Is Today’s Industrial Internet Missing the Mark?

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: Energy grids look very much like they did 65 years ago. Programmable con- trollers still use ladder diagrams for programming and printed data for analysis. Jet engines, which have collected performance data for more than 20 years, are landing after any given flight with half a gigabyte of useful information, yet still do not link up to the airport’s Wi-Fi to perform 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 (AT&T, http://www.att.com) Cisco (Cisco, http://www.cisco.com), GE (General Electric, http://www.ge.com), IBM (IBM, http://www.ibm.com) and Intel (Intel, http://www.intel.com) formed the consortium about six months ago.

Certainly, the potential impact of a well-used Industrial Internet is huge. According to a 2012 report from GE, the Industrial Internet impacts about 46 percent of the world’s GDP, which translates into a $32.3 trillion opportu- nity. Even just a 1 percent savings from more-efficient IoT solutions could save billions of dollars in operational costs.

But industry so far is missing the mark, said Soley. In addition to the jet engine example, he pointed to shortcomings in healthcare’s use of Internet technology as well: “There’s been a lack of Internet thinking in these markets.”

There is still a lot to be done, Soley added, pointing to the need for inte- grated geological data from multiple sensing sources for better oil and gas exploration, for example. He also men- tioned failure sensing and automatic rerouting of multimodal systems for rail and other transportation, among others.

IIC was formed to better access Big Data to improve integration of the 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 organiza- tions to figure out how to deliver pro- totypes that will be of value to the mar- ketplace,” Soley said, clarifying, “We are not a standards organization.”

“First and foremost,” Soley contin- ued, “we help our member organiza- tions 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 semi- conductor behemoth Intel about the opportunities of a connected industry, according to Jeff Fedders, chief strate- gist 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. The Industrial Internet transformation is expected to happen in about three to five years, Fedders predicted.

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.”

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. “Think big, and dream even bigger. If you have absolutely weird ideas, think of us. Come because you want to change the world.”

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