Massimiliano Claps
Max Claps (Research Director, IDC Government Insights)

What do a factory plant manager, a biomedical engineer in a hospital, a head of distribution at a water utility, and a head of engineering at a railway company have in common? Apparently not much. But think twice. They all manage distributed operations. They need insights to make rapid, intelligent decisions at the edge, without having to wait for directions from the headquarters that will result in delays and a lack of understanding of the local context. This in turn can lead to low quality products and services, environmental hazards, unsafe working conditions, and inefficiencies.

Technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, and edge computing, are revolutionizing the way these executives can improve business performance in distributed environments.

Leveraging the Power of Intelligence at the Edge

Internet of Things

IoT sensors and high bandwidth (low latency communication infrastructure) are making operational technology hyper-connected. This could be in:

  • Assembly lines and warehouses in a manufacturing plant
  • CT and MRI scanners, microscopes, and other medical testing equipment for a network of laboratories
  • Pipes, district meter area tanks, and valves of a water utility distribution network
  • The locomotives, wagons, engine, heating and cooling, and trucks of a train

They are all connected.

Big Data and AI

Big data and AI are making those operational technologies smart. They are extracting insights from the large volume of data that these sensors generate so that expert managers and operators can make intelligent decisions.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality and mobile apps are delivering insights to the fingertips of decision makers in a timely and user-friendly manner.

Edge Computing

But it’s only with scalable and affordable edge computing that the processing of the data can be performed at the edge — close to the embedded devices where the data is collected. Edge is the connective tissue that links IoT and the cloud. It supports new architectures that enable local real-time analytics and AI on IoT data, reducing latency for augmented and virtual reality content. And it ensures privacy and trust with distributed solutions.

Edge computing empowers plant managers to set up, maintain, and reconfigure operational equipment and processes autonomously. It enables biomedical engineers to maximize the yield of medical equipment by optimizing testing schedules to reduce peaks and troughs in demand. It helps water utility distribution managers to rapidly identify leakages and reduce waste. It allows railway engineers to apply preventive maintenance, instead of having to inspect trains when they come into the maintenance yard and then wait for days for spare parts.

A Road Map for Intelligence at the Edge for the Next 5 Years

Operations and IT executives must combine forces to realize the benefits of edge computing.

  • They must plan a roadmap of use cases that can drive ROI. Increasingly, ROI will be intended holistically in terms of productivity, resilience, product and service quality enhancements, environmental sustainability, and safety.
  • They must make architectural choices about where processing power gets deployed along the edge to cloud continuum. To do so, they need to compare business benefits with the investment required to modernize legacy IT and OT systems. And they must balance other technical considerations, the cost of maintaining edge computing, and power consumption.
  • They must address the complex security concerns at the nexus between IT and OT systems.

Executives that embrace edge computing will access timely insights to plan for tool setup and process reconfiguration that increase productivity and effectiveness. They will have real-time information to enhance situational awareness and the resilience of operations. They will adapt operations to peaks and troughs in demand, while enabling product and service innovation. They will ensure that workers are safe. And they will shrink the environmental footprint of the enterprise.

If you want to know more about the value of edge computing for business operations, join us at the IDC Future of Operations Digital Summit 2021 on March 23.


If you want to learn more about this topic or have any questions, please contact Massimiliano Claps, or head over to and drop your details in the form on the top right.

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