Vested interests threaten the Internet of Things’ future

Rahman Jamal Rahman Jamal, Global Technology &
Marketing Director, National Instruments

The Industrial Internet of Things has the potential to change our lives but its future survival is being threatened by a race for prominence amongst those countries and organisations that have a stake in its development.

Divisions are forming along geographical, technological, commercial and political lines that not only oppose the spirit of this exciting movement but gravely threaten its progress.

As Global Technology & Marketing Director of National Instruments, I have recently travelled to both Asia and the US to take part in conferences, seminars and briefings on the topic of Industrial IoT. This has revealed stark differences in the way that the Industrial IoT is being defined and developed internationally and, without doubt, this is restricting its evolution.

In Germany, for example, the drive towards smart manufacturing has become a quest of national importance under the banner of Industry 4.0. As you might expect of Germany, a great deal of work has been devoted to defining the initial framework, with endless discussions on interoperability, standards, communication protocols and so on. The fact that all discussions and documents are solely in German language, coupled with a cultural instinct to preserve competitive advantage (by keeping the knowledge behind closed doors), means the German effort is opaque to the outside world.

What’s more worrying, considering Europe’s leading position in the automotive and plant engineering sectors, is that our dedication to setting out standards has put a brake on practical progress. It is a trend that has prompted Chancellor Merkel to urge Germany’s industrial sector to put words into action.

In contrast, the US has established the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) with a view to making rapid progress towards deployment, not only in the industrial sector but also in terms of smart healthcare and smart cities. The IIC is attracting worldwide interest by openly publishing its findings online, and recently implemented the first Industrial IoT test bed; a collaboration between Bosch, Cisco, Tech Mahindra and NI.

However, that’s not to say the IIC is immune to scrutiny. Its steering committee, for example, is dominated by the major players AT&T, General Electric, Cisco, IBM and Intel, which, in my opinion, gives it an IT-centric bias that lacks the industrial input necessary to make things happen on a larger scale.

Meanwhile, Asia has formed an ‘industrial value chain’ action group, comprised of key players in the automation space, such as Omron, Toyota, Denso, Fujitsu, Panasonic and Mitsubishi. However, my discussions in Japan suggest they are irritated by the lack of global collaboration and unsure of how to contribute. Considering Japan’s power and influence in manufacturing, it is worrying that there’s no clear direction.

The use of common technology could be key in enabling collaboration and NI’s platform-based approach to system design provides a good example.

However, concern about these difficulties is of international importance and I would urge all Governments, companies and individuals to call for greater openness and collaboration. There is a huge opportunity at stake here. The proper development of the IoT will bring great benefits to society in terms of the price and availability of goods and food, the ability to travel or conduct trade on a global basis and to potentially inspire unimaginable breakthroughs in terms of healthcare, science and smarter city evolution. There is a real danger that if we don’t work together, we will all miss out.

By Rahman Jamal, Global Technology & Marketing Director, National Instruments

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