Over the past decade, the Internet of Things (IoT) has gone from an obscure technical concept to a household term — literally. Whether it’s turning down your thermostat via Google’s Nest to turning off your lights by talking aloud to Apple Home, the IoT technology that stands to revolutionize our lives is already beginning to make its way into the mainstream. In fact, an Intel survey found that 68 percent of Americans predict that smart homes will be as commonplace as smartphones by 2025.
Even so, a lot of people are asking the same question: if the technology exists already, why doesn’t it permeate deeper into the world? Especially in regards to industry, businesses have been slow to adapt to burgeoning trends.
The great innovator General Electric coined the term “industrial internet” — now commonly referred to as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) — back in 2012. The company envisioned fully connected, intelligent devices sharing information about the way they work. This type of data pooling would enable companies to make better decisions on everything from energy savings to forecasting labor needs.
While the IoT’s disruptive potential is huge, it hasn’t even come close to reaching its potential among industrial companies. The reason the IIoT is lagging is simple: getting it right is harder than we thought.
Consumer IoT vs. Industrial IoT
Why would optimizing operations across dozens of industries be easy? Perhaps it’s because we have been looking to consumer IoT as the operative model. Taking a step back, it’s simple to see that the comparison between the two isn’t fair.
The IIoT is different because it focuses on physical systems that require much higher levels of system integrations. The companies that are potential users of the IIoT, and that stand the most to gain from it, are almost always actively using other enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Sometimes, they also use other legacy software that they need to maintain.
In order for these companies to benefit from the vast amounts of data that their devices or machinery can track, then, any IIoT systems must be compatible with the technology that a company already uses. Since this can vary on a case-by-case basis, getting it right takes foresight.
Additionally, security for industrial customers is no easy task; the IIoT requires an even higher bar than the consumer internet. Every effort must be taken to have proper security management plans in place.
Resistance to Change is Real
System integration and security aren’t the only factors slowing down the adoption of the IIoT among large industry consumers. Another equally important factor is the truth that resistance to change is real. First, it requires companies to change their operations in order to accommodate the new tools. Then, the next step of setting up artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze company data will undoubtedly lead to an internal analysis of processes and thus an outpouring of questions that must be answered.
Why does the company do things a certain way? Is it possible to become more efficient? If so, what barriers does the company need to overcome in order to gain buy-in from employees on changing the way they operate? A strong change management strategy will be crucial.
When a company decides to prioritize the IIoT, it is essentially signing on to the idea of making change happen open. And, as the saying going, change is never easy.
Beneath the Difficulty Lies Opportunity
Of course, there’s a bright side to the fact that implementing the IIoT is more difficult than initially thought — in it lies bigger business opportunities than we could have imagined.
Connected, intelligent devices will result in increased revenue by increasing asset uptime and utilization. The IIoT will reduce equipment maintenance costs and lengthen equipment’s overall expected lifetime. It will provide the necessary data to help solve logistics and scheduling challenges, and improve safety and reduce physical risks through incident prediction and prevention.
Most importantly, it will fundamentally augment our understanding of physical system characteristics. This will drive next-generation engineering principles which will ultimately improve system performance across the board.
Moving Forward and Embracing Connectivity
With so many benefits, the IIoT delivers clear business value that outweighs its complications. By focusing on how data can improve decisions, there is enough reason to prioritize and incentivize adoption.
Instead of making giant upfront investments, start with the data that your business already has access to. Use that data to inform better decisions. Then, take the next possible step toward embracing connectivity. By focusing on doable moves with respect to investments in sensors, instrumentation, and software, bringing the IIoT to your industrial company can happen in small steps.
With time and smarter decision-making processes, the IIoT can soon be just as much of a household name within industry as it is for consumers.