Ready for the Industrial IoT?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017 - 14:15

Are You Ready for the Industrial IoT? Everything You Need to Know Before You Deploy

In the industrial sector, a growing number of equipment manufacturers are using the Internet of Things (IoT) to expand their businesses. They’re leveraging data, generated by machines and appliances in the field, to move from simply selling products to selling products plus services or products as a service.

These new, value-added services, such as real-time monitoring, remote troubleshooting, and predictive maintenance, help equipment makers set themselves apart from the competition and create a sustainable way to ensure revenue, even during times of economic uncertainty or when capital expenditures dip. What’s more, investing in industrial IoT-driven capabilities helps increase customer loyalty, since the extra level of service tends to increase client/supplier communication and often generates a greater sense of teamwork.

Data Handling and IT/OT Convergence are Key

At the heart of these new service offerings is the data generated by in-field devices and transmitted over the IoT. In many cases, collecting and managing the transfer of that data, from devices to high-level enterprise systems, requires new platforms and new capabilities. Careful upfront planning has a big payoff, since a well-designed deployment lets you execute on useful information and create more meaningful customer interactions while maintaining security and supporting expansion.

Designing a successful IoT deployment often involves new ways of thinking about machine-generated data, and requires new levels of collaboration across the organization. As data moves from the field to the enterprise, there are crossovers between what have traditionally been two separate domains: Information Technology (IT) and Operations Technology (OT).

For example, IT personnel typically focus on networking and productivity technologies used by the enterprise, and may not have direct experience working with industrial equipment deployed in the field. By the same token, OT personnel typically focus on the very specific processes required for industrial control, and may be new to the nuances of gathering, transmitting, and protecting data in an IoT environment.

More often than not, creating an effective IoT deployment means combining expertise from the IT/OT spectrum, and tends to blur the lines between the two groups. The resulting convergence creates a new operational blueprint, and prepares organizations for scalable, sustainable growth.

To help guide organizations in their design of IoT deployments, and help simplify the process of converging IT and OT, Sierra Wireless® has developed our view the IoT Stack. It’s a way of visualizing the building blocks needed for IoT-driven services, and

illustrates the key points where data handoffs take place. The IoT Stack highlights which platforms and processes need to be addressed, and makes it easier to see where IT and OT expertise come into play.

The IoT Stack

As shown in Figure 1, the Sierra Wireless view of the IoT Stack includes three tiers of functionality that combine to create a streamlined flow of secure information from the field to the enterprise.

At the top of the stack is the Applications Tier, which is where business applications and services reside. The Applications Tier is fed by the Data & Analytics Tier, which provides rich, intelligent data prepared for use by pre-defined business processes. The Data & Analytics Tier is, in turn, fed by the Edge & Connectivity Tier, which is where data, generated by devices in the field, is gathered and delivered to the cloud for integration in the Data & Analytics Tier.

 

 Here’s a closer look at the three main tiers:

1. APPLICATIONS TIER

This is where reporting, remote monitoring, predictive modeling and visualization are performed. The Application Tier interfaces with the enterprise, using a service network to communicate with mission-critical applications like financial systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP), modeling tools for the supply chain and so on.

The Applications Tier is what people within the organization use to interact with data from the field, and it’s the place to build company-specific functionality and KPIs for business objectives. Many enterprise applications are supplied by third party partners who have already designed their solutions to accept IoT data. Look for applications that offer built-in connections to the Data & Analytics Tier, so it’s easy to configure hand-offs between the two tiers.

2. DATA & ANALYTICS TIER

This is where data from devices in the field gets assembled, processed, and analyzed. The task of preparing data for use by other applications can take place in the cloud or within the enterprise, or can be configured to use a hybrid model that combines the two.

The Data & Analytics Tier serves the Application Tier by creating, streaming, and filtering operational data on a real-time basis. The data-integration component performs any necessary protocol translations, provides the required levels of security, and adds the interface for data I/O. Data in this tier can be used for ongoing business analytics or can be placed in long-term storage to create an

archival history.

The functions performed by the Data & Analytics Tier are often supplied by the same third-party partner supplying enterprise applications. Many of these applications support a standard set of interfaces for connecting the data integration layer of the Data & Analytics Tier with the network-access functions of the Edge & Connectivity Tier. The standardized interfaces save time and effort by simplifying the work of accepting data from the field and preparing it for use by the enterprise.

3. EDGE & CONNECTIVITY TIER

This is where data is generated by devices and delivered to the cloud. In the industrial context, devices are typically systems that contain embedded sensors that collect data. They may also include actuators that can control and optimize physical processes.

The edge gateway routes data and manages traffic. On one side of the gateway is a proximity network, used by the field devices, and on the other side is the access network, used to communicate with the Data & Analytics Tier.

Device-to-Cloud Services

The elements of the Edge & Connectivity Tier, along with the data-integration step of the Data & Analytics Tier, represent the core functionality for any IIoT deployment. Taken as a whole, these core functions are often referred to as “Device-to-Cloud” or

“D2C” operations.

In the early days, equipment manufacturers looking to deploy IIoT-driven services had few options for D2C operations and often developed these functions themselves, either with in-house staff or working with a third party. It wasn’t easy, since creating

D2C functions from scratch, and ensuring their reliability and interoperability, is both complex and time-consuming. What’s more, custom solutions are often designed to meet an immediate need and aren’t always equipped for longevity or scalability. As these early deployments have evolved and grown, the limitations of their custom D2C solutions have often led to costly redesigns.

Now, however, as the IIoT has started to mature, there are off-the-shelf solutions designed specifically for D2C operation. These types of highly tailored solutions, including those supplied by Sierra Wireless, are designed specifically for IIoT use cases and can deliver a significant benefit, especially in terms of time-to-market and operating costs.

A comprehensive off-the-shelf solution for D2C operation addresses all the tasks associated with device management and the secure, scalable delivery of IIoT data, including the handoff to the Data & Analytics Tier. Each of the processes involved – including the operation of in-field devices, data collection and processing, management of the edge gateway, and network connectivity – has its own set of sub-processes.

These various sub-processes play an important role in the overall functioning of the IoT deployment, and need to be optimized to ensure reliable, secure operation within each layer of core functionality. Table 1 gives an overview of these sub-processes and serves as a starting point when evaluating a D2C service.

 

Final Thoughts

Collecting data from the field and using it to drive new, service-oriented businesses requires integrated processes and a streamlined flow of information. IoT deployments rely on a number of complex technologies that come together and work seamlessly, and there are new business processes and organizational considerations to be made, too.

When companies take a more holistic view of machine data, and consider the three layers involved in generating, processing, and using that data, the IoT becomes a powerful tool for maximizing operational efficiency and enabling new, value-added services.

In our more than 15 years of experience helping companies deploy machine to machine applications, we’ve developed a clear view of what works and what’s to be avoided. By starting with Sierra, companies in the industrial sector can be confident they’ll create an IoT deployment that offers the right combination of simplicity, security, and scalability. And, at the same time, will create new sources of revenue by triggering a transition from product-based to service-based offerings.

To learn more about the Sierra approach to IoT implementations and how we can help your organization with a deployment, visit us at www.sierrawireless.com.

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