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The Industrial Internet is revolutionizing how businesses operate across a range of industries, with companies from railways to healthcare providers starting to reap the benefits of machine-to-machine connectivity.
The need for secure connections at remote locations around the world — whether on an oil rig or inside a jet engine — is also creating closer collaboration between the providers of Industrial Internet platforms such as GE and technology companies such as Verizon. That’s why the companies have teamed up to expand the global Industrial Internet infrastructure, enabling the remote monitoring and maintenance of connected equipment no matter where it’s located and in a secure environment.
“The potential for transforming industries, including rail, aviation, energy and healthcare — as well as society as we know it — is tremendous, and yet the Internet of Things (IoT) is a nascent, complex and fragmented market,” Mark Bartolomeo, head of IoT Connected Solutions at Verizon, said in announcing the deal at GE’s Minds + Machines conference this week.
In an interview, Bartolomeo spoke about the benefits that early adopters of the Industrial Internet are enjoying, as well as some of the challenges ahead in rolling out smart technologies more broadly across industries:
How do you define Industrial Internet?
At its core, the Industrial Internet is any industrial equipment that is connected to a network, enabling information to improve efficiencies. The benefits can be vast, including improved service levels, new revenue streams and environmental benefits.
What are the broad benefits of Industrial Internet and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies for enterprise businesses?
I see three fundamental benefits. First, businesses can accelerate product development and deployment cycles by unifying information from diverse sources and applications. Second, the Industrial Internet introduces new revenue streams by allowing businesses to take advantage of the latest smart technologies before their competition. Finally, all these new connected devices produce a ton of data that can be disseminated and quantified for more reliable outcomes.
How have early machine-to-machine (M2M) and IoT adopters improved their businesses with connected technologies?
Early adopters have been driven by sustainability, safety and monitoring equipment in remote locations. Sustainability can provide a sizeable return on investment. If I manage the generation and consumption of energy, I’m also monitoring the theft of energy and helping lower my carbon footprint by reducing or eliminating a vehicle fleet required for manual reads. M2M monitoring and communication tools also have produced interesting case studies in the crude oil industry. The concept of scanning layers of earth for oil in North Dakota and sending all that information back to engineers and scientists in Houston where they are doing analytics is huge.
What markets are best suited for Industrial Internet solutions, and could you give some examples of the types of technologies?
There are plenty of opportunities across many different markets. In the energy and utilities industry, you see energy management tools; energy generation plants; meters; relay switches; load balancing generation; monitors for pipelines, well heads, pressure temperature, etc. At the municipality level, we are talking about parking, congestion management, firebox monitoring and video-as a-service. The healthcare industry has seen an increase in virtual visits.
In the transportation market, Verizon is part of the Leadership Council for the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center to test next-generation technologies in a real-world environment. Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center is a public-private R&D initiative to establish a connected vehicle infrastructure in which cars can communicate with each other. One of the goals is to decrease the number of vehicular accidents through vehicle-to-vehicle technology.
What challenges are inherent in rolling out smart technologies?
Fragmentation and a lack of standards are the two biggest challenges currently hindering Internet of Things adoption. Businesses struggle with having to buy a smart technology from one company and a network from another and perform their own backend integration.
We must reduce complexity to broaden adoption. Right now, machine to machine and IoT have seen an adoption rate of less than 10 percent. However, adopters are benefiting from accelerated products cycles, new revenue streams and more reliable outcomes. The low adoption rate is due to a complex and costly development process. For example, if an energy company wants to deploy 3 million connected meters in seven years, what type of backend infrastructure should they build? Do you build to scale up to 3 million or do you build to support what’s in the field? If you build to scale 3 million and your rollout period is seven years, you have a lot of wasted backend capacity. If you don’t build it to scale, then you’ve underbuilt and are not reaping the full benefits of this smart technology. That’s why the concept of platform- and software-as-a-service makes sense.
What type of infrastructure is required to enable Industrial Internet solutions?
I see it as pervasive connectivity. The wireless network makes the Industrial Internet viable. I think that cloud is to 4G as 4G is to the Industrial Internet — it just doesn’t work unless you are connected. So the concept of the Internet of Things assumes that something is connected all the time — not casually. It’s impossible to link smart devices without wireless connectivity. I can’t connect pallets. I can’t connect manhole covers. I can’t connect airplanes or cars. However with wireless connectivity I can. M2M and Internet of Things technology doesn’t work without reliable, secure, expansive coverage. It’s also managed networks, devices with cellular and non-cellular sensors. We have to be able to play at that connectivity level beyond cellular, sensor networks, 2.4 GHz, mesh, etc.
Where do you see these types of technologies heading in the near future?
For the Industrial Internet and IoT technologies to thrive, they will require lower cost asset connectivity. It’s fine to connect a $25,000 vehicle or a $300 electric meter that’s tied to a $5 billion electric generation plant, but what about a $20 pallet or 40 million manhole covers? How do we connect those? The way we do that is by participating at that sensor level and getting more and more devices on the network by bringing down the cost of cellular.
Mark Bartolomeo is head of IoT Connected Solutions at Verizon.