The State of the Industrial Internet of Things

May 10, 2017
As the next industrial revolution gets underway, here are some of the key Internet of Things trends, predictions and recommendations for 2017.

Early adopters of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) have identified competitive advantages and new business models to increase revenue, cut costs and improve customer service and support. Terms like predictive maintenance, artificial intelligence, smart manufacturing, and augmented and virtual reality are no longer buzzwords. They’re ideas, technologies and concepts that are being adopted and applied to these industries every day.

But IIoT adoption challenges remain.

Information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) integration and collaboration are required to implement successful IIoT applications. This continues to be a challenge on both the technical and cultural fronts. OT and IT teams exhibit significant cultural differences within their organizational units. For example:

  • IT lives in a world of constant change and never-ending upgrade cycles, seeking the newest, fastest computing hardware and software to gain competitive advantage the enterprise can use to its benefit.
  • The OT team functions in the realm of physical value creation within the enterprise, where upgrade cycles are often decades apart and legacy technology is the norm.

The ongoing challenge lies in connecting these two very different types of technology in very different disciplines. But the primary objective remains: Obtain a holistic, historical, real-time and predictive view of enterprise-wide operations to identify opportunities to develop competitive and comparative advantages.

To help streamline integration between both organizations, one suggestion is to nominate a single individual within the organization to own the overall development of an IIoT strategy, with supporting efforts coming from all organizational units.

This person should be well versed in both the OT and IT realms and be able to understand the overall business objectives and long-term value in connecting OT assets and IT assets together. It’s also imperative that this individual be well versed in information security. The key to successful management of OT and IT teams for IIoT is that both teams have an equal seat at the engineering, design, production and support tables.

The adoption of open IIoT standards, specifications and architectures will also help streamline teamwork between OT and IT.

Standards, specifications and architectures
During 2015 and 2016, two organizations dominated the IIoT headlines:

  • Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), which takes a more cross-domain approach to the IIoT.
  • Plattform Industrie 4.0, rooted in the concepts of efficient manufacturing and the smart factory.

Both groups developed reference architectures to help streamline standardization and adoption of IIoT technology. Though similar in some respects, they also differ on many points.

The IIC is primarily focused on developing a standard reference architecture to address the overall enterprise that could be adopted globally as opposed to regionally. The IIC’s Industrial Internet Reference Architecture (IIRA) was first published in 2015 and is a standards-based architectural template and methodology that IIoT system architects can use to design their own systems, based on a common framework and concepts. The IIRA is designed to address the intelligence and connectivity now being built into the sensors, actuators and other low-level devices deployed in a variety of applications, including smart manufacturing, the smart grid, the connected hospital, smart transportation and others.

Plattform Industrie 4.0, on the other hand, is shaping a digital structural shift of industry specific to Germany. Industry 4.0 began as a German government project to promote computerized manufacturing. As a result, the primary focus of Industry 4.0 is to optimize production to develop what the organization has deemed the smart factory. Using the four pillars of smart factory design and operation—interoperability, information transparency, technical assistance and decentralized decision-making—Industry 4.0 attempts to build smart factories that can mass produce customized products flexibly.

There is still much debate between the organizations, leaving many companies unsure of where to invest. At this point, a wait-and-see approach is recommended. Though it’s likely that a combined joint effort between the organizations will eventually materialize and an overall industry standard developed, the timeline is currently unknown.

While the standards bodies debate which protocols, architectures and terms are best for IIoT, industry is already beginning to answer the calls of customers looking for IIoT platforms that offer ease of use, security and interoperability—leading to the rise of the IIoT platform wars.

Platforms rising
IIoT platforms and middleware are the software that must exist between physical devices (sensors, actuators, relays, etc.) or data endpoints and higher-level software applications like artificial intelligence, predictive analytics and cognitive computing. IIoT platforms and middleware move data between the physical and digital realms and provide software resources powerful enough to cope with the Big Data generated from billions of IIoT devices in brownfield industrial application opportunities.

For some years to come, the root problem with IIoT will be the need to connect legacy systems and devices to cutting-edge IT systems. With the massive gap that exists in technology, communication protocols and standards between equipment designed several decades ago and the equipment shipping today, IIoT middleware is trying to fill that gap.

Before considering any platform, it’s important to first define the scope of your IIoT project and the value it’s designed to deliver. Match your platform choice to what you’re trying to accomplish. Rather than committing to a specific vendor platform, perhaps consider adoption of enabling technologies rooted in open source and open standards.

Interoperability via open source and open standards

Though there has been widespread adoption of open communication bus standards like Ethernet for industrial networks and TCP/IP for addressing and data transmission, software applications in the OT and IT realms still lack interoperability. Here are some current technology solutions to help overcome these hurdles in 2017:

  • RESTful (representational state transfer) APIs are the software development tools that stitch together the Internet and mobile computing as we know them today. Opto 22 SNAP PAC automation controllers come with a built-in HTTP/S web server and RESTful API to the controller’s I/O and system variables.
  • Node-RED is an open-source, visual wiring tool to connect edge computing systems such as industrial automation controllers to cloud services such as Amazon Web Services and IBM Watson IoT. Node-RED allows IIoT application developers to leverage pre-built software code and deploy it directly into their applications. Opto 22’s groov IIoT application development appliance comes with Node-RED—natively and securely built in.
  • OPC was designed to connect applications running on Windows operating systems to industrial automation devices for data access.
  • MQTT is a transport protocol that pushes data using a publish/subscribe (pub/sub) architecture, and offers several distinct advantages in IIoT applications such as open standards and suitability for remote or tenuous connections and for communication with devices behind a firewall.

Roadblocks ahead
Three major roadblocks exist that are impeding the adoption and rollout of IIoT on a mass scale:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Overall systemic lack of experience and manpower to create and implement IIoT applications
  • Difficulty in identifying and quantifying ROI in IIoT applications

Learn more about how to overcome these challenges in our complete industry report at

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