Navigant Research Blog

Harnessing IIoT Requires Collective Thinking

— July 12, 2018

One of the big challenges managers face when planning Industrial IoT (IIoT) projects is choosing the right architecture or approach for solving business problems. Managers don’t simply decide to buy some IoT technology one day and then install it. Instead, they look at an issue, such as how to reduce energy on a production line or how to lower maintenance costs on wind turbines, and then apply IoT technologies. And that is the problem: too many IoT options but too few case studies that provide best practices. This situation is starting to change, however. A couple of examples follow.

IIC Technical Guidance

First, the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) has produced a new white paper that offers practical guidance for deploying IIoT solutions within the concept of edge computing—a hot topic in the industry. The 19-page white paper defines edge computing architectural functions and underscores some key use case factors. The IIC white paper is aimed at technical people who have to implement IoT solutions, but this is the sort of document and shared learning necessary to drive wider adoption.

I spoke recently with two of the authors of the white paper, Mitch Tseng of Huawei and Todd Edmunds of Cisco, who pointed out that defining where the computing takes place in IIoT is less important than harnessing the technology in the right way to achieve valuable business outcomes. They also noted that both edge and cloud computing are important to many IIoT use cases, and the key is in orchestrating the various resources to optimize the outcomes.

Their work is not finished, by any means. The next step calls for the IIC to produce a more technical report that addresses in greater detail how to implement an IIoT architecture that is managed, orchestrated, trustworthy, and secure. Engineers who need to deploy IIoT solutions should benefit greatly from the collective thinking in that yet-to-be-published document.

Exploring Thing Query Language

Mark Venables recently noted the complexity in IIoT and the challenge to provide new tools in his online piece about Thing Query Language (TQL). He highlights Atomiton, a company founded 5 years ago that developed TQL as an operating system for enabling machines, equipment, or devices to talk to each other and that can be programmed, similar to Microsoft’s Visual Basic Programming language. The software is currently used in oil & gas, smart cities, agriculture, and industrial automation settings, but could be applied in other sectors as well. Atomiton was founded by Jane Ren, one of the original founders of GE’s digital arm.

Atomiton is not the only technology vendor working to smooth the pathway for IIoT implementations, of course. Other examples of companies providing valuable IIoT products or solutions include PTC, OSIsoft, Siemens, AWS, Microsoft, Oracle, and C3 IoT.

Collaboration in Using IIoT Solutions Shows Promise

Solving industrial problems with IIoT solutions is still in its early phase. No one company has the full stack of products or services to meet the corporate demand. A group of vendors working together or through an integrator has proven successful. As the Navigant Research Leaderboard: IoT Platform Vendors report noted, there are hundreds of firms offering solutions, which makes for a complex and sometimes confusing ecosystem. So, when efforts to simplify or provide valuable or tested approaches in using IIoT technology become widely known, it helps drive adoption and reduce wasted efforts. I’m all for that.


What Is Open Data and Why Is it Important: Part 1

— June 26, 2018

Open data is a big deal among cities. At the Connected Cities USA conference earlier this month, I had a chance to learn about open data initiatives being taken up by local governments across the US. One example is Franklin, Tennessee, which has teamed up with Socrata—a company that provides cloud-based solutions for online data—to create an open data portal. Instead of a static webpage, users can export data to create their own visualizations or analysis. Chapel Hill, North Carolina partnered with OpenDataSoft to provide citizens access to data related to spatial planning, crime, transportation, and more. Chapel Hill hosted a workshop, Open2OpenData, to demonstrate how to use the open website and discuss ways data can address citizens’ needs.

Growing Demand for Open Data

Cities across the US, both big and small, are thinking about open data. Why? In government, data transparency is increasingly an issue as citizens want more information on everything, such as accounting of how tax dollars are spent and progress around smart city goals. In addition to the demand for government transparency, the evolution of technology makes an exponential explosion of open data accessible by digital devices. This creates opportunities for individuals and organizations to take advantage of data to create new services and products for financial gain.

Traction Has Been Increasing for over a Decade

The term open data gained traction at all levels of government since the OPEN Government Act of 2007 was signed. Currently, 48 states and 48 cities and counties provide data to, the federal government’s online open data repository. Non-governmental organizations promoting open data include:

  • The Sunlight Foundation: Created a set of open data guidelines to address what data should be public, how to make data public, and how to implement policy.
  • Open Data Institute: Works with companies and governments to build an open, trustworthy data ecosystem, and to identify how open data can be used effectively in different sectors.
  • The Data Coalition: Based in Washington, DC, the nonprofit advocacy group promotes the publication of government information as standardized open data.
  • Open Knowledge International: Focused on realizing open data’s value to society, the global nonprofit organization helps people access and use data to act on social problems.

So, What Is Open Data?

Open data is digital information that is licensed in a way that it is available to anyone. The data is typically public, open, or attributed. According to Open Knowledge International, data must be both technically and legally open. The definitions are as follows:

  • Legally open means available under an open data license that permits anyone freely to access, reuse, and redistribute.
  • Technically open means that the data is available for no more than the cost of reproduction and in machine-readable and bulk form.

Other Requirements

In addition to being legally and technically open, open data requires a specific approach based on the kind of data being released and its targeted audience. For example, if the intended users are developers and programmers, the data should be presented within an application programming interface. If it is intended for researchers, data can be structured in a bulk form. Alternately, if it’s aimed at the average citizen, data should be available without requiring software purchases.

The debate about open data in government is an evolving one. So too are the benefits of utilizing open data. This is driven by increasingly sophisticated data analytics allowing us to analyze big data and gain actionable insights to create new value. In my next blog, I will dig deeper into why open data matters and exactly how I see the evolving open data discussion.


Automotive Sector and Smart Cities Join IoT and 5G Surge

— June 26, 2018

In a recent blog, I noted the gathering momentum for industrial IoT (IIoT) solutions. A similar IoT solution and connectivity trend is emerging in the automotive sector, among smart cities, in the buzzy 5G telecom world, and even in military circles. Of course, 5G is expected to play a role in the utility sector, too (see Navigant Research’s 5G and the Internet of Energy report). For stakeholders, 5G and IoT are worth paying attention; underneath the hype, important connectivity solutions are evolving and important strategic decisions are at stake.

Which Technologies Are Connecting Cars?

Among automakers, competing technologies vie for dominance in how connected cars will communicate with other vehicles and supporting systems. Much of the focus has been on 5G, which Ford, BMW, and other automakers support. Toyota favors dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), which is Wi-Fi-based. GM supports DSRC as well, and the US government has invested millions of dollars in the technology.

From a US perspective, 5G appears to have the upper hand in connected cars, especially as wireless carriers invest in upgrades to existing 4G systems. However, in other countries the picture looks slightly different. Volkswagen is supporting 5G for its Audi brand in the US and China, but in Europe the company is hedging its bets and will deploy a version of DSRC on VW-branded cars in Europe beginning next year. So, the technology choice remains unsettled, as noted by the numerous pilots or deployments in a blog by OnBoard Security’s Gene Carter. (For details about automotive communications, see Navigant Research’s Connected Vehicles report).

What about Smart Cities?

Among cities, 5G is gaining ground, too (see Smart City Communication Networks Market Overview for details). Sacramento, for instance, is all in for 5G and is on track to become a model for other cities to follow with projects that take advantage of 5G’s super high speeds, high capacity, and low latency. In Spain, the situation is similar to Sacramento. Wireless carrier Telefónica is deploying 5G in two cities that will become living laboratories. Over the next 3 years, 5G will be tested in automated driving scenarios in Segovia and Talavera de la Reina. The carrier expects to gain new insights from its 5G trials in these two cities, and later will deploy valuable features across its nationwide network.

The Military Is Also Interested in IoT

The military sector also has eyes on 5G and IoT. The US Air Force Academy, for instance, has a new 5-year R&D deal with AT&T that calls for joint work on IoT, cybersecurity, 5G, Smart Base solutions, software-defined networking, and other emerging technologies. The effort is part of the Air Force’s CyberWorx design center, a public-private endeavor to solve operational problems.

Don’t Forget the Telecoms

Likewise, there is new confidence from telecom equipment giant Ericsson related to IoT. The company has nearly doubled its forecast for the number of IoT connections in the coming years. Ericsson expects 3.5 billion IoT cellular connections by 2023, which is up from its November 2017 forecast of 1.8 billion. The change is due to faster-than-expected market growth in recent months. The company says both IoT and 5G promise new capabilities and use cases that will affect not only consumers, but many industries, such as utilities, automotive, and manufacturing, that are undergoing digital transformations.

Yes, 5G and IoT technologies still carry hype baggage. But trials, testing, and deployments are moving ahead. And the markets will unfold quicker than many people imagine.


Exploiting Continuous Improvement to Achieve Transformation and Efficiency Goals: Part 2

— June 21, 2018

In my last blog, I discussed the forces at play that are fundamentally transforming the utility industry. At the center of this transformation is the shift in the way electricity is generated and distributed, and the evolution of the traditional relationship among stakeholders across the electrical grid, particularly between utilities and their customers.

In this environment, many utilities are adopting programs focused on innovation, understanding that new and bold thinking is required to successfully address these forces of transformation. In a recent survey, the ability to “market new energy and products and services” and to “radically improve ability to innovate” were among the top-ranked capabilities that utilities should develop to meet future challenges.

Utilities Must Adopt Innovation Practices

However, while many utilities have a familiarity with and muscle memory for Continuous Improvement and the pursuit of incremental quality, fewer are comfortable with the process of rapid innovation. Historically, utilities have not been paid for innovation; the legacy utility business model and regulatory framework has emphasized stability and risk aversion, exemplified by the rate of return financial construct. While the need to deliver safe, reliable, and cost-effective services will always remain at the core of every utility’s responsibility, how those objectives are achieved is undergoing a fundamental evolution that will require innovation in multiple dimensions.

There is much that utilities can learn from companies in the automotive, consumer electronics, publishing, and other sectors when considering how best to successfully adopt innovation practices. The speed of transformation in these and other sectors confirms that innovation efforts must be designed, deployed, and yield real benefits within a new business model. Because adopting an innovation practice is a question of culture change, it is important for utilities to consider the internal resources it has available when seeking to implement an innovation process. And here is the linkage between Continuous Improvement and innovation: Continuous Improvement practitioners can be a driving force for successful adoption of new innovation practices. Here’s how:

(Source: Navigant Consulting, Inc.)

The core tool kit of Continuous Improvement practitioners can be essential to the design, development, and integration of innovation practices into utility operations—and can help those programs yield results.

In my next blog, I will consider how Continuous Improvement in utilities will need to evolve to meet the demands of a rapidly changing sector. Change management, agile, scrum, “outside in,” and other techniques and ways of thinking will be required to ensure success. These and other topics will be considered at the Change Management for Utilities (West) and Process Excellence for Utilities (West) Conferences.


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