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The Internet of Things trend: Big deal, big demands, big value

The IoT has become a big deal -- but it must be met with responsibility. Manufacturers need to ensure they are deploying the technology because it adds value, not just to follow a trend.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is not just another movement. It's a big deal. But big deals bring big demands. And...

big demands can be a burden -- especially for your IT department.

The emergence of the Internet of Things trend poses challenges to our industrial base as manufacturers rush to accommodate applications driven by cloud computing, sensorization and a proliferation of data sources to help them manage and monitor everything from viscosity and temperature to the presence of benzene gas outside a facility fence line. The indication of such data may show up at a terminal thousands of miles of way. Will this demand more bandwidth and IT infrastructure?

Probably it will, according to Lee Odess, general manager at Brivo Labs in Bethesda, Md. "We'll definitely see concern around bandwidth and infrastructure needs," he said. "It's early for some of this, so there will definitely be bumps along the way. That said, there are companies in this space with solutions and products that have been around for over 15 years that have a history of doing things right. Put that together with new technology and you have a nice mix of some really cool and exciting opportunities to make an impact."

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Howard Heppelmann, divisional general manager for the New Businesses Segment at PTC in Needham, Mass., believes that the infrastructure goes beyond just IoT bandwidth; it also affects interconnectivity to other networks. "What makes this wave of transformation significant for manufacturers and fundamentally different is not the Internet, but the changing nature of the 'things' themselves," he said. "It is the expanded capabilities of products and the data they generate that is ushering in a new era of competition for manufacturers and other businesses. But capturing these new opportunities requires a detailed understanding of how smart, connected products work; the capabilities they enable; the infrastructure they require; and their impact on strategy and competitive advantage. As IT and connectivity are being embedded into products and new value is created for manufacturers and their customers, activities across the value chain – from product design and marketing through sales and service -- will be heavily impacted."

Movements like the Internet of Things trend bring out the best in technology. "Manufacturing has been automated at various levels for many years, but IoT brings automation to a deep, broad level -- one where interconnectivity between various elements in manufacturing exists in a way [it] did not before," said Don DeLoach, CEO and president at Infobright in Toronto.

DeLoach said that manufacturing data connected across the supply chain requires careful scrutiny and tight integration. This produces overall greater efficiency. He believes that bandwidth has grown over the years and can accommodate it; the greater opportunity will be for network service providers to provide the gateways and ensure data flows sufficiently. When data flows, however, integration and access are critical.

"All types of machines and products are currently being made to connect to the digital world right out of the box -- from sensors in sewer pipes and home appliances, to chips in tires and parking garages," said Pradeep Amladi, a global vice president of discrete manufacturing for energy and natural resources at SAP. Manufacturers' opportunity lies in the ability to sift through the information devices send and make sense of it in a timely manner. To do this they need strong networks that must access data from any location, at any time, and have the ability to process it quickly and then easily view and share it in the right context.

This is the real IoT game-changer for manufacturers. Manufacturers that can capture the right information, sift through it, and use it at the right time in the process or activity will be the ones that succeed in the future. Manufacturers need to do more than just digitize existing processes -- they need to adapt the processes to take advantage of new technologies to capitalize on new opportunities or optimize existing operations. To do so requires the right infrastructure, intimate customer knowledge and a willingness to embrace a new era where information is king.

Amladi uses the example of SK Solutions in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The firm used new technologies to develop an anticollision system for operations involving people, processes and data, as well as vehicles, machinery and physical assets. Based on sensors affixed to cranes and other machinery, and using real-time big data analysis, the solution performs corrective adjustments, thus preventing collisions. "This innovative software significantly increases the safety and efficiency of activities occurring within complex industrial landscapes," said Amladi.

"The first challenge will be to decide how much information is enough," said Evan Puzey, chief marketing officer at the transportation and logistics software company, Kewill, based in Chelmsford, Mass. Puzey said that with opportunity comes responsibility.

The big value in IoT is a big deal that must be met with responsibility. "We need to exercise caution that we are not deploying these solutions just because we can," said Puzey, "but that we deploy the technology because it adds value."

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