Industrial Internet Needs Better Integration

Sept. 29, 2014
Although the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is taking hold quickly, more needs to be done to integrate physical and digital worlds and build better use cases to take advantage of a $32 trillion opportunity. That’s the goal of the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC).

We live in a changing world. With everything connected, and information changing hands so quickly, there’s a brave new world out there that in many ways our kids understand better than we do. We hear daily about the Internet of Things (IoT) and how it can impact our lives. So it’s ironic to see what, in fact, has not changed.

The energy grids that look very much like they did 65 years ago. Programmable controllers that still uses ladder diagrams to program and printed data to analyze. Jet engines that have collected performance data for more than 20 years, landing from any given flight with half a gigabyte of useful information, and yet still do not link up to the airport’s Wi-Fi to provide real-time analytics on that data.

These were some of the laments from Richard Soley, executive director of the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC). Speaking recently at a Public Forum on the Industrial Internet hosted by IIC, Soley explained why AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM and Intel formed the consortium about six months ago.

Certainly, the potential impact is huge. According to a 2012 report from GE’s Peter Evans and Marco Annuziata, the Industrial Internet impacts about 46 percent of the world’s GDP, which translates into a $32.3 trillion opportunity. Even just a 1 percent savings from efficient IoT solutions could save billions of dollars in operational costs.

But industry so far is missing the mark. In addition to the jet engine example he cited, Soley pointed to shortcomings in healthcare’s use of Internet technology as well. “There are some amazing missing features, such as O2 sensors that don’t integrate with respiratory sensors, and therefore people have died,” he said. “There’s been a lack of Internet thinking in these markets.”

The Internet did not change everything, and there’s still a lot to be done, Soley said, pointing to the need for integrated geological data from multiple sensing sources for better oil and gas exploration; failure sensing and automatic rerouting of multimodal systems for rail and other transportation; smart homes and smart energy usage; and an ongoing list of others.

IIC was formed to better access big data to improve integration of physical and digital worlds, and is specifically focused on industrial applications. “There’s an enormous opportunity to impact industrial systems,” Soley said. “We want to use Internet technology to make better industrial decisions.”

Growing from the founding five, IIC now has 81 companies working together to apply IoT technology to industrial systems. “We’re bringing together all different types of organizations to figure out how to deliver prototypes that will be of value to the marketplace,” Soley said, clarifying, “We are not a standards organization.”

“First and foremost,” Soley continued, “we help our member organizations in the development of test beds. We have to develop use cases. What are the technology impacts? What are the security impacts?”

There is a lot of discussion at semiconductor behemoth Intel about the opportunities of a connected industry, according to Jeff Fedders, chief strategist for Intel and a member of IIC’s steering committee. “We think the Industrial Internet is on the verge of a transformation type of period,” he said.

Fedders likens the IoT transformation to the data center transformation that Intel previously saw, which took about 10 years to move from a very application-specific model to a more software-designed approach to cloud services. “We’re starting to see that transformation happen in a much more accelerated pace,” he said. “We think the Internet of Things and Industrial Internet is going down the same road.”

The Industrial Internet transformation, however, is expected to happen much more quickly—about three to five years, Fedders predicted. “There’s no straightforward transformation,” he said. “We start to create collaborations of partnerships that we never had before. Those visions are starting to be created within this industry. And we’re trying to take some of these national initiatives, and start to drill solution sets around that activity.”

Along these lines, IIC is creating private and public partnerships (PPPs), then moving on to open technology innovation to get academia involved, Fedders explained. “After that, the next thing on the road is business opportunities. All sorts of different business models start to emerge. Then we’ll have transformational impact types of activities.”

IIC doesn’t want companies to just join the organization, Soley said. “We’re really not interested. We need people to participate.”

Think about doing something that’s difficult, urged Shoumen Palit Austin Datta, senior vice president of IIC. “We need test beds. But we don’t need test beds just for the sake of doing a test bed,” he said. “Think big, and dream even bigger. If you have absolutely weird ideas, think of us. Come because you want to change the world.”