The Industrial Internet of Things… IIoT or I(D)IoT?

by Shane Filer & Brian Oulton

” Whatever You Do, Don’t Use That Acronym! I’m So Sick Of Hearing About It!” –Neal Systems Customer

If you want the range of answers from “huh?” to “shut-up!” to “I have no clue, but I’m in charge of it…”, to 10 minutes or so of 4 and 5 syllable words and the equivalent in acronyms that sound indecipherable – look no further. Both authors have been visiting manufacturers, utilities, and producers that use industrial automation products, and asked them what they’re doing about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Here’s the rub… the very same folks that yell, “Don’t say IIoT!”, finish the sentence with, “… but I need it.” Neal Systems’ customer in question didn’t want to hear the acronym “IIoT”, but did say that if the solution in question could accomplish what they wanted, “Every single company like us in the industry will adopt it – we’re all desperate for it!”

That harsh response to yet another industry buzzword is quite a pivot from the incredible media bombardment and outrageous vendor claims that every product of theirs down to their paper clips are “smart” or “IIoT-Enabled”. How do you separate the incredibly useful tools that drive better and quicker decision making from the name-dropping acronyms that make one sound like an I(D)IoT?  

In a recent conversation, the two authors found a lot of common ground and common sense we believe is worth sharing… tell us if you agree as we sort it out with our TOP IIoT TRUTHS:

1. The question, “What are you doing about IIoT?” is the wrong question to ask. IIoT is essentially a set of technologies coming together that can enable new ways to solve a problem or challenge… IIoT ISN’T the problem, and it’s also not the solution. More appropriate questions to ask (and responses) might be:

  • What are you doing about worker shortage and burn-out of company experts you told me about recently? (Common response: We’re adding automation so our existing workers’ jobs are easier & they don’t burn out)
  • How is your company handling the continual threat of security and upkeep to your data stored on company servers? (Common answer: We’re exploring cloud-based solutions that are continually backed up and secured by experts in the field) 
  • How is your company planning to beat new, online-based competitive threats? (Common response: We’re adding measurements, visualization, and analytics to make key information more accessible and digestible to our decision makers so we can make better, faster decisions)

The better questions to ask are about problems and how you might help with solutions.

2. While the claims are sometimes ridiculous, the trend & underlying technologies are real. IIoT technology building blocks are essentially:

  • Intelligent, networked devices. These have been available since the 1980s. Devices from photo-eyes and limit switches to gas detectors and pressure transmitters can report dozens of different critical status updates. Variable frequency drives (VFDs) have hundreds of parameters that can be viewed and controlled.
  • Networks that can move a lot of data from anywhere to anywhere. While smaller, slower networks have been available since the 70’s, the popularity of Ethernet for just about every type of industrial control AND office AND the internet took off in the mid 1990’s and is the most-broadly used industrial network technology today. It’s fast, handles a ton of data, is highly scalable, and enables communication to hop between copper wire, fiber, wireless and cellular transmission very easily. 
  • Plenty of data storage and computing power. Whether you use your local computers or a cloud service, today very few companies worry about the technology needed to add more storage space or computing horsepower. 
  • Analytics software to make sense of huge amounts of data from different sources. Today’s analytics software can process the mountain of data to provide users with dashboards containing just the right insights to drive great business decisions. And the awesome part… in the past, you needed to very carefully specify everything ahead of time to include in the report that IT would produce. The initial report would often take 3-6 months to produce, and any change usually also required a month or more to rework. With IIoT building blocks including analytics software, your flexibility to combine new information and create different insights is fast and easy and often can be done yourself in minutes (or even automatically at periodic intervals). Further, many of the insights are available to you & others on your mobile device in the form of a dashboard. 

3. The Key Ingredient is buried in your people. None of this technology actually benefits your company unless you have specific problems or challenges to solve, along with a strategy that happens to benefit from the insights these technologies can bring. In fact, the toughest part of using IIoT building blocks is the people part. It’s a real challenge for many companies to think and work differently and strategically. It’s a challenge to apply much of the domain knowledge your workers have collected. Many of the “big thoughts” that great employees discuss during lunch, breaks, or even when commiserating about how things “should be” might be now achievable with these technologies and your company focus. 

4. Even if you don’t have the perfect plan, there are some very practical and beneficial actions almost everyone can & should take now, with almost immediate payback, and part of an even better road-map to help your company prosper. We’ll list those in a follow-on article we’ve nicknamed: 

“Practical Actions You Can and Should Take to Drive Business Genius … and/or not Look Like an I(d)IoT.”

So, stay tuned, and next time you hear the hype, acronyms and questions that make you think IDIoT instead of IIoT, please know that while you may want to choke the messenger, there are some amazing benefits for those that cut through the hype to determine how to solve real challenges in new and awesome ways.

Shane Filer is the general manager of a northeast USA technical company (Neal Systems Inc – www.nealsystems.com) that represents, engineers, and services industrial products like #Foxboro, #DraegerSafety, #Eurotherm, and #MetrixVibration to various process industries. His team provides solutions that help companies accomplish what this article is all about.  

Brian Oulton spent over 30 years driving strategy & leading initiatives with Rockwell Automation, Cisco, Belden/Hirschmann and others. Today, Brian is president of Business Sense LLC (www.business-sense-llc.com) and is focused on helping automation & tech companies who need to grow, fix, or change their Sales and Marketing processes, organizations, tools, and activities to achieve sustainable double-digit growth. 

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