The rise of the industrial app store

Developers are offering commercial solutions to business customers using an industrial app store model following in footsteps of mobile success.
18 April 2023

Industrial app store: commercial software marketplaces are changing the way that industrial customers discover, try out, purchase, and manage business solutions from plant efficiency tools to warehouse automation platforms. Image credit: Shutterstock Generate.

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Mobile app store success is providing a blueprint for industrial software developers to make commercial solutions easier to try, purchase and manage. Idaho National Laboratory (INL) – one of 17 US Department of Energy (DOE) research facilities – is the latest in a growing number of organizations making digital tools available via an industrial app store model.

Much is made of the processing capability of modern smartphones, but their utility is due to much more than hardware alone. A big part of their success has to be attributed to the creation of the applications marketplace concept. Mobile app stores, once they were opened up to allow submissions from independent developers, have radically changed the way that users browse for, pay, download, and update their device software.

These usability advantages cross over into the commercial sector too, as the rise of the industrial app store highlights. INL is home to over 5,700 experts in areas such as renewable energy and security systems. And the output from their activities includes the development of a wide range of industrially-relevant software. In fact, in preparing their digital marketplace, INL identified over 200 software items and application tools, which it believes could have broader appeal beyond the DOE and help to fuel innovation in other organizations as well.

Technology transfer

The INL software marketplace – an example of an industrial app store – gives visitors to the site access to software code and data sets developed at INL. And the solutions are made available through various forms of licenses, including open-source and proprietary options. “At INL, technology transfer into the marketplace is important to our mission as it puts our innovations to use and makes actual impact in our community,” explains Jason Stolworthy, Technology Deployment Director at INL. “The website gives us another outlet to distribute and license our software to achieve our mission.”

Examples of the types of digital solutions available for download include Caldara – an EV charging infrastructure simulation platform designed to study the impact of EV charging on the grid and develop power management strategies. Other tools include cybersecurity analysis software for collating open-source threat intelligence and generating automated responses to guide the course of action in the event of a cyber attack.

INL has also developed a number of market and supply chain models that it’s made available through its industrial app store. Examples include CMAT, which has been designed to help device makers to optimize supply chain configuration for managing industrial e-waste recycling, as well as carrying out refurbishment operations. “The ultimate purpose of the model is to provide insights on questions pertinent to the e-waste recycling industry including how to increase efficiency and reduce costs, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions,” write CMAT’s developers.

INL is by no means the only organization that’s following an industrial app store model to make its software more accessible to commercial users. German firm PSI Software, which provides applications for utilities and other industrial sectors, began trialing an app store concept in 2021. Software marketplaces are a valuable shop window for a company’s applications, but that’s not their only contribution to the business operations.

Self-service portal

App stores are self-service portals that can save sales teams a huge amount of administrative work. In PSI’s case, users can register with the industrial app store and start configuring software options to suit their needs. The platform allows users to easily discover, try out, purchase, and upgrade commercial software offered by the firm. Solutions include supply chain optimization software, power grid control tools, and transport scheduling applications, to give just a few examples.

The company was able to prototype its marketplace based on the feedback of an invited circle of customers. And the popularity of the industrial app store concept was clear to see with its 2021 trial generating EURO 1.9 million in app store sales. Developers also observed an opportunity for extending the marketplace so that users could collaborate and benefit from solutions that were of joint interest.

Amazon Web Services has been working with Volkswagen on creating an industrial cloud that brings together data from all of the automaker’s facilities. Also, there’s a desire to welcome suppliers too. Car production features a vast network of firms and there’s lots of common ground such as identifying energy-saving opportunities and ways of increasing manufacturing efficiency.

Opening up industrial app stores to all stakeholders will enable sectors to prosper from the efficient distribution of software solutions. And what’s more, making software straightforward to manage and update not only helps in getting new features into the hands of users, there are security benefits too.

Feature updates and patching

Being able to quickly patch applications is an important element in keeping industrial defenses strong against rising numbers of attempts by bad actors targeting supply chain and energy infrastructure. Siemens is bringing together its manufacturing and process industry solutions into an industrial edge store, which the firm says makes IT and software for the shopfloor simple, scalable and manageable.

Making commercial software available via an industrial app store is on the rise.