Industrial Enterprises to Achieve Step Change Operational Improvements

The Open Process Automation Forum strives for a software-defined industrial control system where the hardware and software are dissociated. The specific reason is that upgrades become less expensive. Software must be upgraded more often than hardware in a control system. If the two are tied together as in all proprietary control systems, then upgrades run on a continuum from painful to impossibly expensive.

I’ve been puzzling out this press release from Schneider Electric about a new control software dubbed EcoStruxure Automation Expert. The company says, “it is the world’s first software-centric industrial automation system.” I’m not sure that claim would stand up exactly, but it seems to me that this is a step on that journey toward dissociating software and hardware in the control system. Executives have told me in the past few years that achieving this is an essential long-term strategy. 

Any comments you all have about this are welcome (as long as they’re civil and enlightening).

The press release is written in the tone of a challenge to the rest of the industry to write “apps” that will run on this standards-based (IEC-61499) system.

Schneider Electric promises to unleash a new wave of innovation by championing the widespread adoption of open automation standards unveiling its vision for universal automation with EcoStruxure Automation Expert, “a new category of software-centric industrial automation system.”

Claims closed and proprietary automation platforms restrict the adoption of best-of-breed technologies, present challenges to integrate third-party components, and are expensive to upgrade and maintain. Industry has suffered from a lack of adaptability, modularization and interoperability, which is stunting innovation.

Universal automation is the world of plug and produce automation software components based on the IEC61499 standard that solve specific customer problems in a proven way. Adoption of an IEC61499-based standardized automation layer, common across vendors, will provide limitless opportunities for growth and modernization across industry.

By greatly extending the capabilities of existing IEC61131-based systems and enabling an app-store-like model for automation software components, Schneider Electric believes that the advancements possible in the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be fully realized. As its benefits become visible, Schneider Electric believes other vendors will adopt the universal automation approach, and end users will soon begin to demand it from their automation suppliers and ecosystem.

“The IT world has realized the benefits of open operating platforms; now it’s industry’s turn,” said Peter Herweck, executive vice president industrial automation, Schneider Electric. “Industrial automation architectures have done a good job of advancing industry to where we are today, but they are not capable of providing the agility and resilience that are paramount for modern industrial operations. To fully realize the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need to reimagine our technology model by opening our platforms, decoupling software from hardware, and radically improving system agility and scalability.”

EcoStruxure Automation Expert is a new category of industrial automation system with IEC61499 at its core. EcoStruxure Automation Expert:

  1. Enables automation applications to be built using asset-centric, portable, proven-in-use software components, independent of the underlying hardware infrastructure.
  2. Allows the user to distribute applications to any system hardware architecture of choice —highly distributed, centralized, or both — with minimal to no additional programming effort.
  3. Supports established software best practices to simplify the creation of automation applications that interoperate with IT systems.

The first release of EcoStruxure Automation Expert supports traditional automation platforms, such as Modicon PLCs, and Altivar Variable Speed Drives and PCs. Completing the line-up, a virtualized software controller running in Docker-powered Linux containers supports distributed information and control systems across edge computing architectures.

Leveraging the object-oriented nature of IEC61499, software components known as Composite Automation Types (CATs) are used to model assets by combining real-time control functions with other facets, such as the human machine interface. This asset-centric approach delivers unprecedented cost and performance gains and frees engineers to innovate by automating low-value work and eliminating task duplication across tools. Benchmarking of EcoStruxure Automation Expert against today’s automation systems has demonstrated a 2 to 7X reduction in the time it takes to perform traditional automation tasks.

EcoStruxure Automation Expert’s support for mainstream IT best practices enables step-change improvements in asset and workforce efficiency using advanced technologies like predictive maintenance and digital twin. The system also reduces total cost of ownership by incorporating legacy systems with a wrap-and-reuse approach.

“EcoStruxure Automation Expert is the first step in the journey toward universal automation” said Fabrice Jadot, senior vice president, next generation automation, Schneider Electric. “To fully realize the potential of next-generation industries, we must embrace a new way of thinking. Working to common, open standards is vital to ensuring multivendor interoperability and seamless interfaces from supply chain through manufacturing and production to the end customer. Now is the time for all vendors to fully embrace open implementations with code and function portability to become more connected. Today is the first step in a new direction. We invite industrial developers everywhere to create their own software components and solutions based on the IEC61499 standard, which can easily interoperate with EcoStruxure Automation Expert.”

Virtual Summit To Feature Open Source Networking and Edge

Looking for an opportunity to learn about the leading edge of Open Source community work? Check out the Open Networking & Edge Summit next week.

  • Deep Dive demonstrations on 5G, Edge, IOT, O-RAN, AI, Cloud Native & CNFs covering most important enterprise, cloud and telecom use cases 
  • Expert live sessions on “Why Open Source for Edge?” answered – Over 75% say collaborative market creation and adoption acceleration are top factors for participating in open source 
  • Total value of software created by shared innovation model totals $7.3B (2000+ Devs over 6+ years), according to new COCOMO research, “Estimated Development Value of LFN Software”
  • 5 tracks, 13  keynote presentations, 80+ sessions with thousands of peers attending to collaborate on business value of open networking & edge 

The Linux Foundation, the nonprofit organization enabling innovation through open source, has marked significant progress in the open networking and edge spaces. In advance of the Open Networking and Edge Summit happening September 28-30, Linux Foundation umbrella projects LF Edge and LF Networking demonstrate recent achievements highlighting trends that set the stage for next-generation technology. “We are thrilled to announce a number of milestones across our networking and edge projects, which will be on virtual display at ONES next week,” said Arpit Joshipura, general manager, Networking, Edge and IOT, at the Linux Foundation. “Indicative of what’s coming next, our communities are laying the groundwork for markets like cloud native, 5G, and edge to explode in terms of open deployments.” Recent Acceleration within Networking & Edge includes:

  • LFN is shepherding the culmination of Cloud Native and 5G (5G Cloud Native demo, OVP, which now includes Cloud Native requirements). 
  • The industry is becoming accustomed to a new way of compliance and verification  out in the open (via OVP) – be it cloud native, 5G, Edge, or otherwise. 
  • SDN + NFV: OPNFV celebrates its sixth birthday as CNTT prepares to issue its Baraque release; meanwhile, OpenDaylight issues Aluminum, its 13th release. 

“We are together in a tough period. Thanks to all developers and contributors of LFN and LF Edge to tirelessly propel various projects to be on the trac,” said Dr. Junlan Feng, chief scientist at China Mobile, general manager of AI and Intelligent Operation R&D Center, and LFN Board chair. “Cloud Native and 5G are also top priorities of China Mobile to strengthen the experience of our customers. For moving forward, we see there is a great opportunity to fuse together network automation and network intelligence through ONAP, Acumos, Edge, etc. EUAG under LFN is conducting a study to collect and analyze the common requirements of 5G and intelligent network in our industry. We as a community will continuously work together. Thanks to Linux Foundation for taking the lead.”

At the edge, unification has happened and projects (e.g., Akraino, EdgeX Foundry, and Fledge) have delivered deployable code. And the new LF Edge Vertical Solutions Group is working to enable easily-customized deployments based on market/vertical requirements. Opportunities exist for end users across verticals – e.g., enterprise, automotive, industrial – to participate in shaping the direction of how open source gets deployed at the edge.

Join the launch event, “Launching the LF Edge End User Community” on October 1, co-located with ONES. “Open source collaboration from edge to network is critical to achieve compatibility and complementarity.  ONES is THE event for communities to come together – learning about the latest trends in projects and determining how to evolve technology across boundaries and borders, ” said Melissa Evers-Hood, governing board chair for LF Edge and vice president, Intel Architecture, Graphics and Software, Software Business Strategy.

Technology in action at Open Networking & Edge Summit

See innovation in action during the virtual ONES event, September 28-30 and immerse yourself in the latest open source innovations across networking and edge with community-driven demos in the LF Networking & LF Edge Pavilion. The demos will be open throughout the event but visit during booth hours to engage with the demo managers and ask questions. Key demonstrations include:

  • OVP Automation DevOps: Agile Adoption in VNF/CNF based Network Service Industry: This demo will leverage ONAP SDC, ONAP VF-C, and OVP VTP projects to build DevOps for OPNFV Verification Program end-to-end VNF and Network service testing which helps to address agility, automation, and testing challenges.
  • Self-Healing Using Streaming Analytics & Observability for Latency Sensitive Kubernetes Workloads: This demo showcases components necessary towards zero touch infrastructure automation using Kubernetes enhancements, streaming analytics, host telemetry, and a viable path to deployment.
  • Real-Time Sensor Fusion for Loss Detection: This demo shows how different sensor devices can use LF Edge’s EdgeX Foundry open-middleware framework to optimize retail operations and detect loss at checkout. 
  • Managing Industrial IoT Data Using LF Edge: LF Edge projects EVE and Fledge will show how they can securely manage, connect, aggregate, process, buffer and forward any sensor, machine or PLC’s data to existing OT systems and any cloud.

The event also features expert keynote speakers, 80+ sessions, and five separate tracks, including: Business Critical & Innovation; Carriers: Core/Edge/Access; Cloud Networking & Edge; Enterprise, Networking & Edge; and Sponsored Tutorials.Due to the current COVID-19 outbreak, ONES is being offered virtually for only $50 US. Register today and join the community September 28-30:

Support from Project Technical Steering Committee Chairs

Akraino

“Launched in 2018, and founding project of LF Edge umbrella, Akraino delivers an open source software stack that supports a high-availability cloud stack optimized for edge computing systems and applications. With three successful releases, the community of over 40+ companies engaged worldwide, more than 20 fully integrated edge blueprints, blueprints tested in 15 user labs and a community lab, and a growing list of user deployments across the globe, Akraino truly become the enabler of edge computing use cases across Telco, IoT, Cloud, and Enterprise use cases,” said Kandan Kathirvel, TSC-Chair, AT&T, and Tina Tsou, co-chair, Arm. “This ONES event will be an opportunity to learn more about the edge use cases and Akraino solutions to it.”

EdgeX Foundry

“EdgeX Foundry is in its 4th year of development as a Linux Foundation project.With 6 successful releases, a community of over 180 committers worldwide, more than 7 million container downloads, and a growing list of commercial companies adopting and using EdgeX (like Accenture, HP, ThunderSoft, Tibco, IOTech Systems, and Jiangxing Intelligence), we believe EdgeX has established itself as one of, if not the, premier open source edge solution frameworks,”  said Jim White, TSC Chair, EdgeX Foundry and CTO of IOTech. “We are excited that ‘edge’ has been incorporated into the formerly Open Network Summit, and we are looking forward to our participation in the new “edge” tracks with our fellow LF Edge project members.”

Fledge

“Fledge is an open source framework and community for the industrial edge focused on applications for critical operations, condition-based monitoring, predictive maintenance, quality, situational awareness and safety. Fledge integrates IIoT, sensors, machines, processes and other industrial assets with existing ISQ95 systems and the cloud” said Mark Riddoch, Fledge TSC Chair.  ” Fledge 1.8 is a mature, field-tested solution operating in power generation/transmission/distribution, water and wastewater processing, oil and gas, discrete manufacturing,  pharma and professional auto racing.  We invite manufacturers, equipment suppliers, system integrators, and partners to use Fledge and join our community as we grow THE open source application stack for industrial transformations.”

Open Horizon

“Being a young stage one project, Open Horizon is grateful for the opportunity to meet so many people active in the open source networking and edge computing areas.  Despite not being able to meet face-to-face, the Linux Foundation’s LFN and LF Edge have provided us with a great format that allows us to have personal, in-depth discussions with anyone who is interested from the comfort of home, and without needing to shout over the crowds to be heard.  We hope you’ll come visit us and enjoy our short demo,” said Joe Pearson, TSC chair, Open Horizon and Technology Strategist, and IBM Cloud. 

OPNFV

“This event will be an opportunity to learn about the pivotal changes, new emphasis, and growth in the OPNFV community. OPNFV’s conformance testing and infrastructure projects, led by the contributions of Orange and many other industry leaders, will soon benefit from even more Telco participation as the CNTT task force members merge with OPNFV. Also, we have paid-forward our successes by taking-on many Linux Foundation Networking Interns in OPNFV this year. Join us and hear our stories,”  said Al Morton, OPNFV TSC Chair.

ONAP

Our ONAP Community is actively working on the certification of our 7th Major Release (Guilin) scheduled for the end of this year. This release continues to increase the support for 5G in areas of network slicing and O-RAN integration, ETSI (e.g. SOL007) and 3GPP standards, as well as our E2E CNF Orchestration chain,” said Catherine Lefevre, AVP-Network Cloud and SDN Platform Integration, AT&T, and chair of the ONAP Technical Steering Committee. “The ONES Summit is a great event where enterprises who have embraced ONAP can showcase their latest innovations. Also, do not miss our demo corners, which will illustrate areas such as: Onboarding 5G CNFs with ONAP, Policy-based RAN Management using O-RAN’s Open-Source Non-RealTime-RIC, ONAP Policy Framework Integration with Bell Canada’s Control Loop Use-cases, and much more. We also invite you to our special panel, ‘ONAP & Cloud Native – the Best of the Two Worlds’,  where we will present an overview of our ONAP Cloud Native journey.”

State of the Edge (SOTE)

“As edge computing goes mainstream it will bring forth a wave of technologies that require cooperation across the entire ecosystem to deliver value to end customers,” said Matt Trifiro, CMO of Vapor IO and co-chair of The Linux Foundation’s State of the Edge project. “The Open Networking and Edge Summit creates opportunities for technologists and end users to collaborate around open source for edge and networking that will revolutionize the cloud, robotics, artificial intelligence, healthcare, manufacturing, data centers, mobile devices, smart cities, and autonomous vehicles.”

OMAC Remote Access Working Group

The first end-user driven industry-standards working group I ran into as a new editor at Control Engineering magazine several (22) years ago was the Open Modular Architecture Controller (OMAC) group spearheaded primarily by the major automotive players plus Boeing and then some CPG firms such as P&G and Unilever. The first attempt was a less expensive and more easily updatable machine controller. If it sounds much like today’s Open Process Automation Forum, it should.

Later packaging companies and their suppliers became dominant within OMAC as the organization changed its name a couple of times and eventually found a home with PMMI. I really haven’t heard much about the organization for a few years. Then Mark Fondl, with whom I had many discussions about standards in automation—primarily Ethernet—got involved and started pinging me.

Here is news about a new working group striving for a best-practices handbook for remote monitoring services.

The rationale:

The Covid-19 crisis has pushed manufacturers to actively develop plans for “lights out” factories and supply chains. A recent survey conducted by PMMI shows that 92% of respondents working at CPGs cannot use their existing remote access capabilities due to cybersecurity concerns. The study further noted that 36% of respondents listed that there is no practical guide to help start as their top barrier to adding new remote access service.

The desired result:

OMAC (The Organization for Machine Automation and Control) believes a collaborative review is needed to create a comprehensive best-practices handbook for remote monitoring services that will help manufacturing companies allow secure remote access to machines and automation systems on the plant floor.

Focus:

This Workgroup focuses on timing, safety, and security procedures when allowing inbound connections that link to specific machines and automation systems. This work is essential because inbound connections are more complex and hold more risk than the more common outbound connections.

More than 20 companies are now involved:

  • End-Users: Cargill, Nestle, P&G, Sonoco
  • OEMs: Nordson, Mettler Toledo, Milacron, ProMach, Bobst
  • SIs & Vendors: Siemens, EtherCAT Technology Group, Beckhoff, SICK, Martin CSI, Trola Industries, Omnicon

Timeline:

9 SepIntroduction, Agenda Review
23 SepCurrent State and Stakeholders of Remote Access
7 OctCollaboration with IT
21 OctClassification of Activities
4 NovValidation of Assets being Connected
18 NovMethodologies to engage beyond one-to-one
2 DecSecurity and Safety, Documentation and Change Management
16 DecReview of Draft Report
13 JanFinal Report Approval

You can help, but you must be a member. Find out more here.

Harting Technology Celebrates 75 Years

Whenever I begin to feel down about humans and the human condition, whenever politics and social media crap get to be too much, then a story about the human spirit comes my way.

I met a couple of members of the Harting family at a tech event several years ago. The company exemplifies the “connection” part of The Manufacturing Connection even though I seldom acknowledge them 

But to think, there the family was in the peace following the devastation of the Second World War starting a company that has grown and thrived for 75 years. 

In this hall in Minden, a few months after the end of the war, the Harting company was launched under the name of “Wilhelm Harting Mechanische Werkstätten”.

For 75 years now, the HARTING Technology Group has been driving technological change and providing decisive impetus for the future. The vision formulated in 1996 by the owner family “We want to shape the future with technologies for people” remains the guiding star of our entrepreneurial activities. September 1 marks the 75th anniversary of the founding day of the family company. The manufacturer of everyday products such as waffle irons and irons has evolved into a worldwide leading supplier of industrial connection technology for the three lifelines of data, signal and power, a global player fielding innovative products and solutions focusing on Industry 4.0 and digitization.

Wilhelm and Marie Harting opened the “Wilhelm Harting Mechanical Workshops” on September 1, 1945, in a repair workshop covering about 100 square meters in Minden, Westphalia. Wilhelm Harting initially concentrated on everyday consumer goods, which were in short supply after the war: Immersion heaters, hotplates, energy-saving lamps and electric firelighters that sold like hot cakes. His wife delivered the goods by bicycle in the surroundings of Minden and was paid with bread, bacon, eggs, and legumes. For copper and other raw materials, the company’s first buyer had set off to Cologne and Wuppertal with his rucksack. The return trip was on a coal freight wagon.

The nascent company had a stand at the first HANNOVER MESSE in 1947 and received numerous orders for alternators, starters, regulators, fuel pumps and ignition distributors.

The company grew rapidly and needed more space. From 1950 onwards, the company gradually moved to the neighbouring refugee settlement of Espelkamp. By 1955, the company already had 500 employees and was able to double its turnover to 8.6 million D-Mark within a year. 

The Han (HARTING standard), patented in 1956 and a registered trademark since 1957, became the standard, the epitome of the industrial connector and laid the foundation for the ascent of the medium-sized company from East Westphalia. Thanks to the Han-Modular series, customers are able to achieve optimal design solutions for the supply of machines, systems and plants. Today, the Han-Modular represents the market standard for modular industrial connectors.

Like the company founders, Dietmar and Margrit Harting are also committed to the region. They support projects, initiatives and associations in the fields of culture, sports, education and science. Margrit Harting, until 2018 also Vice President of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of East Westphalia in Bielefeld, has received several awards for these activities. She is Honorary Chairwoman of the Philharmonic Society of Eastern Westphalia-Lippe, Honorary Chairwoman of association for the promotion of the Minden-Lübbecke district, Honorary Chairwoman of the Local Cultural Agency Espelkamp, and honorary citizen of Leibniz University Hanover. In 2002 she received the Espelkamp Medal.

For many years, Dietmar Harting was active as a leading luminary in national and international associations and committees, including as President of the German Institute for Standardization (DIN), President of the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association (ZVEI), member of the Presidium of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), President of CENELEC (European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization) and Chairman of the German Commission for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies in DIN and VDE (DKE). From 1995 to 1998, Dietmar Harting was a member of the “Council for Research, Technology and Innovation” under Chancellor Helmut Kohl and from 2004 to 2006, he was also active as a member of the “Partners for Innovation” initiative of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Chancellor Angela Merkel respectively. Several organisations honoured his high level of commitment with honorary membership or honorary presidency. In 2013, the Erich Gutenberg working group bestowed its “Praktikerpreis” (Practitioner Award) on Dietmar Harting.    

In 1998, the entrepreneurial couple received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and in 2009 the Federal Cross of Merit First Class. In the same year, the city of Espelkamp acknowledged the Hartings by bestowing honorary citizenship. Dietmar Harting was also honoured with the Lower Saxony Cross of Merit 1st Class in 2004 and has been an honorary doctor of Leibniz Universität Hannover since 2010.

Dietmar Harting was Chairman of the HANNOVER MESSE Exhibitors’ Advisory Board for many years and also a member of the Supervisory Board and Executive Committee of Deutsche Messe AG. In 2008 he was awarded the Golden Trade Fair Medal. To this day, the technology group ranks as one of the very few companies to have been present at the trade fair every year without interruption.

In October 2015, after almost 50 years in the management of the Technology Group, Dietmar Harting handed over the reins as Chairman of the Board to his son Philip (46). Today, Philip Harting and his sister Maresa Harting-Hertz (Member of the Board for Finance, Global Purchasing and Facility Management) work closely with their parents Margrit and Dietmar Harting on the Board.

The HARTING Automotive subsidiary develops and produces charging equipment for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. HARTING is also making its key contributions to sustainability in the generation of regenerative energy and has long featured as an experienced and reliable partner to the wind turbine industry.

In recent years, HARTING has been increasingly relying on cooperation activities, networks and partnerships such as the MICAnetwork and the Future Alliance for Mechanical Engineering, with which Industry 4.0 and digitization are being driven forward, while shaping and co-determining the networking of processes and objects. The Technology Group regards partner networks as an ideal platform for the further development of Integrated Industry. In this way, the future can be shaped and designed with technologies for people and values created. 

Open Edge Software Platform for ‘Time-Critical’ IoT Systems

In brief: Edge XRT Provides Low Latency, Predictable Real-time Processing Capabilities, Suitable for High Performance IoT Edge Applications.

There are many incumbents with cash-cow platforms who are becoming ever more vulnerable. Whenever a market has experienced consolidation and incumbent products have become cash cows, then the market is ripe for disruption from a totally different direction.

For the sake of innovation and advancement of the state-of-the-art, I hope that today’s younger engineers and those coming into the field in the next few years are not shy about exploring open source and standards and new ways of approaching problems. I’m not predicting that this new product from IOTech will solve all the world’s problems, but this is a very interesting step into the future.

The news: IOTech announced general availability of Edge XRT, a software platform for time-critical and resource-constrained applications at the IoT Edge. It is integrated into IOTech’s implementation of the open source EdgeX Foundry.

Edge XRT greatly simplifies the development of time-critical IoT systems at the Edge and enables application portability, improved supportability and faster time-to-market for new IoT edge applications. XRT runs on commodity hardware, independent of silicon provider and operating system and has complete deployment flexibility, it can be deployed as a native application, containerized and/or into a virtualized environment.

Edge XRT is targeted at IoT applications with a need one or all of the following characteristics – small memory footprint (as low as 100KB); ultra-low latency (from < 100 microseconds); predictable real-time data processing. Written entirely in C, Edge XRT is also extremely portable and can support legacy “brownfield” systems based older hardware, operating systems and development environments.

Edge XRT is designed for high performance edge computing use cases such as industrial control and real-time signal processing applications across different vertical markets including factory automation, oil and gas, utilities, smart energy and renewables. It also enables integration between the real-time edge control systems and higher-level SCADA applications.

With its small memory footprint and efficient use of computing resources, Edge XRT also makes it suitable for microcontroller based IoT applications including instrumentation and equipment monitoring, automobile engine management systems, medical devices, home automation and consumer electronics.

Edge XRT can be deployed independently or as a Real-Time extension to any general purpose Edge Platform. For example, Edge XRT has been fully integrated with IOTech’s Edge Xpert, an industrial grade implementation of EdgeX Foundry the market leading open source edge platform.

The product suite positions the company to support the full spectrum of secure software and hard real-time IoT edge computing needs.

“The availability Edge XRT is the exciting result of over two years of intense development and close collaboration with a number of key partners”, said Keith Steele, CEO of IOTech. “For our customers looking to deploy the next generation of industrial system at the Edge, Edge XRT provides an intelligent and feature-rich IoT platform which can support the most demanding performance requirements while significantly reducing time-to-market for their projects.”

Data Remains Key Challenge for Artificial Intelligence Projects

70 Percent of Companies Report C-Suite Involvement into AI Projects, with COVID-19 Driving Acceleration of AI Strategies – But Businesses Still Name Data as Key Challenge.

“Artificial Intelligence is neither,” according to my favorite quip. This field of computer science is perhaps the most misunderstood thanks to possibility thinkers like Ray Kurzweil and the many dystopian movies. Nevertheless, AI in its realistic form powers much modern technology. And not only for home artificial listening devices. Business and industry use it often, as well.

Appen Limited, the leading provider of training data for organizations that build effective AI systems at scale, has announced its annual State of AI Report for 2020. The report highlights increasing C-suite involvement and investment in enterprise AI projects as well as data being a key challenge as AI models get more frequent updates in production. The report also reveals the recent acceleration of AI strategies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the report, nearly 75 percent of businesses now consider AI critical to their success, and AI continues to grow in importance across companies of various sizes and industries. Yet, almost 50 percent of those who responded to the 2020 State of AI survey feel their company is behind on their AI journey, suggesting a critical gap exists between the strategic need and the ability to execute.

“Many organizations have adopted the use of the internet at the core of their processes, and AI is on a similar journey from fringes to core value offering. Increasing investment in AI projects and greater involvement by the C-suite, along with accelerating enterprise adoption in the wake of COVID-19, are clear indicators that AI is core to business success,” said Appen CEO Mark Brayan. “However, most companies are still in the early stages and facing challenges, especially around training data.”

Key Takeaways from the 2020 State of AI Report

The C-Suite is now far more heavily invested and involved in the development of AI projects

Executive visibility and involvement in AI have increased over 30 percent year-over-year, with 71 percent of organizations reporting C-suite involvement in AI projects. What’s more, the percentage of companies investing over $5 million has effectively doubled compared to last year. With this level of executive involvement and increased budgets, ethics, governance, and risk management initiatives have become important topics for technologists building AI.

COVID-19 is not slowing AI Investment

Continuing investment in AI shows that businesses are choosing to spend in times of turbulence. Two-thirds of companies do not expect any negative impact on their AI strategies. Nearly 50 percent of companies have accelerated their AI strategies, 20 percent doing so “significantly,” betting their AI projects will have a positive impact on their organization’s resiliency, efficiency, and innovation.

“COVID-19 has changed everything about the way companies are operating today, but not everyone has adapted in the same way,” added Wilson Pang, CTO at Appen. “The State of AI report shows despite turbulent times, more than two-thirds of respondents do not expect any negative impact from COVID-19 on their AI strategies. Those that are prioritizing AI see the power of digital transformations as a way to improve their resiliency and long-term performance.”

Data remains the key AI challenge

Training data is the key to successful AI, with 3 out of 4 companies updating their models at least quarterly. However, 40 percent of those updating quarterly feel that a lack of data or data management is a challenge.

“Many businesses are still early on their AI journey and they are finding that their data needs span beyond in-house resources when looking for high-quality, annotated training data that drives AI success,” added Pang. “Industry leaders are turning more and more to third-party providers like Appen to help them deploy their AI projects.”