The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), where heavy machinery is integrated with networked sensors and software, is about adding a little more finesse to something which already does the heavy lifting. Innovative companies in the manufacturing, energy and utilities, automotive and transportation, and healthcare sectors are capitalising on IIoT as a way to unlock new revenue sources by packaging their products with new digital services.
While the argument for digital business transformation investment in IIoT is clear, interoperability is threatening its widespread adoption. That’s where using open technologies in an open architecture to navigate this issue can help, but it must start at the app development stage.
The industrial IoT opportunity
The latest industrial revolution – or industry 4.0 as some insist on calling it – involves the computerisation of machinery and automation using robotics, as well as the intelligent measurement and analysis of data to improve efficiency, profitability and safety. Buzzwords aside, this has the potential to generate data that businesses can use to optimise costs, deliver better services and boost revenues: the holy trinity for any business.
The figures speak for themselves. Third party sources predict that global investment in the IIoT will reach $500 billion by 2020. Companies that introduce automation and more flexible production techniques to manufacturing can boost productivity by as much as 30%. Plus predictive maintenance of assets can save companies up to 12% over scheduled repairs, reduce overall maintenance costs by up to 30% and eliminate breakdowns by 70%.
One company proving out a use case is GMT Europe. It has rapidly adapted its business model to offer new services using IIoT data. The organisation has optimised household waste collection by building a mobile order management app for one of its customers, which collects household waste in 20 Dutch municipalities. Instead of driving fixed routes and picking up bins that were only half full, routes are now dynamically designed by the software based on historical data and actual data streams such as weather conditions, traffic congestion and truck locations. By predicting the filling grades of the bins, they can now be scheduled for collection when they are at least 80% full. The app draws real-time data streams from GPS, smart devices and RFID tags, stripping inefficiency from the waste management process and saving GMT Europe’s customer 23% in costs. Less time is wasted, meaning money is saved.
This is just one example, but industrial manufacturers are sitting up and taking notice now they have realised that sensor data could be used to create new services and mitigate failures in key infrastructure networks like water, power, and transport, as well as new revenue streams by selling this information on to other energy and transport providers.
The interoperability conundrum
Nothing worth doing, however, is easy. One crucial barrier holding back implementation of IIoT is the lack of interoperability between devices and machines that use different protocols and have different architectures. While the theory of IIoT makes perfect business sense, the reality of linking up existing IT systems is often increasingly complex and costly as today’s operational technology systems work largely in silos, and the typical lifespan of physical industrial equipment is long-term.
The IIoT utopia is a fully functional digital ecosystem with seamless data sharing between machines and other physical systems from different manufacturers. While the drive towards open interoperability and the development of common architectures is being worked on, particularly by non-profit Industrial Internet Consortium, industrial companies will forgo competitive advantage if they wait for the perfect setting to take action.
The role of open architecture and the new web app answer
To address the conundrum in part and maximise the IIoT opportunity, companies like Apple and Google have provided internet enabled ecosystems of devices. The problem is that they are closed ecosystems that limit which devices and which data can speak to each other.
If the industrial IoT is really to work and drive real innovation, it can’t be limited to a few closed ecosystems that have unprecedented control over how rapidly IIoT develops and that progress is enabled according to their benefit. Plus, most industrial organisations will have devices and systems that cover more than one of these closed ecosystems.
This is where the argument for developing new IIoT systems with open technologies in an open architecture comes in, and the place to start is at the IIoT app development stage.
The rationale for closed ecosystem choices has always been led by the superior functionality and performance of native apps versus web apps. But it is now possible to build web apps that can be used on the desktop and now on iOS and Android. With new open technology frameworks like NativeScript and React Native, developers don’t have to encapsulate their business logic behind proprietary ecosystem platforms anymore, and are free to develop IIoT apps that will work across systems and have the ability to share data across them all.
Open systems should be secure systems
A survey on the state of IoT, commissioned by Progress, revealed that data security and privacy remain amongst the key challenges for IoT application development, especially as there are a growing number of regulatory standards that they need to comply with. Security challenges only become greater due to open architectures being more vulnerable to security risks. But an open system does not need to be an ‘open- to- threats’ system. What is needed is a plan of action to secure open systems without defeating their purpose of allowing collaboration and sharing.
To avoid data compromise and the financial and reputational costs that come with it, developers need to ensure that their data -from entire databases to single tables and everything in between- are efficiently encrypted. This will allow collaboration to take place while eliminating the risk of leaving sensitive data vulnerable to unauthorised access and without impacting the overall performance of the system. What is also important is the fact that developers can get the flexibility they need and meet individual security requirements by encrypting the objects that need it.
Open for all
The walled gardens which certain players are trying to put in place are probably the biggest threat to a successful IIoT. If industrial players want to take advantage and accelerate their own digital transformation to drive new business models, market opportunities and revenue, then they must take a closer look at open and secure technologies and start innovating for IIoT today.
Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their IoT use-cases? Attend the IoT Tech Expo World Series events with upcoming shows in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam to learn more.