The outward expansion of the cloud edge, bringing compute and data closer to the operational theaters, is transforming the digital landscape across sectors. As a result, the nature of on-premises operations is on the cusp of a tectonic shift, and companies intending to adjust cannot afford to overlook the business realities shaping industry trends. Today, organizations like those in healthcare and entertainment are reimagining business models around edge technology to stay competitive in the new normal, leveraging it to optimize business fundamentals and discover exciting revenue opportunities.
However, companies looking to scale and be profitable by deploying cloud-type procedures on edge are likely to encounter a unique set of security, cultural and ROI-driven challenges. For instance, they may struggle to standardize and validate outcomes amidst an environment of technology entropy where ideas are random. Another challenge could be preventing gradual shifts in objectives, resulting in mission creep with time-bound experiments rather than focusing firmly on the actual financial dividends.
In the following article, Paulo Pereira, Chief Innovation Officer, Global Edge to Cloud Data & Analytics at Atos recounts a few such relevant complexities in the edge journey and how secure digital innovation can effectively resolve them to bring tangible value.
Edge runs on an entirely new set of infrastructure, and vulnerability emanates from limited visibility of the risks involved in the transformation. So, testing is pivotal to ensure that changes are not adding new threat vectors into the landscape. Pereira says: “For a client, such loopholes can cost millions in revenue, and hence we always prioritize ironclad security over alluring ROI opportunities.”
Security must be by design, and include connectivity. “With 5G, we have better encryption, but even then, the control plane should ideally be separated from the data plane,” Pereira says. The edge architecture is different from conventional data center environments because it requires location-agnostic management of infrastructure and data. Hence, its security must be well thought-through. It is a distinction that, according to Pereira, companies often miss while embracing the edge.
Also, unlike data centers covered by well-defined perimeter securities, protecting data and infrastructure in the wild — for instance, in a restaurant, park or factory floor — can be tricky.
“The low latency, high-throughput of 5G makes it possible to geofence edge assets, track them on the move, and trigger alerts and countermeasures like self-deletion of data in case they are misplaced,” Pereira explains. “The traditional security envelope of digital systems lacks these real-time response aspects.”
Ensuring comprehensive security is complicated and involves substantial automation overheads. Yet Pereira believes it is critical to success in the edge world. “In edge systems, the security of the physical assets and the availability of localized and certified response needs to be heavily factored into the equation. Everything needs to be software-defined to be synced in runtime with the ground realities,” he says.
Today, with digital partners flooding the market with edge solutions, quality options for businesses are diminishing. It gives rise to what Pereira describes as a state of technology entropy, where it is easy to get distracted from the underlying business case and targeted end-states.
“Companies need to focus on measurable outcomes and commit practical timelines and budgets to prove them out,” he says. “It is essential to start with the outcomes, get an idea of what a minimum viable solution would look like, test the results and see if the available technology is enough to make it happen.”
A pertinent example of that is 5G, where although the companies invested in the spectrum, they still have to find ways to monetize them profitably. For assured relevance, Pereira says that the edge vision of an organization should be driven by an IT and OT convergence, which helps save money, contextualize progress, gain resilience and chase revenue.
“Technology entropy tends to make companies slow, and first-mover advantage is a differentiator in a closely contested market,” he says. “Hence it is important to save time by focusing on things that matter.”
An experienced digital innovator’s assistance can help businesses affordably pull ahead of the curve. It can bring the required subject matter expertise into the game, repurposing existing resources, eliminating wastes, saving costs, and pacing up edge implementation. “At the end of the day, we are trying to prove the capabilities of a model to generate ROI,” Pereira says.
Experiments vs. ROI-driven investments
The COVID-19 pandemic gave impetus to a culture of experimentation with radical ideas. But these ideas should be time-bound, ROI-driven, and avoid falling into the pilot trap. Pereira says: “Experiments should not last more than three months and should be able to validate hypotheses with small study groups before scaling big.”
Pereira recommends a top-down roadmap while designing edge solutions to be insulated from the bandwagon effect, and steering clear of low-quality quick fixes. It includes finding out whether the proposed solution fits seamlessly into the enterprise strategy, whether the company has the right partnerships and agreements in place for execution, and how it intends to go to market (GTM) to generate the desired ROI. Also, the company needs to figure out the technical intricacies of implementation in a lab environment, validate assumptions and build an agile plan.
“Companies must pursue the right outcomes, and the business case should hold strong throughout the sprint,” Pereira says.
Edge transformation cannot happen in isolation
Edge and 5G are merely the new means to the heretofore impossible ends due to technical limitations. Pereira believes that edge transformation cannot happen in isolation, and companies need to prove outcomes to succeed.
He recalled the case of a global entertainment behemoth with a stalled predictive maintenance plan, despite substantial technology investments. It was assisted by Atos to connect all the dots, optimizing ROI.
“At times, it’s hard to remember that the end-to-end piece is the important one,” Periera says. “Partnering a digital innovator doesn’t reflect upon the technical inadequacies of a company; rather it exemplifies the maturity and commitment to accelerate the outcomes.”