Industry convergence is not a new concept; it may actually be one of the oldest. As markets interact, they naturally exchange ideas, processes, and technologies, which makes them grow more intertwined. Agriculture and trade collided to create banking. More recently, the overlapping potential of healthcare and consumer electronics created wearables. Our globally connected society is only increasing the speed and scale with which convergence opportunities present themselves.
The commentary on multi-industry convergence is vast. Blogs, articles, and analyst reports have noted that the acceleration from the digital revolution is upending long-established industries. But they rarely touch on how convergence will disrupt test organizations. Companies are feeling its effects every day as a dichotomy of threat and potential. Best-in-class organizations are tackling convergence directly by leveraging multi-industry test platforms and partnering with and learning from other organizations with multi-industry exposure.
The often-cited 2014 Gartner report, Industry Convergence: The Digital Industrial Revolution, claims that “industry convergence represents the most fundamental growth opportunity for organizations.” For test organizations, this opportunity will come through learning and leveraging from other industries and pooling resources to accelerate innovation.
Convergence at its core is centered around idea sharing. The concept of leveraging and learning from other industries to avoid wasting time and effort on creating something that already exists is often discussed in the context of product innovation, but the same can be applied to test strategies. Functional safety is a great example. Over decades of learning, and motivated by the safety-critical nature of its products, the heavy manufacturing industry developed a process for proving out the functional safety of its embedded electronics: IEC 61508. As other industries like rail and automotive added safety-critical embedded systems to their architectures, they extended and adapted IEC 61508 for their industries with EN 50126 and ISO 26262. Learning from experts in these standards can save time when adding functional safety testing to test strategy if and when it becomes necessary.
Multi-industry resource pooling is a less obvious benefit of convergence. As industries move closer together, their functional needs align more closely. This allows vendors that serve these industries to increase investment because the market for that need is now larger. In test, platform-based vendors can increase their industry-agnostic investment in things like processors or analog-to-digital converters to provide better quality products at lower prices to all industries. When investments are made in hardware, software, or services for test, multi-industry solutions, as opposed to single-industry options, maximize the opportunity for technology leverage.
Industry convergence represents the most fundamental growth opportunity for organizations.
Industry Convergence: The Digital Industrial Revolution, Gartner, 2014
IBM’s 2016 Redefining Boundaries study of C-suite professionals revealed that “industry convergence clearly eclipses any of the other trends they anticipate in the coming three to five years.” Despite its potential upside, convergence tends to raise more concern than excitement, though. For test managers, it adds complexity and demands more adaptable test platforms and even more flexible organizations.
As industries adopt technologies from one another, they need testing and expertise in these new technology domains. Automotive hybrid powertrains, for example, now require systems that can test controls, mechanics, thermodynamics, electronics, software, and even battery chemistries. This has made test systems from even a few years ago obsolete if they were built on inflexible, closed, and proprietary platforms. Instead, test systems should use open and modular hardware and software that work across I/O types, programming languages, and vendors, along with well-defined APIs and interoperability standards.
This is even more challenging when organizations don’t know what’s next. In the age of convergence, the future is much hazier. Companies, test strategies, and test platforms should be designed to quickly adapt to whatever the future may hold. For example, aerospace companies, which have historically moved very conservatively and relied on long product life cycles, now need to be nimbler as their supply chain grows more closely tied to that of consumer electronics. As a result, aerospace test organizations need their testers to keep up with a much faster technology refresh rate, and designing test architectures with this adaptability is critical. Attending cross-industry networking events and monitoring other industries’ trade publications can help educate teams on the latest trends.
Even better, collaborating with organizations that have multi-industry experience can help companies absorb unforeseen circumstances more effectively and leverage best practices from other industries. These companies can outsource their biggest problems to third parties that have already solved them or look for strategic partnerships in other industries around imminent trends like 5G and IoT. NVIDIA and Audi partnering to accelerate technology development or Boeing and Embraer collaborating to take market share from competitors are just two of the many examples of how this type of cooperation can lift organizations above their industry peers. Reevaluating where test happens in the supply chain and reviewing suppliers are also smart tactics. By being proactive, organizations can be prepared for what’s next and maybe even influence it.
Leverage Converging Technologies for a Best-in-Class Test Organization