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Harnessing IIoT Requires Collective Thinking

Neil Strother
Jul 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.