A successful industrial internet of things (IIoT) implementation requires equal parts strategy and technology. Projects must be smartly planned to reflect your business opportunities and requirements, and structured so that projects can quickly generate enough value to justify scaled growth. But planning is moot without an IIoT platform that can execute on that strategy. As the IIoT platform market continues to mature, it is important to identify the must-have capabilities that can support your industrial IoT architectures. Platforms that are recognized by analysts provide most or all of these capabilities.
Anyone planning an industrial architecture of IoT should first consider the ability for an IIoT platform to provide standardized connectivity. Equipment and machines vary in purpose, protocol, and age; many workhorse assets may well predate embedded connectivity by decades. Taking a piecemeal approach to establishing data connectivity can make any IIoT initiative a non-starter. An IIoT platform offering standardized connectivity substantially simplifies this process, allowing companies to focus on IoT architectures and solutions to deliver maximum value. A true enterprise IIoT platform will also bridge the gap that often separates IT and OT data, allowing for workflows and solutions that span the entire organization—from engineering and production, to sales, fulfillment, and service.
With rare exception, industrial manufacturers are not in the business of software development. Building in-house IIoT applications is therefore out-of-scope, or results in limited, brittle implementations that deliver tepid value. An IIoT platform must offer an environment that reduces the technical expertise needed to build applications. Drag-and-drop, low-code environments and pre-built applications allow manufacturers to quickly connect assets and jump-start IIoT solutions with immediate value. True IIoT platforms will also allow advanced developers to build and integrate more customized applications.
If connecting to industrial assets has been a barrier to industrial IoT architectures, then administration, automation, and management over these assets can be equally challenging. An IIoT platform must enable a robust level of management for different roles and responsibilities—from controls engineers and factory managers, to DevOps and service technicians. Role-based dashboards empower individuals with real-time visibility and controls to respond quickly. Without this IIoT capability, organizations are severely hamstrung in how they can implement IIoT solutions.
Without strong analytics capabilities, an architecture of IoT lacks the ability to provide meaningful data and insights. With volumes of data sometimes measured in petabytes, analytics is instrumental to extracting meaningful data and performing data-driven trend analysis. With predictive analytics, manufacturers can act proactively to manage both operations and maintenance. These abilities in turn unlock a reduction in waste and scrap, increase available uptime, and prevent unplanned downtime. Analytics are also a key part of improving KPIs that can extend beyond single facilities to drive new levels of performance.
Industrial IoT architectures may imply that only machines are connected, but the reality is that humans play a critical role. For all of the automation and analytics that are performed, humans are ultimately called upon to supply critical thinking and frontline action. IIoT platforms must provide tools to author role-based views and controls. This can be done through building dashboards and applications that can be accessed from the shop floor to the top floor. Industrial augmented reality (AR) is already transforming manufacturing and service with the ability to overlay step-by-step instructions and guidance onto physical equipment in the plant and on the field. True enterprise IIoT platforms provide seamless support for AR solutions, powering these augmented views with real-time performance and status data to further empower frontline workers.
Not all IIoT platforms are the same. Many platforms emphasize some of these capabilities over others, with only a select few addressing this full range of functionality. IIoT platforms are also a non-trivial investment; their success can determine the pace and direction of an IIoT strategy for years to come. The right choice can provide millions of dollars in bottom-line savings and top-line growth; a poor choice can result in stalled pilots and scrapped plans. Regardless of your eventual industrial IoT architecture and solution model, you should begin by evaluating respective IIoT platforms against your organization’s challenges, infrastructure, and projects that will deliver rapid and sustained value.