The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is changing both automation systems and business systems. Standard Internet technologies are penetrating deeper into control systems and many more things are being connected to the factory network. In parallel, additional data is flowing into and out of industrial control systems, leading to business benefits such as better asset utilization, lower energy consumption and improved supply chain management.

As I have described in a previous article, the IIoT is not a destination but a journey. What will this journey look like over the next 12-36 months?

One perspective is that of the ARC Advisory Group who published an interesting article “10 IIoT Predictions for 2016 and Beyond.” I found it a worthy read on the industrial Internet, covering a wide range of topics, from marketing and positioning to technology and adoption.

Four of the ARC predictions in particular resonated with me. I hope that my comments about them will provide you with some insights on what to expect as you and your organization move forward towards Industry 4.0.

The Industrial Internet Process is a JourneyImplementing and benefitting from the Industrial Internet of Things is a journey that requires understanding the “terrain,” such as the predictions described in this article.

Industrial Internet: Reference Architecture

I’ll start with one of the ARC predictions that I fully agree with and that’s “Reference architectures rule.”  By this I believe that ARC means that a good reference architecture speeds up the adoption of new technologies. And in relation to the IIoT, last year the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) published the first version of the Industrial Internet Reference Architecture. It’s interesting that one of the most-read blogs on ARC’s site last year was their post that reviews (favorably) this IIC document.

If you aren’t familiar with the Industrial Internet Consortium take a few minutes to go through its website – it’s a body that is having a direct impact on the future of industry. I believe the work this group is doing is important, which is why Belden joined the IIC last year. I am glad to be our primary representative with the ICC and am active in the marketing and security working groups.

I would add one thing to ARC’s reference architecture prediction though. That is, while having one is important to guide your system-design thinking and help you set your long term goals, the IIoT is a transformation that will unfold over many years.

What you are building today is the foundation, so it is important to build a strong industrial Ethernet infrastructure. With a proper foundation, you have a system that can adapt as your business needs change and your IIoT journey progresses. 

If you find the full Industrial Internet Reference Architecture a bit overwhelming, Belden has some practical advice for steps you can take today.

New call-to-actionIndustrial Internet: Cybersecurity

ARC’s predictions on “Cybersecurity” and “Greater protection for edge devices” both address a similar topic. As more devices are connected to control networks and more control networks are connected to IT networks, business applications and the Internet, cyber security will become even more critical. But while Belden agrees with the major theme of the points, we differ in the direction we would stress to address the points.

For cyber security, ARC pointed to unidirectional gateways as a way to overcome the weaknesses of conventional perimeter defense strategies. A unidirectional gateway is a hardware device that allows data to flow from the control network to the corporate network on the outside, but nothing can flow back the other way.

Belden believes that the best way to harden industrial systems is to follow ISA IEC 62443 standards and implement best practices such as Defense in Depth (overlapping layers of security). As Stuxnet proved, perimeter defense, and even air gaps, can be breached. The solution is not to create more exotic perimeter walls but rather to reinforce and strengthen the network from within.

This not only makes the system more secure, it also makes it more resilient and reliable. Likewise, for greater protection at the edge, ARC points to new network technologies like SDN (Software Defined Network) and NFV (Network Function Virtualization). These technologies provide ways to increase the security of remote access networks and thus protect industrial networks and the insecure legacy devices they contain.

While we agree that SDN and FVN will play a role in the long term, we think Defense in Depth is a more appropriate approach now and for many years to come. Legacy equipment like PLCs should be protected with Deep Packet Inspection firewalls  that have advanced filtering capabilities for industrial protocols, as well as other layers of defense.


IIoT - Industrial Internet of Things

Future network topologies will be similar to those used today, but with higher numbers of connected devices delivering higher amounts of data. (Click here for larger image)



Industrial Internet: “Wait, this is Different”

The final ARC prediction, “Wait, this is different!” foresees that in 2016 a growing number of control engineers will

“….begin to understand why the potential for digital transformation with IIoT/I4.0 is not the same as what they have been doing with SCADA and automation systems for 30 years.”

Along with this, ARC predicts that the limitations of the Purdue model, that is the hierarchically restricted flow of information, will become ever more apparent as more smart connected devices and IIoT enabled business models are deployed.

This breaking down of the Purdue model to one where any device or application can communicate with any other device or application across levels is a central idea of Industry 4.0 and other visions of the factory of the future. Already, we see that businesses that are employing greater data sharing and more open architectures are reporting improved business performance.

For example, a survey by the American Association of Quality found that while only a small number of companies claimed to be using smart manufacturing techniques, of those who did:

  • 82% reported increased efficiency
  • 49% experienced fewer product defects
  • 45% reported increased customer satisfaction

I don’t know if I see a mass “A-ha” light bulb moment this year or not, but clearly the industrial Internet of Things is rapidly moving from an undefined, future consideration into a better defined architecture with tangible business benefits that companies can begin to reap today.

Industrial Internet Benefits: It’s a Journey

There is a well-worn witticism that prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future, so my crystal ball may be no more accurate or clear than ARC’s. But while we see different nuances and near-term actions, our general views of the IIoT trends in 2016 and beyond are well aligned.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, when viewed in terms of everything it will mean or could mean to our systems over time, the IIoT can be so daunting that it makes moving forward very difficult. The important thing to remember is that the IIoT is not a destination but a journey.

Just as control systems have gradually evolved over the last twenty years, IIoT technologies and techniques will gradually filter into our systems over the next 2 decades. For resources to help you plan, start or continue the IIoT journey, check the dedicated Belden IIoT website, where you’ll find a list of resources covering the trends and technologies to help you.

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