One of the many things tipped to accelerate in the wake of Covid 19 and Brexit is the adoption of connected and smart technology by UK manufacturers.
For at least 5 years, a regular topic at seminars (remember those!) up and down the country was how manufacturers could seize the opportunity of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and transform their business. Now many are pointing to social distancing and supply chain disruption as the catalyst which has long been needed to kick-start a revolution.
We have recently launched our Connected Technology sector initiative (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JW2sjADchCc&feature=emb_logo) aimed at helping clients navigate the legal and contractual issues which IIoT presents.
Two key ones are:
- ownership and control of the data which will be created by IIoT systems (particularly where "raw" data only becomes useful once it has been analysed and refined); and
- how responsibility (and liability) for AI driven decisions should be allocated in a contract.
In terms of data, there have always been a number of ways under UK law in which "information" can be owned. Its fair to say that none of them fully "fit" a situation where data is collected by sensors, analysed and interpreted by machines, and presented in ever more refined datasets - very possibly giving a wireframe picture of an entire manufacturing operation. Given that it is very important, particularly for a customer buying in an IIoT system or service, to have a contract which sets out clearly who "owns" what data and, critically, what happens to it when the agreement ends.
There are also some interesting questions regarding responsibility for AI systems . In particular whether they are simply products which produce an output, or whether they are in fact providing "advice" which the customer should legitimately be able to rely on - and for which the supplier should be responsible if it is wrong. AI decisions might improve the efficiency of a production line but may involve changes to a product which in "live" use make it unfit for purpose. Again here it will be important to make sure that any contract to procure a relevant service or system describes what is being provided, what reliance the customer can make on it, and what happens if something goes wrong.
The thing we probably see more of is data and having visibility into what’s happening in the factory environment. Putting information in the hands of people is relatively quick and easy, but it has a big impact in terms of the informed decisions they can then make