Interview: Kristin Russell, President of Arrow Global Services at Arrow Electronics, Inc.


Industrial Automation, IoT, and AI are three of the most popular topics in the embedded computing industry today. While none of them are relatively new topics, they are evolving at a rapid pace and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. To get a handle on where these technologies are today and what we can expect moving forward, Embedded Computing Design spent some time with Kristin Russell, President of Arrow Global Services at Arrow Electronics, Inc.

Russell’s team focuses on helping its customers grow by simplifying their technology lifecycle experience. This means that they help customers create, make, and manage unique and innovative technology solutions.

ECD: AI and how it affects the IoT and automation industries are the hottest topics in our space right now. What is Arrow doing to address this industry?

Russell: Right now, the world is being both reactive and proactive to these spaces. This means that where there aren’t adequate tools to do the job, the world is largely reactive to changing conditions. And in the absence of good data and analytics, systems and humans simply don’t have the ability to optimize reactions or take preventative actions. This is where AI can shine; when AI is trained by data collected by an IoT network, its algorithms can not only predict system behavior, but also can prescribe appropriate courses of action, both proactively and preemptively.

Arrow is helping customers envision and execute products for the future. We provide enabling technologies, bringing together cloud players and hardware and software and services, and even market-ready solutions that can help customers transform their product and business models. By combining the right expertise and technology ecosystems, specifically on the product set and cutting-edge industry partnerships, we’re well positioned to be that trusted advisor and partner to help customers not only bring new products to market rapidly, but also support solution implementations at a global scale.

We see so many customers struggle with where to even start a project, partly because this is still a very fragmented market. To that end, Arrow is striving to be that orchestrator, bringing together the right partners, products, and services to help our customers navigate what can be a fairly complex world around IoT and AI.

ECD: So the developers first call should be to Arrow?

Russell: Absolutely. We provide a technology platform for companies that are looking to create and develop those innovative solutions, and bring them to market. There are a lot of players in
the AI/IoT space. Arrow understands who all those players are, so that when developers ask us where they should start, we can bridge that connection to various players so they can get their
solutions to market.

ECD: Developers are trying to move AI to the edge of the IoT. Is this viable with current technology

Russell: Yes, it is, and it has a lot to do with speed, scalability and security. All of these movements race to provide better, smarter, cost-effective services at the point of transaction.

Another factor is that as loads aggregate on cloud platforms, making them massive, analytics and data processing are becoming cumbersome and actually slowing down. The cost of communication and storage is becoming a gating factor as well. To combat that, technologists are implementing models to apply intelligence right at the edge. As a data point, Gartner predicts that by 2025, 75% of all enterprise compute will be processed and created outside of the traditional data center.

It’s actually a good thing for consumers, for businesses, and for technologists because it lets us think more broadly about how compute systems should be created and where they fit best for each need. We see a proliferation of edge offerings from established players and new entrants, and new networking technologies like 5G will help the shift to the edge. But other technologies that have existed for a long time, such as small form factor computers, ruggedized solutions, micro data centers, gateways, and AI models, all fit for the edge, are taking center stage.

ECD: We are forever in a race of hardware versus software with one always playing catch up to the other. Who is currently winning and why?

Russell: I love this question because it’s somewhat of a red herring debate. Hardware and software depend on each other and one can’t function without the other. There should be no debate because they must be built in tandem. One thing we are seeing here at Arrow Global Services is a trend over the last several years where our customers are wanting to focus their efforts on the part of the solution that is truly core to their company’s purpose and mission, and leveraging partners like Arrow to handle the rest. This lets them scale to be more agile, to innovate faster, and more importantly, it gives their customers choice and flexibility.

ECD: Are you a believer in open-source software? Why or why not?

Russell: Yes, I am a believer in open-source software. Open-source has given us some useful technology paradigms. When you think about protocols, Unix, the Internet, Linux, those are just a few examples of the immense benefit that open source has provided. I also recognize that
despite the massive impact that it’s had, there are two areas where it falls short.

One is support. When you use open-source, you have to go through many versions and other details to take full advantage of the software. There are some forums and hybrid support models, but they can’t match the quality, ease of use, and support of commercial systems.

Secondly, open-source can create challenges in long-term flexibility and maintenance. It’s hard to know whether a specific variant of a piece of code will be viable over time or technology. The cost of managing the code base and the degree of control on the future roadmap can be prohibitive.

ECD: There’s a lot of talk about security and not enough action taking place. How do we get security to be more in the forefront of the engineering community?

Russell: Security cannot be a separate idea. It must be inherent in every design decision. The issues that we see around security are primarily because not enough attention was placed on security in the design phase and/or the implementation phase. Thankfully, the engineering community is making security core to its offerings and we’re producing more highly reliable and secure systems. But the job of security will never be done. It’s like hygiene and housekeeping. We just have to understand that no system is ever going to be foolproof.

ECD: The concept of cobots is many people’s definition of Industry 5.0. Is that the next wave of automation and manufacturing?

Russell: Yes, I think it is, and the future of robotics is not one where machines replace humans. I envision a more productive world where robots and humans coexist and each focuses on what it’s good at. For example, humans are not very good at making precision movements, or repetitive work. And robots can be very useful for dirty or dangerous work. This lets the humans focus on thoughts and empathy and design and innovation and instruction and training. We are amazingly creative beings and we conduct ourselves with profound judgment using a highly nuanced ethical framework that can’t be matched by robots. The cobots can dramatically improve our productivity and quality of life.

ECD: We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the ongoing COVID-19 crisis the world is facing. What is Arrow doing to combat this pandemic?

Russell: The outbreak of COVID-19 is so personal to each of us and how it’s affected our families, our friends, our communities, and certainly businesses. It’s both pervasive and acute, which sets it completely apart from anything else that we’ve ever experienced.
During challenging times like this, our employees and communities show remarkable strength, compassion, and resiliency by working together and supporting each other. Arrow business has always been about people and relationships. At the end of the day, we are problem solvers, we’re guiding innovation forward, and this is what we do.

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