This is Chris Halliwell, posting to the Technology Marketing Center's Leaders' Blog.
New industrial revolution.
It's been estimated by companies such as GE that almost half of the global economy can benefit from the marriage of machines, intelligence, and data. Like most technology advances that are about to "change everything", recent business articles on this subject are abuzz about billions of dollars of opportunity and star wars scenarios involving hunks of metal that converse and control themselves. Here are a few comments from the trenches over the last few years as I work with product/marketing teams that are trying to take first steps toward this next wave of industrial automation.
Something to rely on.
Working with industrial components and systems clients to understand the value of automation, it has become clear, although not intuitive, that the buyers of equipment and machines are looking for connected intelligence to enhance reliability, rather than to replace people as a first priority. Most of the buyers who will generate the economic return of IoT investments are using machines in workflows where a shut down or major error can cost millions a day in lost production, or worse, can actually kill people -- think airplane engines, embedded health devices, and city water filtration systems. Intelligence is great, it just better work...non stop and accurately.
Just talk to me.
Most of the grand visions of IoT involve self healing and self controlling machines. Even if the reliability issues of closed loop, fully automated mechanical systems are solved, the next huge hurdle is security. For a cautionary tale, check out Target breach forensics identifying the nicely automated and connected HVAC system as the entry point for the cyber thieves. Until (and if) cyber security wars are won by the good guys, it will be most productive to prioritize focus on workflow value in monitoring and diagnostics, the pulling of operational data and machine health, before getting too lathered up about pushing control commands. Besides, engaging humans to cross-check auto-control improves reliability.
Electronics, meet hydraulics.
It will be interesting to see if old line, conservative and slower moving machine and equipment companies can effectively integrate mobile, apps-based, fast iteration, workflow-smart thinking into their organizations. Listening to GE's Jeffrey Imelt on this subject is informing when he speaks of hiring "hundreds of programmers" in Silicon Valley to figure out how to add value with IoT technology applied to engines and refrigerators. Most of the makers of pumps and drives and motors and things that make things are not GE, and having lived through the electronic hardware industry's mostly unsuccessful attempts to embrace software as a serious technology and a mindset, this seems like a significant challenge.
Toto, we're not in Silicon Valley anymore.
Just to be fair, if the electronics, software and data analytic types are the IoT smart guys in the room, then we have to notice that the down-to-earth, stright talking, high integrity Mid-Western machine geeks are very capable and experienced business people. Working with both groups over the years it's clear that most people are trying to advance the common good and are genuinely excited about innovation. The biggest difference in the equipment and machine crew is that they are plain spoken. This is going to come in handy as a counter balance to the intelligence missionaries who love nothing more than to seek competitive advantage by renaming every idea known to mankind, thus creating confusion and impeding our ability to work together as we identify and deliver the true economic value of IoT.
Go with the workflow.
This last observation comes from my growing appreciation for the centrality of workflow understanding as key to unlocking the value of IoT. As sensors and apps allow us to observe and learn from both organizational and end user behavior, we have to notice that the line between us and them at a workflow level is getting very blurry. Comments on this post are most welcome to help mature this thought, but it seems to me that the growing treasure trove of data will help the suppliers of machines and equipment as much as the buyers of machines and equipment. Suppliers will both automate their internal activities and enable much more efficienct and integrated supplier-customer workflows. For an interesting take on the centrality of workflow knowledge in IoT, see the workflow road mapping sections of Consumption Economics.
That's all for now, cheers!