Coming soon: The Industrial Internet and IoT standards
By Phil Simon, author, keynote speaker and technology expert
Let’s go back in time to 1995. If you’re of a certain age, you remember this strange era. Smartphones didn’t exist and only the rich could afford clunky car phones. Maybe you dialed up via a modem to connect to the internet and check email, most likely from a proper desktop computer running Windows 95. Google didn’t exist yet, and searching on the World Wide Web was pretty terrible.
Jump to today and you’ll find a similar state of affairs with the Internet of Things. Sure, it’s here in pieces. Perhaps you wear a Fitbit to track your health or you’ve looked into buying a smart refrigerator. It’s safe to say that we’re in the first inning of the IoT. I have no crystal ball, but I strongly suspect that business – not consumers – will lead the IoT revolution. In this article, I’ll explain why consensus around IoT standards is likely to help the Industrial IoT (IIoT) arrive first.
At a high level, IoT standards for the IIoT will enable seamless access
to important data sources and, ultimately, better analytics.
Collaboration around IoT standards helping propel the IIoT
Few people talk routinely about the import of technology and data standards, but make no mistake: They are critical to the adoption and mass use of any key technology. Put simply, without common standards, many everyday tools simply don’t work well – or at all. Case in point: You and I need not work at the same company in order to exchange email messages. Our email applications and servers are, in a word, interoperable.
And the same holds true for the IoT. Common IoT standards won’t guarantee its adoption. Without them, however, the IoT would ultimately go nowhere. Think of them as necessary but insufficient conditions for success.
This is common knowledge within the tech industry. Along these lines, organizations have been working diligently to develop and agree upon the technical specifications on which the IIoT will depend. For instance, the OpenFog Consortium and the Industrial Internet Consortium are building the architectural framework and setting direction for the Industrial IoT. Even chip-making rivals such as Intel and Qualcomm are finally cooperating.1
This begs the question: Why are so many disparate organizations working together? There are several answers to this query.
Benefits, opportunities and examples
For starters, there are practical considerations. The sheer enormity of building the Industrial IoT means that it is not a one-company or one-government job. In a similar vein, no single company created the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), a precursor to today’s internet. Again, a project so immense in scope that it required the promulgation of common protocols.
Beyond that, consider the massive opportunities that a truly interoperable IIoT will yield. In short, greater connectivity and speed among disparate devices will benefit a panoply of industries. Even traditionally conservative sectors such as farming stand to reap enormous rewards and savings in the form of greater crop yields, more efficient use of water and the like.
Next, it’s far better to RSVP early to the IIoT party. At a high level, IoT standards for the IIoT will enable seamless access to important data sources and, ultimately, better analytics. Of course, organizations will have to deal with volumes of streaming data far beyond anything that they have ever seen. Companies that sit idly on the sidelines run the risk of not being able to provide critical input into these foundational decisions. That is, when it comes to IoT standards for the Industrial Internet, many organizations are being intelligent. Rather than focusing on the costs of action, they are thinking about the costs of inaction.
I don’t mean to imply that only current behemoths are driving adoption of the IIoT. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s no shortage of startups looking for their seats at the table. Consider Filament, an industrial network provider. The company focuses on IoT applications, specifically those that provide long-range wireless sensor networks secured by blockchain technology. As Ed Ruth writes, “Using its decentralized IoT stack, any device can discover, connect, interact and transact value without central-authority requirement.”2
The burnt hand teaches best: The Amazon lesson
It’s not hard to espouse the benefits and opportunities inherent in the IIoT. Still, think about the sticks, not just the carrots. Jeff Bezos and Amazon embraced the internet early and often. More than two decades after its founding, it remains an e-commerce juggernaut with tentacles into many adjacent and nonadjacent businesses.
This lesson isn’t lost on many mature organizations. Perhaps they are loathe to make the same mistake twice. At the risk of being a Monday-morning quarterback, it’s fair to say that relatively few jumped on the Internet bandwagon early. Barnes and Noble, Borders, Blockbuster Video, and other tech laggards initially pooh-poohed the arrival of the Web. I’d bet that CEOs at each company probably felt vindicated when the dot-com’s crashed in 1999.
Fast forward to today. Few of those naysayers remain – at least in their previous forms.
Brass tacks: Rather than waiting for everything to shake out with the IIoT five or 10 years from now, many mature organizations are getting involved early and often.
 A significant step toward seamless connectivity.
 Industrial and consumer IoT grow in order of magnitude.
Phil Simon is a frequent keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of seven management books, most recently Message Not Received: Why Business Communication Is Broken and How to Fix It. He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data and technology. His contributions have been featured on The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, NBC, CNBC, Inc. Magazine, BusinessWeek, The Huffington Post, Quartz, The New York Times, Fox News and many other sites.