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Industrial Evolution: Why the IIoT Needs to Slow Down to Accelerate

By Special Guest
Frank Jones and Tom Canning, CEO at IMS Evolve, and VP of Devices and IoT at Canonical, respectively
April 17, 2018

There is little doubt over the appealing opportunity presented by industrial IoT (IIoT). Beyond its value as a near-billion-dollar market by 2025Accenture predicts that the impact of IIoT technology could bring as much as $14.2 trillion to the global economy over the next decade.

But, while the focus has been on new innovations, start-ups and revolutions in the IIoT market, thousands of businesses around the world are facing a significant challenge in embracing connected technology. How can they take supply chains that have developed and scaled in size over decades and adopt an entirely new approach to technology, before their competition gets there first and puts them out of business?

Quiet evolution over rip-and-replace revolution
A common misconception among businesses looking to undertake a connected transformation is that they must embark on a near-total ‘rip and replace’ project. In fact, their existing infrastructure holds more potential than they realize, thanks to the prospect of integrating  new connected technologies into their existing ecosystem. The real opportunity actually lies in the vital data that already exists and is simply not being captured or extracted in a way that unleashes its true business value. By combining IoT and edge computing technologies, businesses can now collect this crucial data where it is being produced in real time and also aggregated with new data that wasn’t easily available before

This ‘quiet evolution’ has been taking place within the food retail industry, specifically in the cold chain. A ‘rip and replace’ project, involving the replacement of hundreds of industrial refrigerators, freezers and delivery vehicles, is too cost-prohibitive to reap the benefits of connected transformation. Instead, businesses such as machine management leader IMS Evolve has integrated IoT technologies across merchandising and fridge monitoring systems. The result has been automatic real-time adjustments based on the specific contents of fridges and freezers, reducing energy consumption and costs, while also ensuring the delivery of a longer-lasting, higher-quality product.

Beyond refrigeration, IIoT technology empowers the pursuit of higher quality food products. Each stage of food production can be supervised, providing monitoring over the consistency of ingredient quantities and environmental factors. That helps to improve productivity, cut waste and deliver a higher quality product while also improving profitability throughout the supply chain.

Setting standards for IIoT
Amid these important strides however, a structural challenge in the IoT could be slowing the rate of adoption. The most valuable asset in the IoT is not the physical device ecosystem but the data it actually collects and analyzes. For true effectiveness, this process must be consistent. Today, all industries are suffering from a lack of standards for interoperability across sectors and stages in the supply chain.

A third of IoT professionals believe the industrial space is more than five years away from widespread adoption, well behind the pace of adoption in the consumer sector. If the IIoT is to overcome this and accelerate adoption, solution providers will need to establish standards and means of collaboration and shared processes across industries and devices.

Fortunately, progress is being made. Industrial IoT products are increasingly being developed and run to a consistent set of standards thanks to efforts by device and software manufacturers. The development of IoT-specific operating systems, is also providing a single platform on which those device manufacturers can build and manage all of their devices and applications. As these steps accelerate and standardization improves, so too should collaboration and communication throughout the supply chain. 

Finding the ROI, quickly 
Optimizing existing assets through an evolutionary approach to connected technology is not just a proven pathway to building an IIoT-powered supply chain. It is also likely to help deliver the very metrics and KPI’s an organization needs in order to continue or even increase its commitment and spend to that approach: a clear return on investment. By minimizing the cost of implementation, IIoT projects can deliver a more rapid impact and prove their value to the C-suite when deciding on whether to expand or extend the deployment of connected devices in the supply chain.

The IIoT has long been presented as a replacement of legacy technology, a vision that has become both lofty and anxiety-inducing for those responsible for its sponsorship and adoption. The real potential, though, is not through radical replacement and overhaul but through smart upgrades and improvements, seizing on the data that already exists but is simply not being capitalized. For IIoT adoption to increase, and for its value to be truly realized in the global economy, businesses will need to chart and follow a path of evolution, not revolution. 

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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