The Industrial Internet of Things? Gimme Three Good Reasons

In 2014, I wrote a 2-part blog while at Belden about four megatrends; the Internet of Things, Big Data, Cloud, and Industry 4.0. Most of what I wrote is still appropriate today.     This blog is for the skeptic in all of us.

If you’re like me, you’re swamped with articles about the Industrial Internet of Things. It may seem wise to become the skeptic, write it off as hype, and get back to the project work piling up in your inbox. Before you go, you may really appreciate some straight talk. The dialogue that follows is real, though I’m the person on both sides of the discussion:

Skeptic: “There’s too much hype, too many big words, and not enough results… gimme three good reasons to stay in this discussion… and without the hype please.”

Me: “OK! Industrial Ethernet, Cisco’s approach to markets, and PARALLEL UNIVERSES.”

Skeptic: “You’re going to have to explain… especially the parallel universes one.”

Me: “Sure…First, Let’s discuss Industrial Ethernet. Remember when everyone in manufacturing was using proprietary fieldbus networks, like Data Highway, PROFIBUS, Interbus-S, DeviceNet and the like? Well, Industrial Ethernet hit the scene and changed everything.”

Skeptic: “I remember there were dozens of networks… you only named a few. I sure don’t know why we needed another one.”

Me: “Back in the ‘90s, the skeptics raised two sets of concerns.  The first was a group of technical concerns, with claims that Ethernet wasn’t deterministic, industrial enough, etc. The other declared Ethernet was ‘yet another fieldbus’ in a market with dozens of choices already.”

Skeptic:  “That’s what I said!”

Me: “Right, except few predicted that technology advances would have such a dramatic effect on the network’s success. Those advances included much faster speeds, the introduction of switches (instead of hubs) to eliminate collisions, and the move to easily installable twisted pair copper cable. The result was a huge technology ‘pipe’ that could handle thousands of devices in an industrial application, compared to fieldbuses that topped out at 15, 30, or 50 devices.  More than popular, it exceeded everyone’s expectations growing by >30% every year, even after hitting the 1M nodes installed mark.”

Skeptic: “Yea, so it got popular… what’s the point?”

Me: “Industrial Ethernet is a REAL MEGATREND that worked. There were huge benefits for those who took advantage of the trend. Some device vendors made exciting new products containing a ton of status and other useful information, while manufacturers using the technology were able to get a lot more critical information from their manufacturing process than in the past. This ‘big pipe’ made it easy to get everything connected and communicating, inside a factory, across an enterprise, or around the world. There were winners and losers, and the winners figured out how to take advantage of the mega-trend. The losers are still carrying clipboards around their factory.

And, I’m happy to point out that the move to Industrial Ethernet was a key enabler that triggered the Industrial Internet of Things. One megatrend triggered another.”

Skeptic: “OK, so what about Cisco? I know they say a TON about the Internet of Things, Internet of Everything… Aren’t they just part of the hype?”

Me: “Yes, but that’s not my point. Cisco is SO big; they don’t focus their efforts on existing markets. Instead, they focus and invest in market transitions, one specific type of megatrend. That’s where the big winners and big losers are found.  “

Skeptic: “Do you have examples here?”

Me: “While I was at Rockwell, I worked closely with Cisco when the industrial world moved from fieldbus to Industrial Ethernet. As industrial Ethernet became a “thing”, we saw the convergence of IT people and OT (plant floor) people happening. These two very different group’s technology choices, roles, culture, and tools quickly came together to create dramatic change, and resulting opportunity… very similar opportunity that you can achieve with the Internet of Things.  It greatly helped Cisco to enter the Industrial network space.

Peel back their hype and you’ll discover that they use great processes to read the tea leaves, and create a vision of how the world can be different, the strategy they need to make it happen, and the actions they need to take now to get it started. Their success isn’t in their marketing, but rather in their market analysis, process to identify transitions, and the process they follow to capture the opportunity. Use the same to get after the Industrial Internet of Things!”

Skeptic: “Ok, but not every company has the resources to do all of that. “

Me: “Right, but a lot of companies CAN watch the trends and transitions, choose carefully and figure out how to make the real ones work for their business. In a lot of cases, your choices mean the difference between growth, survival, and extinction… get it wrong and you’ll be lucky to survive. “

Skeptic: “Point taken, now about PARALLEL UNIVERSES?”

Me: “How do you feel about the things you can do with a smartphone, Google anything, and Amazon?”

Skeptic: “Ok, all are pretty amazing… I have to keep reminding my kids that their smartphones are actually phones that can be used to talk to people.”

Me: “Right. These are examples of parallel universes where mega trends have changed the world. And, the innovative capabilities and benefits of that parallel universe are coming into the industrial space… fast!”

Skeptic: “I thought the industrial space moved pretty slowly.”

Me: “Not any more. There are exceptional examples all around you. Today, there is a ton of video on the plant floor to help machine builders remotely diagnose trouble with their installed machines. There is help for Maintenance and Operations on their smartphones and tablets, with how-to-videos, drawings, procedures, material pull, and other multi-media help for plant floor workers. There are even more examples in the prior blogs I mentioned.”

Skeptic: “Ok, so the commercial market is one ‘parallel universe’ to look at. Are there others?”

Me: “You bet… all you need to do is look at markets adjacent to yours, and then determine how their best practices can apply to your industry.”

Skeptic: “Well, why aren’t more companies doing awesome things like this?”

Me: “There are a lot of reasons, change is tough, but you need to get started and do something! There will be winners and losers…””

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