Now Playing: The Industrial Internet of Things

May 12, 2015
A look ahead to the Next Big Thing — or the Current Big Thing, really — and a few modest proposals on how to integrate your business.

According to industry experts like Peter Zornio, the chief strategic officer for Emerson Process Management, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is nothing new. Businesses big and (relatively) small have turned to sensors and automated procedures linked to the Web for more than a quarter of a century now in order to determine how to optimize their processes, and now the technology has stretched outside the factory floor and into mainstream conversation with the advent of smart homes, connected cars and wearable technology like the new Apple Watch. (Some perspective: A Twitter account dedicated to the subject, @TheIoT, has curated an average of almost 700 stories per month for the last five years.)

Still, close to 90% of respondents to a recent World Economic Forum survey admitted they don't fully understand the business models and long-term implications of the IIoT. Even if you're part of that majority, how can you harness the next big thing — the current big thing, really — to improve operational efficiency and build your business?

Develop new products and create hybrid business models. More opportunity always exists, no matter your industry. General Electric, for example, has started to shift its aircraft engine maintenance business toward preventive maintenance and expanded into aircraft fleet optimization. Michelin now combines analytics with sensors inside tires in an effort to help truck fleet managers lower fuel consumption and costs. Whether you turn more to customer analytics to provide a better product or transition into another industry, these next couple of years will be the key time to situate yourself in a new terrain.

Start to research and build your backend now. The first generation of technology is never the best — just look at your last three or four phones, your tablet, maybe your watch if you're an early adopter — but IIoT technology is already beyond that stage. You can develop the architecture that will support your sensor networks and analytics now, and as long as you allow it to be updated with emerging technology, you can run with it. Two important questions: Will it be open or closed to outside developers, third parties and customers? And what platform is best for your business?

Above all, remain secure. Security is the top concern about the IIoT, of course. In that same World Economic Survey, close to three-quarters of North American respondents said security concerns were the greatest barrier keeping their business from adopting the IIoT, and with good reason. According to the recent Data Breach Investigation Report, published last month by Verizon, hackers tend to go after company secrets far more often than anything else — that's their focus about 86% of the time, compared to about 11% for credentials and about 7% for system information.

Your commitment to the IoT will be tied to how many devices you allow to be connected, and by the level of protection you give them. Within the next five years, somewhere from 25 billion devices (a rather conservative guess from Gartner) to 200 billion devices (a slightly wilder prediction from Intel) will be a part of the IoT, industrial and otherwise, and the market size is expected to approach $10 trillion. Solid security options will be out there.

About the Author

Matt LaWell | Staff Writer

Staff writer Matt LaWell explores news in manufacturing technology, covering the trends and developments in automation, robotics, digital tools and emerging technologies. He also reports on the best practices of the most successful high tech companies, including computer, electronics, and industrial machinery and equipment manufacturers.

Matt joined IndustryWeek in 2015 after six years at newspapers and magazines in West Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, a season on the road with his wife writing about America and minor league baseball, and three years running a small business. He received his bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from Ohio University.

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