Many companies are sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Industrial Internet standards to play out. And they seem to think it is sporting enough. However, being at the forefront of this industrial revolution requires taking hefty swings at some significant issues. My role at GE Aviation gives me a unique “birds eye view” of the industry and the technology revolutions being driven by the merging of the digital and physical worlds.
The Grand Canyon of the Industrial Internet
As Geoffrey Moore describes in Crossing the Chasm, a long road stands between the initial tinkering with a new idea and general adoption by the masses. The same could be said for IT staff’s ability to meet the demand placed upon them to support OT and a step change in infrastructure. If IT continues to do the same things in the same way, adoption of new IoT and Industrial Internet capabilities will be low and competitive advantage will stall. Thus we have a technology chasm, driven not only by demand for new software-based outcomes, but also in part by the support that is required to maintain this growing catalog of solutions and services. All of this is further compounded by the growing diversification and complexity of technology and the global distribution of its user base.
An IT organization’s ability to meet demand can no longer be measured just in terms of gigabytes and physical server counts. In fact the growth of the Industrial Internet is seeing a convergence of what previously were disparate systems and roles—IT and OT. IT must now consider horizontal and vertical scalability and transactional throughput as well as concurrent distributed accesses of data. Industrial strength data is so vast and complex that just being able to access it in its raw form requires a whole new architecture, which itself is still being matured.
Machine-to-machine interactions and automating workflows across multiple entities within the supply chain lead to inherently complex challenges around security and trust. This is particularly true in critical infrastructure applications where safety is of utmost importance. Then we have the issue of intellectual property protection. The Industrial Internet will drive sustained productivity and economic growth through collaboration and the sharing of contextual, actionable insight gleaned from the raw data. To drive positive outcomes requires the combination of intelligent machines, advanced analytics, sensors, and data. We can enable the world of machines to make the hard decisions by using mathematical models and historical knowledge baked into algorithms.
However I cannot help but think that without fundamental paradigm shifts in the way that we all do business—where we place value on simplicity, ideas, and data—we will remain in a semi-connected world hampered by costs with only the strongest surviving.
Winning the Battle
While there is no single right way to push the Industrial Internet over the chasm and into mass adoption, a winning strategy must begin with understanding the customer. The following adages can help to drive the overall battle plan:
- Establish deep domain expertise. Know how your solution will be viewed by your customers and which metrics they will use to assess results. With that knowledge, you can start to identify the solutions that are going to return the greatest value or outcomes that matter. Clearly, you also need a vision of the future. But, if that vision does not include solutions to a customer’s immediate issues, user adoption is likely to be low.
- Focus on the wider, holistic picture. A streamlined workflow at project inception may not be physically wired, but can evolve to that stage as the vision develops. Sometimes there are technological barriers to completing that goal, but instead of building a temporary fix to plug the gap, we can acknowledge the missing part of the solution and evaluate alternative technologies or future solutions that can fill it later. It is important in the early stages to extract oneself from the details of any given solution and focus attention instead on the wider holistic picture.
- Size doesn’t matter. Big data plays an important part in IoT and the Industrial Internet, but it should not define it. There is still so much value that can be captured from the data that we already have and has yet to be realized. Knowing how to best leverage that data first will provide insights into how you can make the most use of the big data that will come with time.
- There’s beauty in simplicity. If the solution appears too complex, it probably is. Richard Buckminster Fuller once said, “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” I believe the same can be said here.
Today we are part of no less than the next industrial revolution, and GE is one of the principal drivers. I am fortunate to see the direct impact our technology is already having in the aviation sector. It is a vantage point that reinforces ever more strongly that winning companies stay sharply focused on the customers’ view of their needs—the users both at the business table and those in IT—who must evolve their infrastructure to keep pace.