Disruptive change – what many economists herald as creative destruction—has been a hallmark of U.S. manufacturing through the ages, with new technology frequently the driving force.

By now you know that the era in which we live is another of those times.

For the last few years, reports have proclaimed the dawning of the 4th Industrial Revolution or the Age of Smart Manufacturing, driven by the Internet of Things, advanced data analytics, Big Data and the Cloud.

Response among manufacturers has been mixed, perhaps because this new epoch’s descriptions have been abstract, often fantastical. It’s no surprise that manufacturing executives’ big challenge is identifying the opportunities and benefits of IoT. Another is determining where and how to get started with IoT-enable products.

As John Dyck, global director, Software Business Development at Rockwell Automation, so cogently expressed it, “Most conversations on this topic, the Internet of Things, start with how many billions and billions of things we think we’re going to connect to the internet over the next few years, and how many trillions of dollars of value we’re going to create based on the Internet of Things, and then they typically devolve into some use case that few of us can actually relate to.”

This was prelude to what Dyck says Rockwell, with its IoT ecosystem partners, is turning its attention toward: “showing the art of the possible, with the new capabilities and new technologies that bring significant new value in very practical ways.”

Amen.

The early adopters are ready to share their stories, showing how they’ve turned possibilities into reality; how they’ve leveraged the technologies to solve problems and begun reinventing every aspect of their business, developing revolutionary new business models, leadership practices, production systems and products. This will make 2016 a watershed year in manufacturing’s business transformation, and IndustryWeek will double-down on its efforts to share information learned from early adopters.

While the words “disruptive” and “transformative” suggest sudden and dramatic change, the companies leading the way tell a different story."

Among the first lessons from the front line: While the words “disruptive” and “transformative” suggest sudden and dramatic change, the companies leading the way tell a different story.

When CEO Keith Nosbusch talks of Rockwell Automation’s efforts, he notes: “I think the operative words are ‘journey,’ and ‘continuous improvement.’”

Jim Wetzel, technical director at General Mills, says it started when company leaders decided “we need to be connected. So we started with PLC, with Ethernet, connecting stuff.” He adds “…did we have this strategy back in 1993 that in 2015 it would look like it does today? Absolutely not.”

These early adopters demonstrate that disruptive change begins with small changes, and the best IoT get-started strategy is, well, to just get started.

As for the vision of an IoT-driven future? I think it’s best summed up by Shawn Noroozi, Midwest/Central IoT Solutions Sales for Microsoft: “Think big and start small.”

What are you waiting for?