Meet the Industrial Internet Consortium

Five major corporations — AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM and Intel — have banded together to form a not-for-profit technology ecosystem known as the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC).

According to a recent Cisco press release, the IIC is an “open membership group focused on breaking down the barriers of technology silos to support better access to big data with improved integration of the physical and digital worlds.”

In other words, this joint effort hopes to pave the way for better connections between virtual resources and physical devices. But what does that really mean for enterprise IT and the Internet at large?

The Foundation of the Internet of Everything

You can call it Machine-to-Machine technology, the Internet of Things (IoT) or the Industrial Internet — they amount to the same thing: physical devices networked through embedded technology that both detects internal states and interacts with the external environment. Chris Neiger of The Motley Fool simplifies the process: “Think of the Internet of Things as a way for everyday objects to talk to each other, and to talk to you.”

For consumers, this could take the form of an Internet-enabled coffeepot or toaster oven. But how can enterprise benefit?

A recent Forbes article took a look at the Rail Splitter Wind Farm, which contains 67 IoT-enabled wind turbines. Covered in tiny sensors, these turbines relay myriad data points to a cloud-based network every second, allowing engineers to make subtle speed or pitch adjustments for maximum efficiency. New technologies allow the turbines to “speak” to one another — if a turbine’s anemometer (used to measure wind speed) fails, it can communicate with nearby turbines to make up the sudden gap in knowledge.

Getting Organized Around the Internet of Things

According to Cisco Canada CTO Jim Seifert, the Internet of Things will drive $14.4 trillion worth of economic activity over the next 10 years. But it’s not all smooth sailing. Guido Jouret, vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Internet of Things business group, says “ninety-nine percent of everything is still unconnected.”

There’s also the issue of Big Data: Every physical device generates massive amounts of data, which must be collected and verified and then properly interpreted.

The goal of the IIC, therefore, is to organize and standardize the way companies collect and share IoT data. As noted by the Wall Street Journal, it’s telling that the IIC included the word “industrial” in its name, since this indicates a focus on markets such as manufacturing, oil and gas exploration, healthcare and transportation. Why? Because these areas often have hardware and software products that work well together but don’t play nicely with products from other companies.

A recent Silicon Angle article offers a real-world take on this problem, arguing that if the IIC had started its work five years ago and developed a set of internationally recognized standards, missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 could have been easily located.

Contributing to the Standardization Efforts

Mike Troiano, vice president of advanced mobility solutions for AT&T, says the IIC builds on his company’s vision of “enabling people to operate anything remotely, anytime and virtually anywhere.” But don’t expect this kind of revolution overnight, since the consortium wants to standardize everything from Internet protocols to data storage to power level metrics. Membership is also open to any company with an interest in IoT, meaning standards will ultimately be reflective of broad industry trends but will take time to hammer out.

In the meantime, it’s possible for enterprise to benefit from the Internet of Everything. Intel advises companies to identify the top business problem they want to solve and then determine what kinds of connections provide the best results. In many cases, the addition of remote data-collection tools can provide a significant boost to real-time and predictive analytics, along with providing room for future system scalability.

The IIC is worth watching because it aims to provide a framework for industrial IoT applications along with open discussion. If successful, the joint effort should produce a set of unified, transparent standards within the next few years.

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