One of the core content themes of our first-ever annual Operations Calling™ conference in September was around the new and evolving “ecosystem” — more specifically the idea that open ecosystems are the future of manufacturing.

From the Partner Pavilion that featured demos from 22 of our amazing Technology Partners to the insightful talk tracks of various ecosystem-specific presentations, experiences across the conference highlighted the real-life value of a frontline operations ecosystem.

Operations Calling™ attendees speaking to Tulip technology partners at the Partner Pavilion.

One particular session that truly dove into this topic was “Future-Proof Your Operations With an Ecosystem Approach,” which featured Patrick Harrigan, Head of Global Partnerships and Alliances at Tulip; Mark Freedman, Ecosystem Lead at Tulip; and Matt Lowe, CEO and Co-Founder of ZeroKey.

Throughout this presentation, the speakers discussed everything from the evolution of the ecosystem to real-life use cases.

Here are three key takeaways from the session:

1. Industrial Operations Ecosystems Are Here to Stay

As Harrigan pointed out at the beginning of the presentation, we need to look no further than the cell phones in our hands to see how various contributors — from phone manufacturers to service providers to app developers — can come together to form an invaluable ecosystem that makes our daily lives much easier.

“If you look at the synergies that exist in the human sector… the example being your cell phone, versus what exists when we talk about an ecosystem for industrial or industrial operations, it’s really night and day,” Harrigan explained. “So how do we begin to bridge that?”

An ecosystem for industrial operations can have many different types of contributors, but some core examples include providers of the following: hardware and software, data acquisition/IoT services, enterprise applications, and connectivity and infrastructure services. While this type of ecosystem is not a new concept, Harrigan stressed that now’s the time when it can be truly effective and have a real impact — particularly due to the ongoing disconnect between expectation and reality when it comes to digital transformation for manufacturers.

As of right now, there are a lot of facilities with under 100 employees that “don’t have huge budgets, that have to really bootstrap solutions together,” explained Harrigan. “They can’t just go to one big industrial vendor and say ‘give me everything you got.’ They have to get creative with ways to solve these problems. They have to use things that the company’s invested in over the previous decades, whether it’s software, hardware, or a mixture of both. And quite often, going into these Brownfield environments… this ecosystem concept is what will make them effective, efficient, and provide quicker time-to-value for their end users.”

By adopting an open ecosystem approach, organizations at every stage of the digital transformation spectrum can integrate their new and legacy solutions faster than ever — ultimately empowering them to alleviate or eliminate unnecessarily manual processes, and make more informed decisions with real-time data and extended production visibility.

2. The Future is Composable Content and Sharable Resources

As Freedman highlighted, another major value driver of an open ecosystem is the opportunity for knowledge-sharing across the industry.

“I’m sure you see this at the factories where you’re at, where you have some really skilled person who uses the tools that they’re comfortable with — that are available to them — to create solutions, but when this person retire[s]… [the team struggles] to make incremental improvements off [these tools],” he shared.

Mark Freedman presenting during the “Future-Proof Your Operations With an Ecosystem Approach" session.

As Freedman called out, today’s process engineers want a community to lean on when looking for solutions to these types of operations problems, whether they’re struggling to figure out how a custom-built Andon system works or trying to determine what company makes an existing stack light in their facility.

With an infrastructure built for open protocols and collaboration, manufacturers across different industries can find, share, and contribute to use case-focused curated content, device-agnostic support materials, demos, templates, tutorials, and more. For instance, at Tulip, all of this type of content is freely searchable in the Library.

As an industry, we’re moving toward a world in which it’s easier than ever to share resources and engage in discussions about the latest challenges — and an open ecosystem is how we get there.

3. Ecosystems Are Already Providing Real Business Value

“One of the things I really want to underscore is this [ecosystem] isn’t some theoretical value, this isn’t some conceptual idea, this is reality — actually driving value in businesses today,” stressed Lowe as he introduced a case study in which a traditional supply chain company was able to transform their processes overnight.

As Lowe reported, the shared ZeroKey and Tulip customer was able to leverage a frontline application for their warehouse staff to achieve a 1.85 times faster order fulfillment rate with 80% fewer fulfillment errors.

“This is only possible because we were able to take Tulip [and] ZeroKey and connect them seamlessly there with their frontline staff and ultimately provide a solution to the customer that they were comfortable with, that they were able to intuitively use for their particular environment,” explained Lowe.

Highlighting the real-life value of solution ecosystems in practice, Lowe called out that “ZeroKey on its own probably wouldn’t have been able to overcome… the customer barrier, the customer friction to adoption of a solution like that.”

More Insights on the Ecosystem of the Future

Interested in learning more about the new tech stack and other key industry trends affecting the frontlines of operations? The “Future-Proof Your Operations With an Ecosystem Approach” presentation was just one of over 60 sessions included in Operations Calling 2023.

Check out our selection of on-demand session recordings and save your seat for Operations Calling 2024.

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