Middleware can help agencies excel in an Industry 4.0 and 3rd Platform world

Core infrastructure blocks of traditional middleware can collect, empower and disseminate information, provide insights to users and become the highway for moving data around.

As we start 2017, agencies might be wondering how the latest trends -- Industry 4.0 and the 3rd Platform -- will affect how government does business.

Let’s start by defining these concepts. Industry 4.0 refers to the intersection of interoperability, information transparency, technical assistance and decentralized decision making. Its original intent was to help factories become smarter through mechanization, but its focus on automation, the cloud and management of devices (the Internet of Things) can be applied to government agencies that are increasingly invested in these technologies. Meanwhile, industry analyst IDC defines the 3rd Platform as the intersection of cloud, big data and analytics, mobility and social media.

Industry 4.0 and the 3rd Platform both promise to automate and seamlessly integrate data that will answer questions -- from what products and services to procure to which health insurance policy to choose. These decisions are increasingly being driven by big data, IoT, mobile and cloud-based services and analytics -- the technologies that Industry 4.0 and the 3rd Platform address.

As the amount of data from IoT devices, smartphones and social media continues to grow, agency IT personnel can look to key components of Industry 4.0 and the 3rd Platform for help making better decisions.  Machine learning, big data, automation and social interactions can all aid in the dissemination of and access to information. Core infrastructure blocks of traditional middleware can collect, empower and disseminate this information, provide insights to users and become the highway for moving this data around.

Middleware connects these operations by bridging the gap between operating systems, databases and applications. It provides transaction management and works behind the scenes to effectively manage data collection, aggregation and dissemination. From traditional message-oriented middleware, to application servers, web services and application programming interface management, middleware acts as the gateway for information transformation across both traditional and new endpoints.

Through use of middleware, agencies can give workers and citizens greater insights and quicker answers to their questions. For example, a federal policy analyst could get insights into how health issues might be affecting the nation, and military commanders could see live threat assessments, uncovering patterns of terrorist activity or giving instant analysis to the warfighter on the battlefield.

Transportation could also benefit from information integrated by middleware. Through IoT tracking, real-time highway information could be used to gauge how many cars are on the road and route traffic more efficiently. By aggregating and disseminating social media posts and flight information, middleware can help airlines and the Transportation Security Administration both better schedule staffing to help travelers get to their flights on time.

Middleware alone is not enough, however. As government agencies’ dependence on data grows, IT administrators must think about ways to store and keep up with the massive amounts of information they’re collecting now and in the future. They’ll need open, flexible, software-defined storage applications that can scale to meet their requirements. They must also establish rules regarding what kind of data should be collected, how it should be stored and what it should be used for. How that data is used should be transparent to government users, and systems should be built on agile core architectures to allow for scalability and flexibility.

With the continued growth of smartphones, IoT devices, data and social networks, information management has become a daunting challenge. Thankfully, increased computing capacity and the open sourcing of big data tools like Apache Hadoop and artificial intelligence offerings from Amazon, Google and Microsoft have made it possible to make sense of this massive amount of information. Projects like these are making it just as easy for agency IT personnel to make decisions that will impact the United States as it is for an individual to look up turn-by-turn directions on Google Maps.

Better decision making is the beating heart of both Industry 4.0 and 3rd Platform. With the right middleware and proper planning, both concepts can give government agencies insight into how to connect various existing technologies to make more accurate decisions faster.

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