What will we see in the coming year in Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology trends, and how will they transform how we work, play, and live? Here are a few musings from Ron Sege's vantage point as Chairman and CEO of Echelon Corp., a leading control networking company for the IIoT:
Spotlight on...lighting. With all the talk of thermostats, wearables, door locks, and security systems in the Internet of Things (IoT), the most ubiquitous “thing” in the world is often overlooked: the 20+ billion lighting fixtures in the world. Outdoor lighting—everything from streetlights to illumination of parking lots, auto dealerships, airports, and shopping malls—will increasingly provide a focal point for IIoT installations because the value of controlling and monitoring each light is so high.
As lighting technologies become more controllable –on/off, dimming, color control/white-tuning, etc.—we will see these fixtures connected to the IIoT at an accelerating rate. In addition, indoor lighting systems will increasingly integrate with other building automation-related networks.
Finally, because lighting fixtures are so ubiquitous, once they become connected they are the natural place to integrate sensors of all kinds. All the talk of intelligent buildings and smarter cities will start shifting to action in 2015.
Convergence, and more convergence. The IoT is about the convergence of previously disparate systems, technologies, and organizations. In the consumer IoT world, look for ever-greater convergence of siloed systems for smart homes so that these solutions become more than simply “remote control of devices using mobile phones.”
In the Industrial IoT, we expect accelerating convergence of existing, long-lived, operationally oriented devices (what we refer to as operational technology, or OT) with Internet Protocol (IP)-enabled platforms under the domain of information technology (IT) departments. The organizations that recognize this OT/IT convergence, and prepare for it with the right skills and organizational changes, will be the early beneficiaries of the IoT.
We’ll see acceleration of a different kind of convergence as well – in the form of partnerships and mergers and acquisitions among previously disparate companies, even competitors. There’s enormous power in the integration of synergistic technologies, product offerings, and distribution channels. Rather than go it alone, companies will look for ways to optimize their strengths while shoring up their weaknesses. Look for all kinds of unexpected corporate convergences to start flowering in the coming years.
Connectivity convergence, driven by highly optimized and less-expensive chipsets, is taking shape as numerous OT protocols (LonWorks, BACnet, DALI, KNX, etc.) converge to run over IP, enabled on the end device through targeted processing power, optimal memory, and excellent battery life. It is interesting to think that the IoT will drive a different spin on Moore’s Law: Rather than ever-more processing power at the same cost, the IoT will demand ever-more optimized processing power at ever-lower costs.
At the facilities management level, convergence will mean less distinction between traditional building automation (heavily focused on HVAC), lighting controls, window blind/shade controls, security, surveillance, and new kinds of sensor deployments. Also, job titles and duties involving OT—such as facilities managers and manufacturing engineers—will converge with the job titles and duties of IT, such as CIO, networking and database admins, and data analysts. We might see entirely new titles, such as Chief Information and Operations Officer (CIOO). Or will it be COIO?
More products made in the U.S. IIoT technologies will help spur significant efficiency increases in multiple phases of the manufacturing and distribution process. When these technologies are combined with other global trends—such as increases in manufacturing costs in traditionally low-cost regions; a closing of the wage gap globally; and the speed-to-market advantages of local supply chains—it bodes well for a resurgence of the U.S. manufacturing sector.
Additionally, companies will be able to get their products to market faster, thus speeding time to revenue. That’s because IIoT convergence can shrink upfront development investments as well as tooling and testing costs. Plus, add-on services— hallmark of the IIoT realm—can often be launched faster than hardware-based products.
“Big data” will demand more and better “small data.” Increasingly sophisticated analytics platforms will enable consumers and businesses to more easily transform a glut of data into valuable information for cost savings, productivity improvements, and—perhaps most importantly—customer satisfaction, lifestyle, and health improvements.
Let’s not forget, though, that big data can’t just assume that all the right source data is available in a usable and understandable fashion. It takes the right kind of small data—well-defined (think metadata or device profiles) from individual sensors or task-specific distributed applications—to enable the big data analytics. In 2015, there will need to be more attention focused on better ways to standardize, gather, pre-process, and transport that small data.
At your service... As more IIoT-connected devices and IIoT applications enter the marketplace, we’ll see a shift from a product- to a service-oriented focus in the full range of offerings. Product companies will start adding services components, and services companies will both expand their scope of services and also add sensor-enabled device products.
Buyers of these products and services will enjoy enhanced value and lower risk, and vendors will enjoy increased revenues. Increasingly, customers will turn to energy services companies (ESCOs) to handle the capital costs and deployment complexities, and those ESCOs will share in the cost savings generated.
Lighting as a service, anyone?
Closer to the edge. Intelligence, control, security, IP enablement—all will continue to move closer to the edge of the IoT, turning back the client-server model that has become standard in computer architectures. This trend will be especially important in the IIoT, where peer-to-peer device communication, decision-making, and action, without intervention by humans or the time it takes to wait for direction via a cloud-based server, is often the only realistic and practical option. Think about any real-time response needed in any industrial or commercial system, and the wisdom of at-the-edge intelligence and control is obvious.
The IIoT will become sexy. It’s been asserted that the value of the IIoT will eventually dwarf that of the consumer IoT. That ‘eventually’ could be as soon as 2016. And in the meantime, we’ll continue to see ever-higher estimates of the potential for the IIoT. Will it reach half a trillion dollars in spending, and $1.7 trillion in cumulative net value, by 2020, as Wikibon predicts? Or will estimates of $15 trillion of global GDP by 2030 come to pass? Or is the potential even greater as McRock Capital suggests? Whatever the value, it’s clear that the IIoT will drive the next wave of productivity increases and therefore global living standard improvements for both developed and emerging economies.
IoT as a term will become less common... because the reality of the IoT will become commonplace. The technologies and capabilities labeled IoT or IIoT will increasingly be just how things are done. This new technology will ‘just disappear’ and increasingly be taken for granted as how things are done. It might take a bit beyond 2015 for this transition to take place, but not too much longer.
In summary... Of course, it’s impossible to foretell the future, and any predictions are likely to serve as future embarrassments. Still, it’s fun to start a new year with some lively prognostications, especially in an area as fast-moving as the IIoT.