The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): GE Gets It and So Do We

Bill McCaffrey

December 21, 2015

GE’s amusing series of videos, “What’s the Matter with Owen?,” profile a young developer meeting different scenarios of disbelief in sharing the news that he has become a programmer/developer for GE. It includes his parents who think that a programmer job with GE means that he essentially couldn’t handle the physical aspects of a “traditional” factory worker in an industrial environment, a competition with another friend who works as a “flashy app” developer, and a group of fellow peers who don’t quite understand his new role as a developer for GE.

The central theme of “Owen’s” answers to each audience is that what he is doing is so important because he is helping to change the world by writing code that allows powerful machines to talk to one another.  GE’s message within each video is that it is “The digital company. That’s also an industrial company.”

It is a daunting shift that GE and many others face in convincing the modern world that industry and technology are powerful forces that are truly aligned, but the truth is that the “Industrial Internet of Things” (IIoT) is very real – and rapidly growing. In fact, in a recent report titled “Winning with the Industrial Internet of Things,” IIoT was noted to be “arguably the biggest driver of productivity and growth in the next decade” and was predicted to “accelerate the reinvention of sectors that account for almost two-thirds of world output.” That same report states that the Industrial Internet of Things has the potential to add $14.2 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

However, the widespread adoption of IIoT technology remains hampered by skepticism and lack of understanding as portrayed in GE’s “What’s the Matter With Owen?” videos. In another study conducted in collaboration with the World Economic Forum that surveyed market leaders actively pursuing IIoT initiatives, 88 percent said that they still do not fully understand the underlying business models and long-term implications of the IIoT. It’s no wonder why market leaders like GE have needed established creative campaigns to educate the world about the concept that industry and technology are now a single combined powerful force.

But--Is Industry Prepared for IIoT?

Regardless of if the industry as a whole is ready, market leaders and visionaries are leading the pack and IIoT will move forward to help shape a new generation fueled by greater productivity. As a result, in every industry there will be new vendors providing applications, middleware, and connected devices to support the thriving ecosystem.  This essentially means that every manufacturer of electronic devices will be in the software business.

Vendors with a legacy of building mission-critical embedded software for regulated industries like automotive and industrial controls should have a sizeable advantage in transitioning to IIoT.  They have already solved many of the real-time embedded challenges for application partitioning, redundancy, and long up-times.  However, many vendors will be new to building embedded software, engineering robust software, or both. 

This creates an increasingly important role for software quality in the Industrial Internet of Things universe. Regardless of the vendor, consumers and manufacturers alike will expect the operation of the connected devices to be seamless and reliable and deliver a positive user experience. Vendors with no previous software experience, or with experience building consumer-grade software, are likely to grossly underestimate the challenges associated with supporting IIoT. In either case, as more software applications have a requirement for dependable and uninterrupted operation, all vendors will need to implement processes that can deliver quality software. 

As production environments and business-critical applications continue to become more dependent on the products whose functionality is controlled by software, quality becomes the central issue, particularly in situations where safety, security or human life is exposed to risk if the software fails.  Organizations that do not adjust their development processes to enable them to produce higher quality applications are risking not only their brand, but their very existence. Organizations that do adapt will thrive. This is where the future “Owens” can really help change the world and why companies will need more software engineers like him.  

We understand the challenges organizations are facing with IIoT and are well-poised to address them. Are you ready for the IIoT?