Welcome to the IIoT
Supporting the Industrial Internet is now an important part of the Engineering domain. For some, it’s because their customers are operating their products in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). For others, it’s because their company is using the IIoT to monitor and control equipment and devices in their own facilities. For many, both are happening at the same time. The IIoT movement changes the game for companies, their customers, and their Engineering department.
The potential value of the IIoT is immense, and companies are responding. Potential benefits range from productivity and cost savings to fundamentally resetting the value proposition and relationship between companies and their business partners, including suppliers, service partners, and customers. Whether a company is pursuing an IoT or IIoT initiative to support customers, improve their own business, or make sure to keep up with the competition, it will have an impact on Engineering.
Adapting Engineering to the IIoT
What do engineers need to do in order to survive and thrive in this brave new world? One thing that’s clear is that the IIoT drives new product design requirements. Beyond products, it also drives significant infrastructure requirements, as discussed in Ten Build-Buy Factors for IoT Platforms.
Engineers play a key role in unlocking the IoT and the IIoT value in both areas. This introduction shares some of the ways engineers need to think differently to support company-wide IIoT initiatives. But Engineering can also gain their own value from these initiatives. This introduction highlights the potential benefits Engineering can receive directly from participating in the IIoT, and highlights specific areas in the ten build-buy factors that are the most important for engineers to consider. Let’s get started.
Engineer’s Role Supporting the IIoT – Design
Engineers can play multiple roles supporting IIoT initiatives. One of their primary responsibilities is designing smart, connected products that will become a part of the IIoT. Engineers need to think differently about designing these products. For example, many engineering teams are taking a “software-first” mentality to innovation, solving more problems with software instead of hardware. In fact, many companies deliver the same hardware platform for families of products and simply enable or disable capabilities based on what model or feature set the customer pays for.
Many companies have already added sensors and logic to control and optimize products so they perform better. They’ve also added communications components to share that information back with our customers and our company. The IIoT is placing even higher demands on these, raising the bar with massive expansion of the number of sensors and expectations for connectivity. Now, engineers not only have to design a product that meets today’s requirements, but also think about what controls and data might be useful to support future IIoT projects.
For this and other reasons, our research shows that the amount of software in products has increased and will continue to do so. And perhaps more importantly, the amount of innovation due to software is increasing significantly. But many companies still struggle designing and validating products that integrate mechanical, electrical, software elements into a cohesive system. Developing a strong multi-discipline engineering capability is critical for success in the IIoT era.
Engineer’s Role Supporting the IIoT – Beyond Design
Beyond designing smart products that connect to the IIoT, many engineers are being brought in to support IIoT initiatives in other ways. Companies looking to leverage the IIoT with approaches ranging from predictive maintenance to whole new ways of doing business like Product as a Service (PaaS) are looking for Engineering’s help. They’re asking engineers not only to design smart, connected products, but to also play a role in connecting them and capturing data. This goes far beyond the traditional boundaries of Engineering, and requires engineers and IT to work together.
Beyond connecting and gathering data, Engineers maybe be called upon to help interpret and act on the data collected from their IIoT-connected devices, whether they are in a customer’s site or their own facilities. The eBook shares findings about the infrastructure required to support these tasks to support the enterprise.
It’ OK to Ask, “What’s in it for Me?”
IoT is a cross-departmental initiative that can provide tremendous value across the organization. Engineers play multiple roles in supporting that. But before focusing on delivering to everyone else’s needs, it’s important to recognize there are benefits for Engineering, too. It’s OK to ask “What’s in IIoT for me?”
For individuals, it gives them a chance to become a new type of engineer and join a limited talent pool. This can be a great way to add value to their current company and to enhance future career potential. But what can the IIoT do for Engineering overall?
IIoT opens up new design possibilities. For example, companies can optimize devices and equipment for goals such as energy consumption, throughput, and more by monitoring performance and adjusting operational parameters. Or they can explore mini-mass customization to match the level of engineered product to actual customer needs based on customer type, region, segment, or other factors instead of “one-size-fits-all” products. The opportunities are exciting and driving lots of innovation.
What’s in it for Engineering Beyond Design?
Beyond design, however, imagine the ability to stay in touch with the products you design after they leave the building. Think about the ability to actually know how they perform in the field. Think of how you can gain visibility and insight into how your customers really use, or misuse, your products. Consider how you could replace assumptions on usage, loads, etc. with real data collected from the field to improve simulation, validation, and testing. Think about how you can continue to enhance and extend product capabilities in the field, to have the ability to continue to engineer and improve performance beyond product launch based on insights gained from customers.
The IIoT opens up new possibilities. For example, some companies are pursuing the “digital twin,” where real-world information is combined with design data to blend the virtual world with the real one. Perhaps one of the most exciting opportunities for Engineering is that the IIoT is the final piece of the puzzle that helps fulfill most engineers’ dreams to close the loop on their designs, to learn from how they perform, and design them better the next time. Keep these opportunities in mind as you hear about all of the ways others want you to help support IIoT for their advantage, and make sure that you include your needs and requirements along the way.
What Companies Need out of their IoT Platform
Let’s talk about what it takes to support the IIoT initiatives. Connecting to products, capturing data, analyzing it, and acting on it is a cross-departmental challenge and the eBook looks at the infrastructure needed to support it. One IoT veteran from a leading, global company shares that supporting the IoT is “the most complex project he’s ever done” in his 35 years as a project manager. “We have 15 years of experience with IoT. Our system combines over 21 suppliers to get to the solution we have today. It’s extremely complex to keep it running, get it stable, and to find what is wrong,” he explains. That’s not something to take lightly!
Companies need to make a rational decision on how to support IIoT and whether they should develop their own IIoT platform. Of course they are really deciding how much they want to be in the cloud software business. The eBook concludes that; “Few companies, if any, should develop IoT infrastructure on their own.” They have enough challenges designing smart, connected products and determining how they’ll transform their business to compete in an IIoT enhanced industry.
It’s too much for even some of the largest companies to do on their own, and requires Internet-class resources that can keep high-volume, transactional web systems up and running with near perfect uptime. Instead, the eBook recommends leveraging cloud providers that offer an integrated IoT platform on which to transform their business, although they should be careful to look for the right value in an IoT platform, and understand both initial entry pricing as well as the cost to scale.
What Engineers Need out of their IoT Platform
When reading the eBook, Engineers should pay attention to the following sections to understand which factors play the largest role in their ability to leverage the IIoT:
- Understand the value (eBook point 1) – Engineers should know their company’s potential, so they can anticipate future uses and potential change.
- Don’t underestimate the complexity (eBook point 2) – IT groups might think they have this under control, but this is unlike anything that most companies have done before and requires a range of disciplines few companies can support in-house.
- Be ready to integrate with devices (eBook point 4) – IIoT platforms must be able to connect with anything, anywhere. Make sure you have accessible, two-way communications protocols, also make sure that information can be transmitted from devices on a timely enough basis to be valuable, not just an intermittent data dump.
- Be ready to scale transaction volume (eBook point 6) – The rest of the business may not need as much information as Engineering can use. Time-series data from multiple sensors can help engineers understand real behavior and troubleshoot problems. Make sure they are expecting to be able to capture that level of information.
- Be ready for the unexpected (eBook point 9) and be ready to evolve (eBook point 10) are the last, but perhaps the most important considerations. This is a brave new world that will likely result in significant changes to market leadership. Innovation, agility, and speed will be the keys to success.
The right IIoT infrastructure can provide great new opportunities for engineers. Beyond supporting IIoT initiatives, Engineering should also make sure they get the volume of data and the kind of analytics they need to close the loop and design better products for the future.
The eBook shares ten things companies should think about in creating a strategy for their IoT platform. Engineers have a clear stake in IIoT outcomes. Engineering’s responsibilities are expanding to play a key IIoT support role. They need to design products differently. But IIoT can offer direct benefits to engineers as well. IIoT is expanding the role and value of engineers, and can offer great future career opportunities. But it can also offer value to the Engineering department as a whole, allowing them to support corporate initiatives while also gaining some competitive advantages of their own.
Engineering has to understand their needs and make sure that the infrastructure supporting the IIoT is satisfactory to address them. This will result in most companies procuring a 3rd party platform. As the eBook finds, “Most companies’ IoT initiatives will demand a wider selection of more advanced IT skills than they can afford. Even those with advanced skills will likely benefit by focusing internal efforts on use cases and changing relationship with customers and focus on core competencies and the big picture.”
Now, on to the eBook. Good luck and stay in touch!