This is the time of year when everyone is either looking back at the year ending or looking ahead to see (predict) what’s coming. As Yogi Berra is attributed for saying, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” But it seems like in our business, the two are much the same. The issues that seem to have been significant in 2018 look to be equally so in 2019, at least in the short term.
I follow a number of trade journals and newsletters, and here’s how I see the issues we’ve all been dealing with, and will be dealing with for some time. They are roughly in order of significance.
Nearly every industry trade journal has addressed this subject. Each industry may have its own spin on the subject, but everyone expresses concern. There are some who believe manufacturing is the industry most under attack, but the problem exists everywhere. What seems to make it so insidious is not the technological wizardry of the hackers but the weak link that is typically our own employees. So often, the source of viruses, malware, and ransomware is an employee who falls victim to a phishing attack or some other means of intrusion.
While there are ways of countering and minimizing the problems, this issue shows no signs of going away anytime soon. Educate your team and take all prudent steps to protect yourself. The risks can be enormous.
This could really be broken into two pieces. The first is the digitalization associated with migrating from legacy systems into the current century. This is an especially thorny issue within the control system industry, where tens of millions of dollars of obsolete legacy systems are still in operation. Not only is it becoming increasingly difficult to maintain these systems, but many are incapable of being upgraded to provide proper security technologies. See issue above.
The second piece is whatever you associate with IoT, IIoT, Manufacturing 4.0, or whatever label you want to put on it. The increasing digitalization provides many benefits associated with intelligent sensors and omnipresent communications capabilities, but it also has its challenges. One is finding the expertise to design and build your system, to integrate new systems into your existing back office systems, and to operate and maintain the new systems. The other is determining what to do with all that data you’re now collecting.
We have addressed this in numerous posts this year. Virtually every industry is reporting significant gaps between available positions and people available to fill them. A graying and retiring generation, a heated economy, and reductions in immigration are significant factors, and ones over which you have no control. Barring any major policy changes by government or a quantum advance in robot workers, this problem is likely to be with us for a while. There are counter measures you can take to ease the impacts on your operation. Consider them.
This is an issue that many in the trade press express concern over, even if the effects are still on the horizon rather than right on us. It’s also spotty as to which industries are concerned and which are fine. And it’s one we can only keep an eye on and make appropriate changes to our business operations as necessary. It currently looks like the uncertainty will remain until March 2019. Where it goes from there is anybody’s guess. Think of Yogi’s quote.
The past begets the future. These are the issues I’ve seen discussed the most over the past year. I think we’ll still be talking about them well into 2019.