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The Industrial Internet is quickly grabbing the attention of industry players, organizations and governments as being a major disruption to global industry and the world economy. Though a recent survey by the World Economic Forum found that 88 percent of respondents were not ready for this transformation, organizations in many industries are beginning to design and deploy Industrial Internet solutions to optimize processes and production and reduce costs.
As companies consider the solutions that best meet their needs, one key consideration will likely be how seamless of an operation they can achieve.
The Industrial Internet consists of many elements — from sensors and actuators controlling physical things in the real world, ubiquitous connections of these devices to control software that must be able to operate in the absence of direct control, collections of “Big Data,” and industrial analytics in the cloud.
For it to work, all these elements must be able to work together — or have interoperability. But they come from multiple sources and could speak different “languages” — making integration into one system difficult.
To build an Industrial Internet system, we must minimize the effort required to assemble the various elements into a coherent — or interoperable — whole. Small companies in particular often cannot afford the expense involved in writing the code needed to make off-the-shelf Industrial Internet elements interoperate. By ensuring interoperability in advance, we reduce the costs of development and spur innovation.
How to Ensure interoperability
There are several approaches to achieving interoperability, including defining the solution’s application programmer interface (API), a tool that allows developers to make one piece of software talk to another piece of software. But probably the most effective path to interoperability is the creation of Industrial Internet standards. Standardization allows different components, with the same function and the same interfaces, to be swapped out.
Once standards organizations address Industrial Internet standardization — especially standards focused on the language used to describe capabilities and interface -— components will be able to determine how best to interact with each other.
While not a standards organization, the Industrial Internet Consortium is working to identify what standards are needed for the Industrial Internet. Our recently released Industrial Internet Reference Architecture (IIRA) technical document identifies each of the required components and the available standards and technologies for each.
We also ask: where are there gaps, and what roadblocks stand in the way to creating new standards? A favorite analogy of our chief technology officer, Stephen Mellor, is that the IIRA is like furnishing a dining room: it determines what elements (furniture) are already available (chairs, the china set, and a ceiling fixture) and what is still needed (the dining room table).
The key to Industrial Internet interoperability is cooperation and collaboration from industry leaders. We have a number of liaison agreements with organizations that do create standards, and will also act to harmonize potentially conflicting standards and minimize the degree of arbitrary difference in the marketplace. This will help accelerate standards development and adoption and improve interoperability.
Our organization is made up of more than 180 organizations hailing from industry and academia. If we can all collaborate on determining what is necessary for Industrial Internet standards, we will all reap the benefits of the transformation the Industrial Internet is poised to bring about.
To download a copy of the Industrial Internet Reference Architecture, visit www.iiconsortium.org/iira.
Richard Soley is Executive Director of the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC). In addition to this role, Dr. Soley is Chairman and CEO of the Object Management Group (OMG®) — an international, nonprofit computer industry standards consortium — and Executive Director of the Cloud Standards Customer Council — an end-user advocacy group.