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Q&A: Why IBM and Verizon Are Teaming on 5G, AI and IoT Industrial Solutions

July 14, 2020

Verizon and IBM have announced a collaboration meant to advance the next generation of industrial operations—making “smart factories” even smarter. IBM’s general manager of AI...

Verizon and IBM have announced a collaboration meant to advance the next generation of industrial operations—making “smart factories” even smarter. IBM’s general manager of AI applications, Kareem Yusuf, explains what the deal involves, why it matters and what to expect from the partnership between IBM and Verizon.

What do IBM and Verizon aim to achieve?

We’re announcing this collaboration to help industrial companies maximize the potential of 5G, automation and AI and put the power of edge computing fully to work in a “smart factory” context. This initial collaboration aims to make it easier than ever for industrial companies to detect, locate, diagnose and respond to anomalies—whether on the factory floor, in an engine room or at a public utility—to help predict system failures well before they occur.

We initially intend to combine Verizon’s wireless networks and IBM’s AI and analytics to offer a powerful combined solution. Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network, multi-access edge computing (MEC) capabilities, ThingSpace IoT platform and Critical Asset Sensor solution (CAS) will be combined with IBM’s market-leading Maximo Monitor with IBM Watson, and will draw upon our experience in hybrid cloud, edge computing, asset management and connected operations.

Why are Verizon and IBM collaborating now?

The world is at the very beginning of what technologists call the Fourth Industrial Revolution, in which everyday objects and traditional workflows will be infused with AI and automation to dramatically improve productivity and increase safety.

The smart factory, which this collaboration aims to enhance, is a good example of where this technology is headed. We believe the future factory will be one that is largely self-aware, self-maintaining and self-healing. It will leverage insights driven by data and AI to better preserve equipment and improve the health and well-being of workers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only underscored the urgency of this transformation, as many companies that were forced to either reduce or shut down operations recognized how crucial it is to be able to control operations remotely.

As many industrial companies tentatively begin their return to full-scale operations, more are accelerating their adoption of AI, automation and IoT to become more resilient and better prepared for future disruptions. Verizon and IBM believe our solutions can help companies accelerate their transformations.

It’s not just about safety or enabling remote operations. It’s about improving business value, as well. Even though this worldwide transformation is just in the beginning stage, data from IBM’s Global Business Services already shows that AI-powered manufacturing can lead to improvements of up to 30 percent and waste reduction of up to 15 percent.

How do you expect those initial solutions to work in practice?

Let’s say you run a water utility. You’re responsible for keeping the supply of water safe, reliable and available on demand. This requires regular monitoring of perhaps dozens of pumps and other critical assets that are expected to operate at high capacity, without failure.

Rather than having to physically inspect these facilities on a regular but infrequent timeline in person, the initial planned Verizon-IBM solutions can remotely monitor these critical assets continually, in near real time. Data would be collected by Verizon’s CAS sensors, and transmitted through Verizon’s ThingSpace, a secure Internet of Things (IoT) platform. That data is analyzed by IBM’s Maximo Asset Monitor, where Watson AI and other advanced analytics provide an ongoing diagnosis of the system’s overall health.

Trained personnel would be alerted only when potentially significant changes occur, requiring further inspection.  By freeing personnel from the need for routine on-site inspections, human talent can engage in higher-value tasks, even as performance is enhanced through the system’s constant vigilance.

It could mean a boost in productivity and efficiency, potential cost savings for the utility, and help the client provide more a more reliable water supply for utility customers.

What else are IBM and Verizon planning as part of this collaboration?

We’re both working to help enterprises capitalize on the 5G, AI and edge computing opportunity, and we plan to continue identifying solutions together in pursuit of this goal.

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