that is mind-blowing. Now, we have to get to the point where we have people with business skills, … and you marry that with the technology skills. It’s not big data analytics if you’re taking a few thousand or even a few million pieces of data. You want terabytes of data that you’re using to do amazing analysis. I think we’re going to see an explosion of capability based on cloud computing and analytics. We’re just at the cusp of that. Let’s talk in a year.

IW: It’s a little funny that you list cloud and mobility. The new IBM C-Suite study polled about 5,200 c-level executives and, among other questions, asked what the most important technologies would be in three to five years. 63% said cloud, 61% said mobility, 57% said IoT, and nothing else was higher than 37%.

BC: That’s what’s so fun about IoT, is it’s rallying people around this. It’s cool.

IW: In the early 1980s, right after you graduated from the University of Toronto, your first employer was GE. Right now, they’re working on the competing Brilliant Factories, and a lot of companies are trying to gain headway and leadership here. IoT, IIoT, though, it doesn’t seem like one company is going to be able to have total control.

BC: There is absolutely no way any one company can do everything. And it’s not just companies like Honeywell and GE, it’s the technology companies, too, that are providing the platforms, the engines, the analytics. A lot of this is actually open source, common technologies from different companies. … It’s going to be a collaboration among multiple vendors and customers — we won’t solve major problems without the help of our customers. Things are going to change rapidly. Our competitors are going to learn from what we’re doing, we’re going to learn from them, we’re going to cooperate in certain areas, customers will bring all of us in, we’re going to see platforms come and go. We need to focus on what our expertise is, then leverage what everybody else is doing for the rest.

This is so big and has such potential that the industry is going to work on it together, whether they like it or not.

Article was originally published on IndustryWeek.