Who is buying edge computing? These 6 key roles

Who is buying edge computing, and who are the top decision-makers? Here’s what recent research reveals
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It’s long been recognized that IoT and edge computing require more than just Information Technology (IT) involvement. After all, the data being collected, analyzed, and driving decisions as part of an edge architecture is associated with an organization’s physical assets – whether the machine is on a factory floor or components of an electric utility delivery system. As a result, it has become common to talk about IoT as a partnership between IT and their Operational Technology (OT) counterparts.

However, just talking about IT/OT oversimplifies how edge solutions are approached, evaluated, and selected within an organization. In practice, there are many stakeholders. To explore this topic at a more granular level, Red Hat commissioned a survey by Frost & Sullivan of over 1,000 decision-makers across discrete, process, and automobile manufacturing – as well as oil/natural gas and utilities – to better understand their involvement in the role or persona in edge computing. The respondents were drawn from North America, Germany, China, India, and Japan.

Here’s what we learned about who is doing the deciding and the buying.

IT decision-maker (ITDM)

Although edge computing brings in a variety of other roles, ITDMs, such as the CIO, are still heavily involved throughout the acquisition process, starting with internal education, then external exploration, and finally through recommendation and selection. That said, ITDMs are the most prominent decision-makers at the tail end of the process.

[ Also read Edge computing: Latency matters. ]

This makes sense. The CIO, in particular, is increasingly asked to partner with other decision-makers trying to use technology to aid the business. However, it’s understandable that the CIO takes the lead when the time comes to make specific technology choices and implement them.

ITDMs are looking to edge computing in response to digital transformation initiatives and to deal with data security issues. (Edge computing can bring security challenges of its own but can also help to address data sovereignty and other issues associated with moving data around.) They also find edge computing of interest when implementing new capabilities such as machine learning and computer vision. Improved efficiency is also important; part of this may come from reducing cloud costs.

R&D management

Like other personas, R&D is involved during the whole process. However, in this case, R&D is most involved up-front as part of internal education. This group is also interested in improving efficiency but highlighted improving customer experience/satisfaction in particular. Throughout this and related qualitative research, we found that decision-makers were less likely to explicitly call out customer experience benefits than they were more internally focused initiatives. However, it’s probable that many saw customer-facing benefits as natural outcomes of digital transformation and other such projects.

As for challenges, R&D shared a common refrain: Missing in-house expertise. R&D also flagged systems integration and requirements for a distributed architecture that depends on back-end cloud resources.

Supply chain management

The optimization of supply chains – some might say over-optimization in light of current disruptions – has always been important in certain verticals, such as automotive. However, supply chains and associated logistics have come to the fore over the past couple of years. As a result, supply chain managers have started to play a leading role in strategically defining technology use.

Our survey shows that senior (although mostly not C-suite) supply chain managers are among the most involved decision-makers throughout the entire edge computing enablement process.

This persona measures the success of an edge implementation – and technology implementations in general – by the impact on the company’s digital transformation goals and new revenue-streams enablement. However, they also explicitly focus on customer-centric initiatives, improving customer satisfaction and experience.

Supply chain managers are among the most involved decision-makers throughout the entire edge computing enablement process.

On the other hand, they’re less focused on cost-saving initiatives such as reducing cloud usage. They, too, point to challenges related to data security, integration, and missing in-house expertise.

Operations management

Senior operations management has a somewhat different set of edge computing triggers than some of the other personas we surveyed. Enabling mobile and IoT applications is at the top of their list, followed by data security and centralization issues. They see data security/safety and allowing data analysis to be done locally as specific edge computing benefits – although they also call out customer experience and satisfaction. Their main customer-centric initiatives include optimization and management of the supply chain, customer services generally, and customer management such as a CRM system.

This role also largely measures success by impacting the company’s digital and business transformation, enabling new revenue streams, and reducing technology and project implementation errors. This role’s most important challenges boil down to cost and resources: an overloaded IT department, overall budget constraints, and a heavy reliance on cloud.

Like other personas, operations is involved with edge computing throughout the whole process. But their greatest involvement is in the middle phase, when external exploration of solutions has begun.

Production management

You might guess that production management would share many of the characteristics of operations management more broadly. You’d largely be correct, although production also has specific hot buttons.

For example, production managers highlight managing quality and quality assurance as specific customer-centric initiatives in addition to supply chain optimization and customer data management. Production also has a more explicit cost and efficiency focus than some of the other personas. For example, one of their success measures is delivering projects within budget in addition to the digital transformation success and new revenue streams often highlighted by others.

Overall, production is middle of the pack with regards to decision-making involvement throughout the process – although they maintain that level of involvement from beginning to end.

General management

Senior management is less directly involved in edge decision-making than the other personas. However, assuming they just play a minor role would be a mistake. Our research found that this management level is still strongly involved in implementing new technologies. In the case of edge specifically, they recognize the need to implement new computing capabilities such as computer vision.

They also have a strong interest in customer-centric initiatives such as digitizing services, managing the supply chain, and maintaining strong quality control. Unsurprisingly, they also have a strong focus on cost reduction and operational efficiency although their measures of success also include enabling new revenue streams; they’re not just cost cutters.

If I had to leave you with just one takeaway, it’s this: Edge isn’t an IT buy or an IT decision. IT is certainly very involved – especially in the later stages of an edge project – but many constituencies in a business are involved (or should be).

[ Discover how priorities are changing. Get the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report: Maintaining momentum on digital transformation. ]

Gordon Haff is Technology Evangelist at Red Hat where he works on product strategy, writes about trends and technologies, and is a frequent speaker at customer and industry events on topics including DevOps, IoT, cloud computing, containers, and next-generation application architectures.