While consumer-oriented appliances are the most high-profile manifestations of the Internet of Things (IoT), system builders and other channel partners working in the SMB space are likely to find more opportunities in what’s known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
As opposed to smart appliances like home thermostats and personal wearables, the IIoT encompasses a more prosaic world, one populated by networks of embedded physical equipment and Internet-connected sensing devices that monitor, collect, analyze, transmit, and in some instances act upon data they gather in a wide variety of industrial and business applications.
The data these devices gather can be used to help control, maintain, and maximize the efficiency of automated processes in applications such as factory production; truck, rail, and airline fleet maintenance; utility operations; commercial building management; and a host of others. In addition to being used to facilitate ground-level processes, data gathered can be collated and stored at central locations, enabling big data analysis to improve business decision making.
The IIoT is growing. According to Driving Unconventional Growth through the Industrial Internet of Things, a report from global management consulting, technology services, and outsourcing company Accenture, “The most conservative independent estimates place spending on the IIoT worldwide at $20 billion in 2012, with spending expected to reach $500 billion by 2020.”
Challenges and Opportunities
As is the case in the IoT universe as a whole, the growth of IIoT applications in the marketplace presents a number of challenges, which, in turn, provides business opportunities for IT firms that work with the SMBs that utilize IIoT solutions.
Like every technological advance that is fueled by Internet-connected systems, security is a growing issue for businesses utilizing IIoT. These businesses will likely find themselves increasingly seeking ways to deal with cyber-intrusions intended to wreak havoc and/or steal proprietary data. “We expect that as adoption continues to track upward, we will begin to see a number of security breaches,” says Robert P. Anderson, vice president, ERP for service industries and application marketplaces, at Gartner Inc. The opportunities, he notes, revolve around helping businesses assess and address these issues with the proper policies and solutions.
At the same time, integrating new IIoT devices into existing industrial control systems, many of them proprietary, presents more challenges and opportunities for channel partners. “Standards and protocols will help create some conformity, but the reality is that there will still be multiple systems interacting,” notes Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of industry association CompTIA. “Even with standards in place, creating a comprehensive system is a complicated task.”
Of course, with the expected growth of IIoT applications, providing provisioning and management services for all the devices involved will present yet another avenue for growth for channel pros. Meanwhile, there will also be opportunities in helping small businesses handle all the data generated by these devices.
Helping small businesses set up and secure pathways for data “is a perfect fit for the smaller IT shop,” says Kanti Bhabuthmal, director, embedded products, for Super Micro Computer Inc., a maker of high-performance, high-efficiency server, storage, and networking solutions in San Jose, Calif. The company’s product line includes edge devices that collect data from multiple sensing devices, analyze it in real time, and provide the sensors with feedback so they can make decisions—for example, adjusting the temperature of a series of rooms to coincide with starting (or shutting down) a piece of equipment on a factory room floor. Data can also be collected and stored in data centers for future analysis.
“A small business can go to [an IT provider] and say, ‘Here are all my edge devices. Now we need to set up a way to pull all the data into our data center and configure an analytics solution to provide us strategic business insight,’” Bhabuthmal says. “And this is where the smaller IT shop comes in and puts together the back-end infrastructure.”