There’s nothing big business likes more than commissioning a survey about a hot topic, which is why in recent months we’ve seen Microsoft, Boston Consulting Group, and database provider Couchbase release overviews discussing the state of the industrial IoT (IIoT). The looming change in technology and culture is real, as are the potential profits and business shifts that will come from companies adopting more tech to make business decisions.
The latest surveys are from Honeywell and Software AG. The Honeywell survey, which was sent to Honeywell’s customers in six industries served by the conglomerate, was astonishing for the positive response it garnered around existing IoT investments. Respondents overwhelmingly said their IoT investments have contributed to more productivity and increased worker safety.
Software AG’s survey was more focused on automotive manufacturing and heavy industry — in other words, the production of big machines as opposed to, say, oil and gas or mining. The results there were more ambiguous. Sean Riley, global director of manufacturing and transportation at Software AG, said the goal was to understand where customers were in their adoption and what they were struggling with along the way.
While the two surveys had similar goals, they asked very different questions. Honeywell’s questions focused on whether the respondent’s company has adopted IoT and if so, where was it helping (or not). It also asked if the respondent’s company would continue investing in IoT; roughly 93% of all participants said that they were “certain” or “strongly certain” that they would, although results varied by industry. Responses from the petrochemical industry were the lowest, but still, 88% of people were confident that their leadership supported more IoT investment.
The Software AG survey covered what the automotive and heavy industry groups found important. As it turns out, both said they were relying on IoT to help them develop new products and to move from a product sales model to a services model. Riley says he was surprised that companies were not ranking optimized maintenance as their top priority for IoT given how much emphasis is placed on that particular use case. Instead, more respondents were focused on optimizing all of their operations, suggesting that companies are getting more familiar with IoT deployments, and more sophisticated in their goals.
Indeed, many companies implementing IoT projects begin with some sort of remote monitoring that leads to predictive maintenance. Once remote monitoring is in place it makes sense to deploy sensors in other areas of the factory and use the resulting data to optimize the entire manufacturing line or other operations.
What both surveys underlined was the importance of bringing industrial IoT into the supply chain. Honeywell’s survey asked respondents where IIoT technology would be helpful and 39% across all six industries said it could improve supply chain management, with 82% saying that existing investments in IIoT had already either strongly improved or somewhat improved their supply chain issues. The Honeywell survey also singled out the supply chain as a problem area, with 70% of respondents saying they were experiencing supply chain issues either occasionally or frequently.
However, addressing supply chain problems as a primary reason to invest in IoT ranked fairly low on the Honeywell survey. Which makes sense. Improving your supply chain is a complicated process that requires linking a company’s internal data to data from partners. Right now, we don’t have in place supply chain-specific data-sharing agreements, standards for linking that data, or secure ways to share it among organizations.
But we’re going to get there. The Software AG survey offers some hints as to what will be needed to really expand industrial IoT uses to more users in more places. Riley suggests that graphical user interfaces or other simple ways to consume data will be needed so that everyone — from those on the business side to workers in plants — can consume the relevant information and act on it. Additionally, if a company brings in custom software to share data with its partners, it will need something friendly enough that employees at those partner organizations can actually use it.
Both surveys offer a lot more information on problems executives want to solve and the challenges to solving them, but the supply chain is the issue that kept popping up over and over. With that in mind, my hunch is that over the next 12 months we’re going to transition from case studies that show off predictive or prescriptive analytics projects to projects that make clear how to pull more data and related insights from a company’s supply chain.
We’re also going to see a lot of companies offering tools and services to help us get all those bits of data and related insights. I’m excited.