The goals of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are the same goals that industry has had forever: reducing downtime, cutting costs and staying competitive.

What’s different about the next industrial revolution is how the goals will be met. This time the breakthrough in innovation involves interconnectivity and the self-regulation of machines, along with a dose of Big Data, to drive continuous improvement processes.

As an example, think of the challenges of predictive maintenance today. Currently a lot of maintenance work is reactive. No one wants to halt production to go digging through the guts of a machine unless that machine comes to a halt. With the Industrial Internet, however, machines will be able to monitor their own condition and give early warnings when vital parts are about to fail.

Getting from today’s practices to tomorrow’s cannot be done in one giant leap; it is an evolutionary process. Let’s look at the changes that are occurring and the steps you can take now to move forward on the IIoT journey.


With the Industrial Internet of Things machines, controllers, actuators and sensing devices will be integral components of industrial information networks.

The Industrial Internet is Changing Control Systems and Business Systems

Think of the evolution towards the IIoT (also known as Industry 4.0, Smart Factory and the Industrial Internet) as occurring across two axes, horizontally within the control system and vertically within the business.

Horizontally within the control system, what we see is that the use of industrial Internet technologies is penetrating deeper and deeper into control systems, displacing legacy protocols and technologies as well as hardwired systems.

In IIoT terms, you can think of this as connecting more and smaller things – moving from the connected factory (one big thing), to connected machines (more and smaller things), to connected controllers, and eventually to connected sensors and actuators. With each step the number of things grows by an order of magnitude or more.

Vertically within the business, what we see is a move toward more and more integration between business systems and the data flowing into and out of industrial control systems – what is often called IT/OT integration. Big data and analytics are also part of this trend.

The overarching theme is that the data within control systems that has historically been used just for the operation of the system itself also contains a wealth of useful information for running the business more effectively. When made available to business systems, this information can be used to drive a wide range of new efficiencies along with other cost savings and revenue enhancements. Examples include:

  • Better asset utilization
  • Lower energy consumption
  • Better supply chain management
  • Predictive maintenance
  • Manufacturing as a service

5 Steps to an IIoT-Ready Industrial Network

When you think of everything that the IIoT might touch in your business over time, it can be a bit overwhelming. But you don’t need to foresee everything you might want to do over the life of your network before taking your first step.

Instead, the key is to build a strong industrial Ethernet infrastructure as the foundation of a system that can adapt to changing business needs.

If you are early in your IIoT journey, we recommend a five-step process that will move you forward and help you realize benefits as soon as possible.

1. Assess and Map Industrial Networking Infrastructure

The first step is all about looking at the current state of your business and figuring out where you want to take it. Identifying where you are and where you want to go can often highlight the difficulties you need to overcome and make your approach much more focused.

Before you start to build a new system, you need to understand what you already have. What are the connectivity (wired/wireless, bandwidth, reliability) and environmental requirements of current systems? What are the near-term goals in terms of functionality and data exchange? The end result of the assessment stage should be an accurate ‘map’ of your network’s infrastructure.

If you have a large network, you will save time and effort doing this by using Network Management Software (NMS) such as Industrial HiVision.

2. Migrate / Update to Ethernet

After assessment, the Migrate/Update step is about looking at any existing legacy systems you might already have. Can they be repurposed or upgraded? You’ll want Ethernet to be the foundation of your communications infrastructure, so for existing components – such as sensors, actuators and electric motors – that communicate using fieldbus, plan their migration to Ethernet.

3. Update Network Design to Meet Best Practices

This step is where we recommend you pause to make sure your program meets established best practices and standards. Belden has resources that can help.

An overview of design best practices is available in this white paper. You can also read about how one of our customers, a pharmaceutical company, updated their network for the IIoT.

We also offer a no-charge Industrial Ethernet Infrastructure Design Check-Up that evaluates your network based on industry best practices. Information on how to access this is provided at the end of this article.


The Belden five-step approach shown above will help you understand and implement the IIoT.

4. Protect Reliability and Resiliency with Defense in Depth

Cybersecurity has become a bigger and bigger challenge in OT environments – and it isn’t just about attackers from motivated hackers. The majority of industrial cybersecurity incidents are unintentional, resulting from human error, device flaws and accidental malware introductions. The IIoT, with its more-things-connecting-in-more-ways, only makes the cybersecurity challenge tougher.

If you are not sure where to begin with cybersecurity, start out with a risk assessment. Then, identify your most critical assets and protect them first. Next, implement best practices such as Defense in Depth (overlapping layers of security) and the ISA IEC 62443 standard.

Cybersecurity is a big topic, one where Belden has made significant investments and has considerable expertise. In the past few decades, Belden representatives have not only participated in but been leaders in driving the adoption of new regulatory and technical standards across the industry. Browse or search our Industrial Security blog for information on all aspects of ICS security.

5. Monitor for Changes, Anomalies and Malware

The last step is a feedback loop into the first. Technology is constantly changing. Security threats are changing. Business needs are changing. You need to monitor all of these things and make changes to systems accordingly.

The IIoT is a Journey

The IIoT is a journey, not a destination. Your industrial control system is dynamic and it will evolve over time. The key thing, however, is that if you follow the process we’ve outlined and think about things upfront, the industrial Ethernet infrastructure you deploy today will provide a solid foundation to build on over time.

For resources to help you continue the IIoT journey, check the dedicated Belden IIoT website, where you’ll find a changing list of resources covering the trends and technologies that are changing industry.

Related Links

Industrial Ethernet Networking Resources

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North America

Belden offers a no-charge Industrial Ethernet Infrastructure Design Check-Up that evaluates your network based on industry best practices.

To reach a sales representative who can arrange a Design Check-Up:

Europe and Other Parts of the World

The Belden Competence Center employs network design engineers who can work with your technical team to develop cost-effective industrial networking solutions.

To reach a sales representative, obtain contact information from this webpage.