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We need to talk about the really BIG elephant in the room

There’s a famous New Yorker cartoon in which an elephant lies on a therapist’s couch and says, “I’m right there in the room, and no one even acknowledges me.” The elephant looks distressed. It’s not nice to be ignored. It’s time to talk to her.

No one quite knows where the ‘elephant in the room’ idiom came from. Some say it’s American, some say it’s British. But the image is a powerful one. We’ve all been in a situation when there’s an important issue that everyone knows needs to be discussed, but everyone is avoiding. Right now, in a world where data volumes are exploding, and The Internet of Things is transforming manufacturing, that elephant is the ownership of data.

Manufacturers must talk about it. Now!

As Dan Vesset, group vice president for analytics and information management at market research firm IDC, put it in an interview with Fortune, “The value chain of who owns the data can be complicated already and as you aggregate more sources it just gets more complicated.” That was two years ago and we’re still not really talking about it. The elephant is growing bigger and getting more frustrated!

Industry 4.0 has data at its core. Data which enables manufacturers to create new business models; stay ahead of market trends; anticipate their customers needs before they’re even conscious of them; offer predictive maintenance; achieve mass customization; and reap the rewards of servitization.

Who owns the data?

All those buzz words represent new opportunities to increase value, grow markets, and make money. It’s a huge opportunity. And it’s the data that delivers the insights needed to make all those great things happen. But, does the manufacturer really have the right to profit from the data generated by the products it makes? Who actually owns the data? Does the manufacturer even own any of it? If so, which elements? If it’s owned by more than one organization (across an ecosystem) then how do you split the revenues, let alone the responsibilities?

Take a modern jet engine; it’s a highly complex piece of technology. It’s built by a specialist manufacturer based on what airplane-makers and the airline industry need and want. The engine isn’t simply sold to the airplane-maker anymore. It’s not a case of delivering the engine with a warranty period and then, once it’s expired, charging to maintain or repair the engine on a pro rata basis. Now, the manufacturer profits from the hours the engine flies. So, the more the engine is used – transporting people and cargo around the world – the more profitable each unit is. The data the engine generates helps improve the design and build future engines.

Of course, the data is actually generated by flights. The flights are sold by the airline company. So, should the airline have a cut of the data’s value? In turn, the airline leases the plane from the airplane-maker. Does that mean they should have a cut too? Break it down even further and the air-frame manufacturer has a case for some of the data to help them improve their designs. Meteorological data is also generated. Who owns that? The airline, the airplane maker or the jet engine manufacturer?

Ignoring the complex

It’s very complex. Which is why we’re not talking about it. The elephant just sits there being ignored and getting more and more unhappy. And an unhappy elephant could get nasty and start causing trouble.

I believe we must talk about – and to – that elephant. Get it on our side. It’s the only way to ensure that we make the most of Industry 4.0. It gets more complicated when you factor in an IoT platform. It will have lots of sensors generating data from all kinds of products, from refrigerators in shops to sensors in connected cars to thermostats (and even doorbells) in private homes. Who owns all that data? The utility, the sensor manufacturer, the app developer, the retailer, the householder?

At Fujitsu we’re ready to help you have a full and frank talk to the elephant in your room (factory, airplane, whatever), and integrate all the different elements to ensure that you know who owns the data and, most importantly, that the data is properly (and fairly) distributed so everyone benefits – and profits.

For more information visit: Smart Manufacturing – lessons from the industry. 

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