Interview with Stephen Huang, Advantech The path of transformation

Stephen Huang is Associate Vice President of Embedded IoT at Advantech.
Stephen Huang is Associate Vice President of Embedded IoT at Advantech.

In the past, Advantech has distinguished itself mainly through its expertise in industrial PCs. However, the trend in the embedded industry is clearly moving towards AI and IoT applications. Advantech therefore wants to make the transition to become a service provider.

Edge vs. Cloud Computing is attracting more and more attention. Which approach do your customers prefer and how does that affect your strategy?

Stephen Huang: Cloud Computing is currently becoming very popular in many kinds of business and retail applications. This tendency is clearly demonstrated in the proliferation of Artificial In­telligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) projects. Customers collect a huge amount of data and do analysis with it. From Advantech’s point of view, the demand from Asian customers in particular is increasing. It all started with IoT Gateways for smartphones, then came Gateways for industry. In Germany for example, with its traditional industrial base, many machines have to be connected. Siemens has announced a similar idea to Advantech’s »WISE-PaaS«. However, the Siemens concept is based strongly on the Operational Technology (OT) side, they connect Sensors, Servo-Drives for robotics, even Sensors for the car.
Advantech however, focusses on the computing side. Everybody likes the idea of building an IoT ecosystem for their costumers, not just computers. Furthermore, Siemens does not only supply servers but everybody needs to supply a solution to connect the OT and IT. This is the real challenge.

»We want to be the Apple of the Industry«


Is this challenge also affecting Edge-Computing?

Huang: In the beginning, our Edge Computers were a gateway to link OT and IT together. But gradually we have started to understand that customers want to process data at the edge. Vision systems bring with them an important opportunity to apply AI at the edge, for example in robotics or retail applications.
But there are security and latency issues. You cannot simply send all the data to the cloud, do the computation and go back. You need to process data at the edge. Vision as an AI application is key for Edge AI and IoT – it’s a driving factor to the edge.

Which role does AI play in the strategy of Advantech?

Huang: Over the past few years, we focused mainly on our IoT business. But last year, we realised that AI is also a very good opportunity to accelerate and extend our IoT business. That’s why we began to invest a lot in the development of our AIoT solutions. Artificial IoT (AIoT) is very popular in Asia, especially in China and Taiwan. People are trying to bring AI and IoT together.
In Europe, the development of AIoT is just beginning, but will become more important, too. The IoT can collect data, but it does not give you a key application that customers have to buy. That’s why AIoT is so important.

How do you help your customers to implement AI in their products?

Huang: If you have no Apps on your smartphone, it is just a simple phone for making phone calls. But with Apps, everything is different. In terms of Edge Computing – if there are no Apps, it is difficult to enable the customer, to enable the industry. If we want to do that, we have to make it simple.
That is why Advantech has invested heavily to create the WISE-PaaS-Platform. The next step is to build an ecosystem for our customers: Our App developers can improve our platform; they have the expertise to do it. We are the leader in Edge Computing, but to become more successful in AI solutions, we have to advance this ecosystem. And also, this is how we differentiate ourselves from our competitors, no one has such a marketplace – compared to WISE-PaaS right now.

»AI is the key to our success«