Recently my wife and I took the highly anticipated digital plunge with our 10-year-old son Ryker. We gave him an iPhone. Some might say that as parents we caved to his consistent badgering, while others might say we modernized him and helped him embrace his digital future. And there are still some that might say we’ve ruined his childhood by introducing this modern technological device way too early. However, we look at it like we’ve started an experiment. Our working hypothesis: We really don’t think he will use the phone much, and we’re playing this out to prove that to ourselves (and to him). But it’s early, and this experiment is just ramping up. Shortly after we set it up for him, he promptly dove into requesting many apps to download. He likes racing games, and as I've been approving the downloads, I noticed the ones he’s chosen are just slight variations of the same game. It appears that many of them are built with the same code base. And it struck me that the industrial software market seems to be evolving like that of this particular game app market. Let me explain.

The game market - a foreshadowing of the industrial market 

Game creators are delivering super specific apps in volume in addition to maintaining platform level, more immersive games. These ‘micro game’ apps are opening their available market to gamers that wouldn’t have engaged in an immersive platform game by making micro games that are more approachable and pointed. I’m starting to see this happen in the industrial software market with a wave of new companies focused on providing cloud apps that are specific to single use cases. It’s an interesting trend that, in my opinion, is opening value to new customers that haven’t had the ability, funding, or commitment to dive into full-fledged ‘solve many problems’ industrial software platforms.

A look at the history of industrial automation software  

Over the last 25+ years, SCADA, Historians, Asset Performance Management (APM), Enterprise Manufacturing Intelligence (EMI), Manufacturing Execution System (MES), and Industrial Transformation (IX) software platforms have been providing value for many types of industrial end users. The adopters of these platforms have mainly been mid-size or larger scale customers who have the right level of funding, internal staff to own the long-term deployments, and multi-year project persistence to obtain the right level of buy-in and adoption from the users. The tools that result from these investments provide immense value and have helped many end users transform their operations digitally. In a lot of cases with manufacturing customers, they would not be able to produce their products at the same high level without these software platforms. In recent years, many such platforms have added on optional pre-configured components that focus on specific project applications like overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), downtime tracking, statistical process control (SPC), etc. Now with that said, there is a significant part of the market that goes unserved with the platform approach. Lately, I’m seeing that this market segment is now being approached with newer out-of-the-box cloud apps, which are largely built or assembled with cloud-based components from Microsoft and Amazon as well as open-source libraries. Much like the games my son is downloading, these apps have similar back-end components with feature variations to target specific use cases for small and mid-size customers.

The difference between industrial platforms and newer cloud apps

Like my son’s ability to download a bunch of fun games and use them quickly, small and mid-sized company owners look at time-to-value and business impact as major parts of their decision to spend capital on any improvements. The newer industrial cloud apps as opposed to traditional platforms fit this profile because these apps can make an impact quickly and are priced where companies can start at an incredibly small expense level. Some apps are even free to start and expand by way of monthly charges per machine or user license. Some even claim “unlimited” clients or data points, but it remains to be seen how truly scalable those businesses can be over the long term. At ICONICS, we’ve been approaching the industrial market with our platform in what I'd frame as an “engineering focused consultative” fashion. This means that we, along with our system integration partners, work with customers to define the functions, visuals, and data collection they need to create an industrial digital system. Then a solution is built using the ICONICS Suite, and the end resulting system fits their specific needs, is super robust, and can be easily added to in the future as their needs expand. In many, if not all cases, the ICONICS Suite components can be configured and customized to do all the functions these new cloud-based apps deliver, but unlike the cloud apps, the resulting systems are unique and specific to the end user.

Using this method and technology can be intimidating to small and mid-size companies and more costly when compared to cloud apps. Don’t get me wrong, this approach works well for a lot of industrial projects, and we believe it is here to stay. But these cloud apps make me pause and think about how apps can be used to bring industrial digital tools to many more companies. Over the last couple of years, I’ve talked with customers who are using them, and they are happy with them, even given their functional limitations and lack of customizability. One quote I remember well is from a plant manager of a small mulch plant that was one of many plants like his within a large national company. He said something along these lines:

"I’ve been waiting for years for central IT to deliver a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) based off some huge back-end system. We were fed up and found a CMMS cloud-based app that does 95% of what we need it to do and had it running for my maintenance team in two days."

Now I’ll be blunt, a major part of the value proposition for these cloud-based apps is reducing the time to value. This is nothing new in our industry. I’ve seen many attempts across different industrial software providers in the past to provide templates, blueprints, and pre-configurations over the past 20+ years that also deliver this value proposition. The difference in today’s market is a wonderful mix of timing and customer cloud comfort. On the timing side of this equation, it is a well-researched subject that for successful new products, either from startups or by established companies, the largest contributor to the success of those product offerings comes down to market timing. I won’t go deeper into this in this post, but if you’d like to understand this more – you can view this TED video from Bill Gross in which he does a great job at explaining this angle

On the customer cloud comfort side, what I have experienced over the past 2-3 years is a change in mindset of industrial customers about the cloud, especially with small and mid-size companies. They have much more confidence in storing their data in the cloud, and there is less resistance by all types of management. Like the gaming market and how it has evolved to provide both large complex games and many small, pointed games to reach more users – the industrial software market is seemingly following a similar path.

In my opinion, this might just be opening a new market segment that is enabling smaller companies to start down their digital transformation journey – whereas before they wouldn’t even start because it would take too long and there was too much commitment (budget and internal resources) needed up front to get something going.


Since joining ICONICS last fall, I’ve been working with the team on our roadmaps and have incorporated some of these market trends into our plan. We’ll be investing to provide the market with some cloud apps that are focused on the small to mid-sized customers where time-to-value and out-of-the-box experience are foundational pillars. We know cloud apps can be great for specific use cases, and we plan on providing paths for adopters to do more so that over the long term, our customers can continue to impact their operations with a platform when they are ready to do so.

We are super excited about what the future will bring to all levels of customers. I encourage you to seek out some of these cloud apps and see what they are about. Even better, ping me, and we can chat through some of them. I’m a big fan of the phrase ‘a rising tide raises all boats’ because in the end, the software industry is providing so many choices that any size of customer can embrace digital technology and transform its operations - this makes it better for all of us.

So, what do you think? Will cloud apps take over and replace platforms? Will these new apps just evolve into platforms? Will we live in a hybrid world where platforms and apps co-exist? And lastly, were my wife and I wrong to give our son Ryker an iPhone?

It’d be great to hear your thoughts on this. Be sure to comment or send me a DM @Ryzner.