2021 Predictions:  APM 4.0 & More

Every year, LNS Research puts forth predictions around the key trends in the Industrial Transformation (IX) topics where we focus our research. In the case of Asset Performance Management (APM 4.0), our 2020 forecast focused on Digital Twins, closing the APM 4.0 loop, the consolidation in the advanced analytics market, the battle for the OT Ecosystem, and the evolution of the OPA market.

For 2021, despite the COVID-19 setback, activity levels remain high. We continue to focus on the progress of APM 4.0 and Digital Twins but are keeping a broader perspective toward risk management, operational excellence, remote operations, autonomous manufacturing operations, i.e., the autonomous plant, and how all of this fits under the umbrella of sustainability.

2021 Predictions

Here are what we see for 2021:

  1. The struggle to define “What is a Digital Twin?” will continue. While twins will be talked about more holistically, that is, as a continuous digital thread from concept to FEED to detailed design, engineering and construction all the way through operations, maintenance, and the supply chain, the integration of these twins will remain a challenge. Vendors who offer all of the twins will continue to overweigh the importance of the engineering side, which LNS’ research has shown is not a top priority for brownfield operations. Process twins will remain king but have yet to gain true predictive capabilities, as have asset twins.  
  2. The focus on APM 4.0 will shift to a more broad view in terms of Operational Excellence (OE 4.0) and Operation Risk Management (ORM). This will lead to increasing friction, and at the same time opportunity, between APM and EHS, and quality too. LNS has already witnessed Honeywell “wake-up” with their Enablon partnership and Sparta acquisition in the pharmaceuticals quality space and Sine in the mobile workforce management market. Competitors will begin to react in 2021, and we see more partnerships and M&A ramping up. The siloed pillars underpinning OE 4.0 will start to breakdown and merge as the race is on to provide owner/operators a comprehensive view of operational risk.

  3. Closely related to APM/EHS is the Connected Worker (CW) or, perhaps better said, the Connected Workforce. No market area seems more hyperactive than CW, where numerous competitors from automation to ERP to major ISVs to startups are struggling for hand-room on the steering wheel. CW is getting serious attention from end users, but the field is crowded and differentiation difficult. LNS sees increasing partnership and M&A activity here, with the aforementioned Sine acquisition, plus late in 2020, AVEVA’s white label partnership with POKA. Look for a lot more insight on CW from LNS Research and my colleague Pete Bussey in 2021.

  4. More Open Process Automation (OPA) pilots will be successful, specifically those from Saudi Aramco and Georgia Pacific. However, ExxonMobil’s reaming OPAF* partners, ConocoPhillips, Dow, Linde, and Reliance, have yet to publicly announce when they will proceed with their pilots. LNS has confidence that v3 of the OPA standard will be complete in 2021 so that vendors will have a production-ready standard in place from which to build conformant components. Still, barriers will remain and will be largely centered around risk. Where do end users plan to test and then introduce OPA conformant systems into actual production facilities? Who will take responsibility beyond the end-user to ensure that the system works? System Integrators (SIs) have yet to express enthusiasm for OPA, though they have long assembled systems from components, e.g., SCADA. But now that proprietary distributed control systems have been opened up and made interoperable, or in effect SCADA-fied, how will end users, and SIs alike receive this? Time will tell.

    We missed the mark entirely last year in predicting that at least two smaller independent hardware vendors would introduce OPA conformant components to the market. None have yet done this, but LNS Research believes that this group will likely move faster than the major vendors in announcing conformant components and systems. If we had to make an educated guess on which major vendor will move first, our pick would be Schneider Electric.

  5. Finally, LNS’ research into Operational Excellence and the autonomous plant will reveal two things: first that the path to autonomony flows through Operational Excellence, a concept that requires redefinintion and reimagining compared to past approaches; and second, that the scale and depth of what it will take to be autonomous is not yet well understood. Remote operations and automation are often confused with being autonomous. And while they are necessary components, the real differentiator is “who makes the decision and executes?” Humans or the system?


Well, we have rolled the dice for 2021 and expect it to be an exciting year of growth and change. Come December 2021, it will be interesting to see just how well LNS Research did with these predictions and if you haven’t already, read our self-assessment of our 2020 predictions. Without any doubt, we have entered a new normal that we are defining as we go and what is certain is that it will not be a return to the old normal. LNS Research sees quite a rollercoaster ride ahead, so stay tuned.

*ExxonMobil’s OPAF partners: Aramco, BASF, ConocoPhillips, Dow, Georgia-Pacific, Linde, and Reliance.

Connected Worker 2020 CTA

All entries in this Industrial Transformation blog represent the opinions of the authors based on their industry experience and their view of the information collected using the methods described in our Research Integrity. All product and company names are trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of their respective holders. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by them.

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