The Right Questions to Ask About the Internet of Things

No matter where you are, it's tough to escape discussion of the Internet of Things. Like any other automation topic, you need to consider the source of information when making decisions regarding your situation.

Stephen Blank
Stephen Blank

The automation world has be abuzz recently about the possibility of the Internet of Things (IoT) and its role in automation. Currently, I have no less than four trade publications on my desk open to recent articles on IoT. All of the publications speak of the benefits and pitfalls. (Side note: It's interesting that most of the articles I have read have been written by manufacturers of devices and software, or by people who have a vested interest in promoting these vendors.)

In short, IoT speaks of device-to-device (or device-to-enterprise) communication. This device level communication, typically via Ethernet, allows for the collection and collation of vast amounts of data directly from a specific device. By doing this, engineers and others within the enterprise will be able to access this data for analysis, trending, data collection, etc., all with an interconnectedness of devices and infrastructure that wasn’t available before. Essentially, each device has or is a microprocessor spewing out data that (we assume) means something to somebody.

While this technology isn’t really new, we are now seeing a full-on of discussion of the concept and the beginnings of its implementation in the industrial world. Most of the major vendors are starting to promote IoT, while organizations such as the International Society of Automation (ISA) are working on standards and best practices. Even Microsoft, traditionally late to the party, is on the bus.

Whether you are adopting IoT now or simply plan to in the future, here are some of the questions IoT suppliers will ask you, along with the related question you should be asking yourself to arrive at the real answer:

  1. What do you want to monitor? The more important question is: Why do you want to monitor this?
  2. What devices do you want to connect? The question that should be asked: What information do you need from your devices?
  3. Who will use the data? Again, the more important question is not “who” but “will” they use the data?
  4. How will the infrastructure be setup? More importantly, who will maintain this infrastructure?
  5. What security will you have in place? A better question: What will happen when someone hacks into your system and how will you recover?

IoT, along with “Industry 4.0” and other technology-related initiatives can and will revolutionize the factory floor. As with any new technology (or even new implementations of existing technologies) many questions need to be asked and considered. Make sure that you are asking the right questions for your enterprise. These are not necessarily the questions that vendors want to answer.

Stephen Blank is CEO of Loman Control Systems Inc. a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). Check out Loman Controls’ profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange by CSIA.

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