The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has emerged as a driving force behind connectivity demands in a number of industries - from utilities to industrial and manufacturing. To keep up with the competition, many of these industries are striving towards complete connectivity across geographically dispersed assets to streamline operations, improve security standards and increase productivity.
To achieve connectivity for mission critical applications in these industrial environments, many organizations need to find the necessary technology solutions to meet demands for innovation and product development. This could mean upgrading or completely changing the existing technology infrastructure. Organizations also face the challenge of bridging a growing skills-gap caused by the shift towards a digital-centric workforce. Each of these objectives will be especially challenging as organizations also work through digital transformation efforts from an operations perspective.
Based on the current technology landscape, several trends have emerged that are driving the IIoT industry, from interoperability to IT/OT convergence, programmability at the edge to wireless networking standards for Smart Cities, and enhanced cybersecurity rollouts to IoT talent recruitment opportunities. Each of these is doing its part to shape markets, change the way we collect information, and point towards smarter ways to use data. Here are some predictions on how current trends will shape IIoT.
Five IIoT Predictions
Prediction 1: Over the next 12 months emerging technology will drive enhanced security rollouts
More organizations are beginning to host critical infrastructure and applications in the Cloud. To further optimize processes and shorten response times, IT decision makers will need to explore ways to host applications at the device/sensor level (i.e., the Edge or Fog Computing). A decentralized network architecture that brings computing power closer to where data is generated and acted upon, Fog Computing enables analysis, control and automation closer to the “Things” in the Industrial Internet of Things.
Because Fog Computing reduces the amount of data being sent to the Cloud, cybersecurity will be enhanced by reducing the threat and attack surfaces of IIoT networks. In industries where even milliseconds are vital, certain processes will move away from the Cloud and closer to the Edge.
Prediction 2: App development programs for Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will outgrow/outpace consumer IoT app development by 2020
Third party IIoT application development at the edge will transform the use of big data and predictive analytics. By enabling filters for specific data needs directly at the source, IT decision makers will depend less on big data for broad analysis. Instead, they will be able to leverage smarter, more specific data in real-time. The demand for more apps at the edge and coinciding apps on the IT side of the business, coupled with big opportunities for app developers will drive the shift from consumer to IIoT apps. By the time 2020 rolls around, expect more focus, opportunity and output on the IIoT side.
Prediction 3: IoT talent recruitment challenges will incentivize private enterprises to fund secondary education programs to nurture next-gen digital-workforce
The biggest challenge affecting IoT talent recruitment is the skills gap – there are not enough qualified applicants to take on new digital-centric, IT roles. From a business perspective, IT/OT convergence further complicates the issue. Enterprises are transforming the way they operate -- and it impacts everyone – especially operations team dealing with legacy systems. As IoT connects and automates more processes, this gap will only continue to grow if nothing is done proactively to change it.
In an effort to overcome some of these challenges, we will see enterprises (not IoT vendors) to privately fund secondary education programs to help identify and create a more skilled workforce. In addition to standard HR recruitment and training practices, we expect to see more tactics such as IoT hackathons for the industrial sector, software development and digital/IoT centric accreditations, private contests, internal skill development workshops and IIoT user conferences. This wider investment in education will benefit both the existing, aging workforce and the incoming, next-generation of workers.
Prediction 4: Millions of smart IoT devices will be deployed into networks that use the 802.11 ah (HaLow) protocol by December 2017, driving it towards the standard for IIoT.
With the rise of Smart City initiatives, the 802.11 ah (HaLow) wireless networking protocol will over power Bluetooth in 2017 for critical infrastructure applications such as traffic management, public safety, energy efficiency and public infrastructure design. Where HaLow shines – high-speed data transmission rates for longer distances – Bluetooth 5 falls flat. Bluetooth 5 arguably has perks of its own: low energy needs that support a longer battery life for the devices that use Bluetooth 5. When cost is factored in, Bluetooth 5 is much cheaper to implement. Additionally, while Bluetooth 5 is already up and running, HaLow is still being rolled out, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
While Smart Cities need bandwidth, they also need cost-effective solutions that can be rolled out today. Where the benefits outweigh the cost is most likely the side to which Smart City developers will fall. As urban areas continue to expand outward, the need for high bandwidth solutions will become more important, which would seem to favor 802.11ah.
Prediction 5: A public utility will close its doors in 2017
The maturation of interoperability standards and evolution of remote data collection technologies are forcing critical infrastructure and utility organizations to adapt at a new pace. With an aging infrastructure and high percentage of the workforce nearing retirement, existing management will struggle to match the resources needed to build a comprehensive, integrated portfolio of applications that must work together to support the organization’s goals.
The estimated growth in IIoT applications for utilities and energy industries will increase to more than 1.5 billion devices by 2020. This explosive growth in networks, smart sensors and devices, and automated systems requires utilities to address, implement and monitor the security of their data networks because these are the networks providing command and control of critical infrastructure that is the Smart Gird. If utilities don’t invest in hardened/proven networking and communications equipment, network access control programs, data encryption strategies, advanced monitoring technology and explore various other tactics for limiting exposure to harmful cybersecurity threats, they may be forced out of business.
Current industry trends such as fog computing and IT/OT convergence have already begun to impact our most critical industries. While we will have to wait see how this all plays out, technology advancements have already begun to transform operational environments and organizational cultures across the globe.
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