Feeling Thankful for the IoT Macro Trend
by Mike Fahrion
Back when the Pilgrims of Massachusetts and the Wampanoag tribe got together for the first Thanksgiving dinner, the only way to invite someone to a party was to tramp through the woods to his house and bang on his door. Four centuries later we’ve invented the Post Office, email, Twitter, Facebook, text messaging, voice mail and a zillion other communications options, and yet there’s still always one person who swears that he or she never got the invitation. Some things never change.
But some things do. The evolution of the industrial Internet of Things is creating links between machines that never used to talk to one another while simultaneously creating a convergence between the very different worlds of Information Technologies (IT) and Operational Technologies (OT). It’s pretty exciting.
As you know from my recent rants, I’ve been up to my ears in the industrial Internet of Things for quite some time. I’ve been attending conferences, speaking at events and talking with some highly interesting people from all around the world. I’m getting to know the key players in IoT, and I’m getting very good at articulating IoT concepts for folks who find the trends daunting or confusing.
I heard an interesting confession at an IoT event last week. One of the global cellular providers fessed up that events weren’t unfolding quite the way they had planned. They had thought that they’d already be selling zillions of new data plans to support the zillions of new “things” that would make up the IoT. But the growth curve in data plans for IoT devices hasn’t turned out to be as explosive as they had anticipated. I could have spared them some anxiety if they had talked to me sooner.
They were looking at the industrial IoT as if there was going to be some light switch event that upended the M2M world in a single, amazing moment. But data networking doesn’t work that way. The arrival of industrial IoT isn’t an event; it’s an evolution. When new technologies become available they create new M2M communications options. The new M2M communications options then let more and more devices become nodes on networks. Introduce IT technologies into the mix and now the process accelerates in a big way. The futurists who predict that the IoT will link billions upon billions of devices are perfectly correct. But what they often fail to mention is that the majority of those devices already exist. The industrial IoT won’t replace them, or force them into obsolescence. It will simply incorporate them. And they won’t automatically need cellular connections and data plans.
Note that a lot of those devices are out at the messy network edge, and that many of them were originally designed for very specific purposes that have nothing to do with IoT. They may prefer to speak funny languages like Modbus and DF1. They may not come with Ethernet ports or Wi-Fi. They’ll do what they were designed to do, and that’s all. What industrial IoT has to provide is a connectivity stack that lets all of this equipment keep chugging away, while simultaneously linking it to modern networks and modern applications.
That can be tricky. Putting an appropriate IoT connectivity stack together calls for a wide variety of skill sets. Who do you call when you need someone who is an expert in sensors, industrial protocols, local and wide area networking, networking security, databases, analytics, or integration with your business software systems? Which department would you call first? IT? Engineering? Operations?
All of this media hype over IoT makes things even more confusing. Most of the media attention is directed at the consumer IoT market; crockpots that can call you at work or garage door openers and refrigerators that can gossip about you behind your back. Suddenly everyone has “IoT” in his or her job title, whether they know anything about it or not, and the headlines about toasters that can tweet only make “IoT” sound silly.
That’s a shame. The truth is that the benefits of industrial IoT will be incredible. We are going to see process improvements that will literally transform our world.
We don’t make toasters that tweet at B+B, but we certainly make industrial IoT easier. This summer, for example, we introduced a hardware platform that successfully bridges IT and OT. Called “Wzzard”, it’s an intelligent wireless sensing platform for industrial IoT. Wzzard creates a complete connectivity stack all the way from the network edge to the appropriate IT systems and business software. Wzzard’s intelligent edge nodes connect to existing industry standard sensors and wirelessly transmit their data to network gateways that then connect to the Internet via cellular or wired connections, depending upon what is most appropriate for the desired location. Wzzard makes it easier than ever to collect data from “things” out at the messy network edge, including the “things” that are already out there.
We got things right, too, because it’s starting to look like we’re going to have to build Wzzard its very own trophy case. IDTechEx named Wzzard the “Best Technology of the IoT”. Compass Intelligence has nominated Wzzard as a finalist in both the “Innovative Solution of the Year” and the “Enablement Platform of the Year” categories. EDN has named Wzzard to their annual “Top 100 Product” list and Control Engineering has named Wzzard a finalist in the 2015 Engineer’s Choice awards. (We’d love to win, of course, so vote for Wzzard at controleng.com)
You can also learn more about Wzzard here: https://advantech-bb.com/product-technology/iot-and-network-edge-platforms/wireless-sensing-solutions
There is no single application, and no single industry that is most appropriate for Wzzard. If you’ve got ideas about how you’d like to create IoT solutions for your own company, the easy-to-use Wzzard platform might be just the thing you need to get started. In fact, we put together a Wzzard Starter Kit to make it very easy indeed.
I’d love to hear about your industrial IoT ideas and experiences. If you’re reading my blog or e-letter, then you’re probably like me, and you’re more likely to play out at the messy network edge than in the safe, climate controlled IT closet. So you’re probably excited about the huge industrial IoT macro trend that is looming in front of us, with its endless possibilities. Industrial IoT will create demand for hardware, for software, for connectivity, for integration, for security, for installation, and even for education. If you’ve got skills in any those areas you should be doing a little happy dance. This is going to be one very large sandbox, and we’re all going to get to play in it for quite some time.
I’d also love to hear about your industrial IoT aspirations. Our mission is to make it easier for companies to get started on their Industrial IoT journey, where the first step is often the hardest.
In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving. And if any of your guests have managed to overlook their invitations, there may still be time to do the pre-IoT thing – just go over there and bang on the door.
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