The concept of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has become a buzzword among participants of the industrial ecosystem including engineers, researchers, IT and OT companies and investors. This has become a remunerative area for all these forward looking industry participants who are constantly seeking opportunities for growth and efficiency in their businesses. While there has been a lot of scurry around the topic, there is still a huge gap in terms of clarity. The concept of IIoT has been around for a long time. It is just that we have been re-inventing and re-phrasing terminologies. So what is this IIoT all about?
Envision IIoT as a bucket of several important technologies. The Internet of Things (IoT) in simple language means connectivity. It involves connecting devices (both consumer as well as industrial) to the Internet with the purpose of being able to manage devices on a common platform. A health wearable, for instance, could sense and track the user’s body parameters, which could then be sent out to a display screen or an interface (read mobile or any hand-held device) where the data would be neatly presented for the user to interpret. With several advancements in the field, there is a lot more to IoT today. Machines in the industrial environment are connected to sensors that help in sensing several conditions in the environment. This is the first layer in the IIoT platform. Data gathered through these devices are then passed onto the cloud, which is a fancy term for the traditional data centre. The cloud forms the backbone of the IIoT platform; this is where the data get stored, acted upon, and distributed from. Moreover, this is also where engineers could build and manage applications. These data in the cloud form an important resource for businesses, most often providing opportunities for further business models. Next is the third layer, which consists of a group of technologies including predictive analytics, cognitive computing and a host of other technologies that have the power to act upon these data and convert these data into meaningful insights. Cutting across all these layers are two prominent technologies that are more of an infrastructural requirement. These are connectivity and cyber security. Both these technologies are crucial for all the layers and components in the IIoT platform to function effectively. All these layers together constitute the IIoT platform today.
IIoT represents a plethora of opportunities for industrial companies in the form of improved efficiencies, decreased costs, and increased revenue. However, there is still a lot of confusion around where and how to start. Rolling out an IIoT implementation strategy among several business units located at different parts of the globe pose significant challenges. Devising an implementation strategy, aligning the company with this strategy, allocating budgets, identifying which parts of the business would require transformation, prioritizing and exploring the right partners and others require a lot of effort from the companies.
There are a lot of challenges that companies might face while they are on their path to IIoT implementation. Some of these include the rapid pace with which technology is constantly changing. Finding suppliers that are not going to bring major changes to their technologies frequently is a challenge that most adopters of IIoT currently face. For instance, couple of years back, there were boat owners who had automation systems from Google Boat, but were forced to upgrade their systems in less than two years, after Google decided to end the life of its product. Going forward, it is also how these industrial companies are able to quickly adopt and adapt to the fast moving trends that will define the success of their ability to compete. With these rapidly transforming technologies, companies should also be able to suitably identify components that can be reused further. They should also be able to identify components within the IIoT framework that can be leveraged across multiple projects. In this way, a lot of time, effort, and costs that go into implementation can be shared and saved.
Second, there is a lot of confusion around how and where to start implementing IIoT. Businesses are increasingly getting complex. Therefore, companies that are looking at adopting IIoT within their businesses should be able to understand and divide their IIoT implementations into the different IIoT platform layers discussed earlier. Once separated, they can be acted upon individually and later combined and made to work effectively. This could also, at a later stage, be helpful in figuring out the RoI at each layer of the IIoT implementation.
As an organization makes suitable advancements toward being a connected enterprise, there is always a lot to learn. These companies should therefore follow a step-by-step approach toward IIoT implementation. Just because everybody is talking about IIoT and its benefits, companies need not rush to make implementations in unwanted areas of the businesses. To have a smooth movement over these learning curves, companies should ideally limit the initial scope of early IIoT projects. Complicating implementations only impedes further progress. It is also crucial that companies keep in mind their end customers before making IIoT implementations of any kind. What has traditionally been my strength? What are those experiences that my customers want? And therefore, how do I align my strengths with my customer requirements using IIoT, are some of the questions that companies need to be asking before taking any decision.
IIoT is a great platform for companies to advance in the right way. It can in many ways disrupt how businesses operate, bringing out value in the form of improved revenue and operational efficiencies. How far does the industry understand the concept, how does it identify its strengths and how it can covert opportunities from existing challenges are important factors that will define the success of these companies, going forward. It is no longer a question of whether or not an industrial company would make use of technology in its operations; the question now is how soon can the company get there outsmarting its competitors.