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4 Predictions for the Industrial Internet

Looking forward into how the Industrial Internet will evolve, new chair of the Industrial Internet Consortium sees constant change, with new applications, new things, new ecosystems, and new standards emerging.

The Industrial Internet Consortium is one of the world's foremost industry organizations dedicated to accelerating the adoption and enablement of the Industrial Internet of Things (“IIoT”). Serving as its Chair, I have an “all access pass” to the most significant transformation in business and enterprise computing to occur this century: the full flowering of the Industrial Internet.

It’s a real privilege to work with so many of the industry’s global leaders in this space, and I look forward to sharing what my colleagues and I are seeing in IIoT that excites us and what the ecosystem of players are doing to fulfill its promise. In the coming months, over the course of several blog posts, I will examine the key “levers” of the IIoT. I will cover the new applications, “things” (devices), ecosystems, and standards that are shaping IIoT, the rate at which it is taking hold, and the impact it is making across industries and on society as a whole.

Welcome to Industrial IoT

Placing physical objects on a connected network is not new. Amassing 50 billion of them on one, and managing the ecosystem as a whole, is. And that, simply put, is the scale of the transformation taking place today through Industrial IoT.

A logical progression of, and acceleration into, the Information Age, IIoT will change how we live and work, manage precious resources, run manufacturing processes and improve business operations. Just as importantly, it will create and drive new economic opportunity, with some estimates projecting IoT’s (i.e., consumer and industrial) impact on global GDP topping $14 trillion by 2020.

When 50 billion devices become Internet-enabled via low-cost sensors, they are effectively given a voice. That voice, delivering manageable data about that device’s operating environment and performance, holds the key to process improvement. As this wealth of data feeds the enterprise, advances in data analytics will enable businesses to turn it into operational intelligence that can make every system perform better. Taken in sum, the benefits of this transformation hold enormous promise for businesses, economies, societies, and the health of the planet.

1. IIoT Applications Will Parallel the Proliferation of Consumer Apps 

Whether for the supply chain, manufacturing line, energy grid, pipelines, water system, or smart city, a new wave of IIoT applications is being developed, paralleling the proliferation of “apps” for the Consumer Internet.

Consider two quick examples that hint at the diversity of IIoT applications in development:

  1. Today, in an IIC Testbed – our “sandbox” for application development – one group is exploring the ability of IIoT technology to improve crop yield through the analysis of real-time data from a variety of environmental sensors located in the field. 
  1. Far from the fields, on factory plant floors, companies are improving how their machines perform and are serviced through IIoT. By tagging machines with sensors throughout a plant and loading an Augmented Reality mobile application, a plant operator can now hold a tablet in front of machine, or even the outside of the building, to know what needs attention or service and how to perform that service.

2. The Number of “Things” in the IIoT Will Drastically Increase

What will the new “things” of the IIoT look like? You need only use your imagination. Now that devices can communicate with controls, software, human operators and data analytics applications, IIoT-enabled devices will become the building blocks of all the smart systems and processes we have been hearing so much about. Here are but a few examples:

  • Sensor-enabled pipes will detect leaks, enabling “smart water.”
  • Smart meters will communicate local usage patterns and real-time demand to fuel the smart grid.
  • Parking meters and traffic lights will monitor traffic and street crime, activating the "smart city.”
  • Lighting will inform building automation systems on environmental and occupancy matters, turning on “smart buildings.”
  • Machines in a manufacturing process will monitor their own performance and health, ushering in the “smart plant.”
  • Even getting to work will be smarter whether driven by autonomous cars, powered by the IIoT, or on mass transit systems similarly made more efficient.

3. Innovation Will Be Driven by Both Startups and Big Companies

One of the most exciting developments in IIoT is the groundswell of innovation being driven by Global 500 companies and start-ups alike, and the partnerships cropping up among them. Even governments are getting into the action, launching well-funded national and regional plans to capitalize on the efficiencies promised by the IIoT. With every process, every system, every device, every piece of infrastructure up for grabs for improvement through IIoT, the level of thinking, interest and participation across sectors and economies is staggering. As all of this interest translates into more and more actionable applications; devices, and platforms, will not only accelerate efficiencies, but whole new business models will emerge with companies beginning to sell valuable business outcomes vs. standalone applications.

4. New Standards Will Provide Clarity

Achieving these gains through IIoT hinges on many players working together, which necessitates common frameworks for developing and using technology to solve business and societal problems. Organizations like IIC are on the front lines of helping private industry and governments alike join forces to develop common methods and standards to streamline the development of IIoT applications and platforms that are interoperable and impactful.

A Lot to Look Forward to: The Two-Year View

So what’s the near-term outlook for IIoT? The technology is already beginning to make machines and systems cheaper, faster, smarter, and ultimately more efficient and productive. All of these benefits will make IIoT irresistible by driving top and bottom-line gains across industries. And while that will provide a great spur for corporate profits and wide-spread economic gain, it will also arm governments and industry with new, sharper tools to address the world’s biggest challenges, including pollution; energy, food, and water availability; and climate change.

We’re off to a good start, and the best is yet to come.

 John Tuccillo is Chair of the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) and SVP of Global Industry and Government Affairs at Schneider Electric

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