The idea of different industries coming together has been around for a while. Sectors naturally exchange technologies, processes and ideas the more they interact. And this fosters greater overlap between sectors and also the creation of new and innovative industries.
In the distant past, the needs of farmers and merchants met to prompt the creation of banking. More recently, the meeting of medicine and technology led to the creation of wearables. And as our society becomes more global and more connected, the pace and scale of convergence are only likely to increase.
Unsurprisingly, this phenomenon has not gone unnoticed. Recent studies, blog posts and press articles have all commented on the ways in which the digital revolution is transforming long-established industries and business models. But what commentators almost always miss, is how this rush to convergence will disrupt test organizations.
Despite this, best-in-class organizations are already working to tackle the implications of convergence by creating multi-industry test platforms and partnering with and learning from other organizations with multi-industry exposure.
Why the testing industry must change
In 2014, Gartner released the report, Industry Convergence: The Digital Industrial Revolution. Among other things, this much-cited study claimed 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. The most innovative companies will then take this a step further by pooling resources across sectors. This, in turn, breeds innovation.
Fundamentally, convergence is based on the principle of sharing ideas. Different industries already exchange information and insights to avoid duplicating time and effort in the development of new ideas and technologies. This approach is now increasingly being applied to test strategies.
A great example of this process in practice is the work being done on functional safety. Motivated by the need to make industrial environments as safe as possible, heavy manufacturers created the IEC 61508 Functional Safety standard for embedded systems.
Other sectors such as rail and automotive also needed to add safety-critical embedded systems to their architectures. Rather than start from scratch, they adopted, extended and adapted the manufacturing sector’s IEC 61508 for their industries, creating the new EN 50126 and ISO 26262 standards in the process. Learning cross-sector in this way can save time when adding functional safety testing to test strategy.
In the testing industry, vendors can provide better-quality products at lower prices to all industries by increasing investment in things such as processors or analogue-to-digital converters. When organizations invest in hardware, software, or services for multi-industry test solutions, they significantly increase the opportunity to leverage technology.
The cost of convergence can be overcome
In 2016, IBM published its Redefining Boundaries study of C-suite professionals. Among other things, this showed that “industry convergence clearly eclipses any of the other trends they anticipate in the coming three to five years”. Potential benefits notwithstanding, convergence tends to raise more concern than excitement among senior executives. For test managers, it adds complexity, creating a need for more adaptable test platforms and for organizations to be flexible.
As technologies make the leap from one industry to the next, each sector that adopts them needs testing and expertise in these new technology fields. Automotive hybrid powertrains, for example, now require systems that can test controls, mechanics, thermodynamics, electronics, software, and even battery chemistries.
This trend has made many existing test systems — built on closed and proprietary platforms — obsolete. Many of these were not that old. To avoid repeating this experience, the industry should use open and modular hardware and software that work across I/O types, programming languages and vendors. It also needs well-defined APIs and interoperability standards.
But in the age of convergence, future needs are much harder to predict. Companies, test strategies, and test platforms must be designed to quickly adapt to new technologies and operational requirements.
For instance, aerospace firms, which have traditionally moved very conservatively and relied on long product life cycles, must learn to be nimbler as their supply chain grows more closely tied to that of consumer electronics. Because of this, test organizations working in aerospace need to keep up with a much faster technology refresh rate. This means designing test architectures that are adaptable and flexible.
Collaboration with companies that have experience across different sectors can also help firms absorb the impact of unforeseen changes more effectively, by allowing them to learn from the experience of other industries. These companies can outsource their biggest problems to third parties that have already solved them. They can also seek out strategic partnerships in other industries that allow them to respond quickly to developing trends such as the growing adoption of 5G and IoT.
A good example of this dynamic in action, is the partnership of NVIDIA and Audi, who are working together to accelerate technology development for self-driving cars. Another is Boeing and Embraer collaborating to take market share from competitors.
It’s time for OEMs and testing organizations to re-evaluate how, and at what point in the supply chain, testing is carried out. By leaning into the growing trend for cross-sector, open-standard testing platforms and regimes, the industry will be able to master and influence this change as it is happening, rather than reacting to it after the fact.
Luke Schreier joined National Instruments in 2001 as an applications engineer. Schreier has held leadership, product management, and marketing roles across the company’s portfolio of instrumentation and PXI platform products, with an emphasis on the aerospace and defense application space. He has been heavily involved in the company’s automated test product and go-to-market strategies for more than 15 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.