It's the IoT Journey... and the Destination

Strapping sensors to our wrists and embedding them in factories have more parallels than you might think.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Sep 01, 2015

The Internet of Things has been receiving a bit of a beat-down lately. In July 2015, market research firm Gartner released its latest Hype Cycle assessment for IoT technologies, which shows about a dozen subsets of the IoT ecosystem on the rise. These include IoT-enabled enterprise resource-planning (ERP) systems and operational intelligence platforms, as well as another dozen sitting at what Gartner calls the peak of inflated expectations. Among these are quantified self (Fitbit, et al.) and Bluetooth beacons. However (cue the ominous background music), machine-to-machine communication services and automobile IP nodes for connected cars are among the eight subsets of the IoT that Garner says are sliding into the trough of disillusionment.

Yet, no one I've spoken with in recent weeks is surprised that the IoT is going through some bumpy air; that is what one expects after a technology has been lavished with praise and possibilities while it is still relatively immature.

Gartner named just one subset that has already moved through the trough and is climbing up the slope of enlightenment: enterprise manufacturing intelligence.

As it happens, I just spoke with Jennifer Bennett, the general manager of manufacturing software at General Electric (GE), about how the $150 billion goliath for which she works is pushing the 400 diverse manufacturing facilities that it operates to become, in GE parlance, "brilliant factories." They're doing this by instrumenting these factories with sensors and analyzing the data they generate in order to improve efficiencies and, eventually, evolve from factories that respond when things or processes break, into predictive operations that prevent downtime by knowing when a system is about to fail.

Bennett made clear, however, that reaching that level of brilliance is not an overnight process, nor is it a cheap one. But she cites two elements that are helping GE inch internal operations closer to that goal.

One of these is Predix, GE's data analytics software platform, which it developed to use both internally and as part of the consultation services that it provides to its customers. Late last year, GE also began selling the Predix platform by making it commercially available and forming partnerships with Cisco and Intel, through which the Predix software is pre-loaded onto edge devices, such as networking equipment and gateways, used for industrial IoT applications.

Early last month, GE announced that the Predix platform is now available as a cloud-computing service. This means that customers no longer need to host the software on their own servers.

The second element that is helping GE bring its own manufacturing facilities into the industrial IoT, Bennett says, is the use of sensors.

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