The secret to successful IoT for manufacturers. By Phil Beecher

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is transforming the world around us, creating new opportunities for organisations in multiple sectors to grow and innovate. In manufacturing, the IIoT is driving a fourth industrial revolution characterised by automation, AI and a seamless blending of physical and cyber-platforms. Yet despite the great strides already being taken by some early adopters, there continues to be a great appetite for more data and insight to help guide IT and business executives.

Recent Wi-SUN research sheds some valuable light on the matter. IT leaders in manufacturing companies should be looking to security and industry standards to differentiate their way to success.

A wealth of benefits
According to analyst IDC, the manufacturing sector is expected to spend $189 billion on IoT this year, more than twice that of second-placed transportation ($85 billion), and utilities ($73 billion). Investment will be focused primarily on solutions to support manufacturing operations and production asset management, it claimed recently. Separate research estimates that the global IIoT market will be worth over $195 billion by 2022.

To find out more, the Wi-SUN Alliance polled hundreds of global IT leaders about their IIoT plans. Surprisingly, more than half of those investing in IoT have already fully implemented their strategy, with 99 per cent seeing tangible benefits after doing so. Business efficiency (54 per cent) came top, followed by improved customer experience (49 per cent), better collaboration across the organisation (48 per cent), increased agility (47 per cent) and reduced costs (45 per cent).

IoT under attack
However, despite the myriad of benefits on offer there are roadblocks to implementing IIoT successfully. Most respondents to our research claimed they experienced at least some difficulties when rolling out projects. Of all countries, the UK was most likely to have encountered difficulties, with only three per cent describing the process as challenge-free.

Cybersecurity concerns were given as the biggest challenge to IoT projects (59 per cent), with 74 per cent highlighting IT security improvements as a priority.Worryingly, only 38 per cent claimed that their organisation included protecting the network from IoT threats as part of their strategy, while just half (51 per cent) said they were considering how to secure data collected by their IoT sensors.That’s particularly concerning given the escalating level of cyber-attacks facing organisations, and forthcoming regulations which will levy maximum fines of £17m, or four per cent of global annual turnover on organisations which don’t properly protect customer or employee data.

Manufacturing IoT systems may often be isolated from the publicfacing internet and wired, rather than wireless, which can improve resilience to attacks. But online threats are growing: a recent report from industry association EEF revealed that 48 per cent of UK manufacturers have been struck by a cyber-incident, with 24 per cent suffering losses as a result. Over a third (35 per cent) of the large number (91 per cent) who claimed they’re investing in digital transformation said the risk of attack was holding them back.

Aside from cybersecurity, getting board-level buy-in for IoT projects was also seen as a challenge for IT leaders we spoke to. Around a third cited a reluctance among senior execs to commit to projects and a similar number claimed securing funding was also a challenge. There’s clearly a need for IT decision makers to better articulate to manufacturing executives the huge benefits that IoT could bring, if they take the right approach.

Striving for standards
So, what is the right approach? There are of course many moving parts to an IoT platform, but networking infrastructure is key. In fact, networking topology (58 per cent) came out as the number one criteria among respondents when evaluating IoT solutions.The majority (53 per cent) said they favoured a blend of star- and mesh-based networks.

A majority (53 per cent) also said they look for performance when evaluating IoT solutions. Again, we’d recommend the star-based network model as it is built to reduce single points of failure and transmits over short distances, meaning improved power efficiency and performance. Support for industry standards (52 per cent) was also high on the agenda for IT leaders we spoke to. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of standardisation when it comes to the Industrial IoT. Without it, data may not flow freely between networks, products may be designed with architectural performance and security shortcomings builtin, and vendor lock-in becomes a major risk.

Global standards organisations may not always get the credit they deserve. But their vital work is key to protecting investments in legacy technology while ensuring future spend is targeted at enterprise-grade, highly interoperable and resilient systems. Manufacturers should expect nothing less as they embark on the next industrial revolution.

Phil Beecher
Phil Beecher is President of the The Wi SUN Alliance.The Wi SUN Alliance is a global non profit member based association comprised of industry leading companies. Its mission is to drive the global proliferation of interoperable wireless solutions for use in smart cities, smart grids and other Internet of Things (IoT) applications using open global standards from international standards organisations.