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Challenges Facing Industrial IoT in 2015

I’ve always been a sucker for end of old year/beginning of new year roundups and forecasts. We even did a little look back at 2014 on our own blog a few weeks back.

One of the more interesting roundup/what’s next pieces I saw was Rich Quinnell’s “10 Top Challenges Industrial IoT Must Overcome in 2015,” which appeared in EE Times in late December. One of the reasons I found it so interesting is that, as Rich points out, so much of the IoT buzz is around consumer goods. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as excited about consumer applications of IoT as the next guy – just ask me about my Nest, why don’t you – but our work is primarily on the industrial side.  Nice to see it getting this attention!

Anyway, Rich’s take on the challenges facing IIoT is a good one, which I’ll summarize quickly. (This will be a two-part blog, to be continued next week.)

Security is (understandably!) first up on Rich’s list. The attacks that tend to get the most attention are IT breaches, like the recent Sony one and the ongoing stream of retail organizations that have had consumer credit card data hacked. But industrial systems are vulnerable, and attack on these systems – think SCADA, think the grid – could cause not only tremendous economic destruction, but loss of life as well.  I also find that in the IoT development community, security is topic #1.

Standardization was next, as, in Rich’s words, “For there to be a true industrial Internet of Things, there must be an ability for diverse devices and systems to share information and interact.” The challenges within this challenge are the existence of proprietary designs and interfaces, and the fact that there are competing groups trying to establish the standard. In my view, multiple proprietary designs will inevitably become widely used and will become de-facto “standards”.

Rich views the ability to get at the big data that the IIoT produces as one of the most significant benefits that the IIoT offers. To maximize the value of big data, organizations are going to have to break down silos – “organizational, data, and system” – that currently stand in the way. I see this as always being an intra-organizational challenge as opposed to something that can be standardized across the board. Each organization’s needs from the data are just too diverse.

Rich sticks to the data front, and names adopting data-centric design as the fourth challenge.

The advent of the IIoT will require that industrial equipment developers change their mindsets about what their devices are to do. They will still need to perform their physical functions, but they will also need a new focus on generating and receiving data. (With data acquisition such a big part of so much of what we do here at Critical Link, I especially liked this challenge.)

Again focusing on data, Rich feels that IIoT vendors are going have to develop hybrid business models, and offer services that exploit their product’s data-centric design. This is not only being driven by IIoT, but also by business innovation within the economy, as the realities of the state of manufacturing in the United States have taken hold. As manufacturing has moved to China to keep costs low, many businesses are looking to build their revenue streams, improve their margins, and increase their overall value to the customer by offering more services.

Next week, I’ll get into the other five challenges on Rich’s list.