Your guide to the top IIoT companies

IIoT equipment is expected to have longer product life spans than consumer hardware. This makes selecting the right vendor and right product more daunting. Here’s help.
Written by James Sanders, Contributor

For any enterprise hardware purchase, selecting the right product from the right vendor is paramount for ensuring good value upfront, as well as ensuring adequate support throughout the lifetime of the equipment. For IIoT vendors, separating the wheat from the chaff is an arduous and painstaking process -- particularly as the field is overrun with startups, making the prospect of buying a product anticipated to have a decade-plus lifespan from a company that may have only existed for a few years. The prospect alone is enough to give IT decision makers an uneasy feeling.

"When you talk about Industrial IoT, you're talking about companies who are going to put it in the very center of their industrial operation. They need this stuff to work. They need low downtime. They want a vendor that's going to stick around. So, it's going to be big companies -- although I talk to IIoT startups all the time that hope that to get in, but usually they're hoping to get bought by one of these big companies and plugged into the stack," said Dion Hinchcliffe, VP and Principal Analyst for IoT at Constellation Research, "And so that's really what it is. Everyone's looking for a big company that's stable, that has a complete end-to-end solution that will everything that they want."

The big companies referred to are Microsoft, GE, PTC, Siemens, and Uptake, although Hinchcliffe notes that there are approximately 250 startups in the field. Enumerating the 'top companies' in IIoT is next to impossible, as disparate market segments and use cases make the best fit for your company entirely subjective. That said, understanding how to integrate IIoT in your existing business operations is the best first step to finding the right vendor for your organization.

What are the most compelling use cases for Industrial Internet of Things?

Predictive Maintenance & Optimization

Determining when components are nearing failure -- and scheduling downtime for maintenance, rather than waiting for potentially catastrophic failure -- is of great interest to industrial firms, due to the cascading consequences that system outages can have across business segments.

According to Dion Hinchcliffe, "Outages can have dramatic impacts that go well beyond just lots of operational income. It could be lawsuits and all sorts of other things. It is far cheaper to head those kind of things off at the pass, and companies will spend untold amounts. Take mining companies and oil drillers: instead of having a giant oil spill, they can predict that the well head or the drilling equipment is going to fail. That's big. Billions are at stake."

Likewise, Hinchcliffe highlights the potential for IIoT to be used in optimization, as parts that have been demonstrated as more durable than the manufacturer rating can be left in service longer, reducing maintenance costs and waste.

Robots & Drones

Use of robotics in IIoT is still not exactly ready for prime time, as robotic automation is still not applicable to every potential circumstance, a lesson recently learned at Tesla.

Despite regulatory difficulties, drones are gaining popularity for crop management and insurance adjustment. "Insurance companies are using robot drones, getting all the sensor data, being able to fly over all the roofs of all the houses that got hit with the hurricane, and in an afternoon use a few thousand drones to do the adjustment on every single house," Hinchcliffe said. For package delivery, proof-of-concept deployments exist, although are not yet seeing widespread adoption.

What security concerns are there for Industrial Internet of Things deployments?

The longevity expected of IIoT technologies is typically double -- at a minimum -- that of typical consumer devices. This expectation should be at the forefront when making any purchase or deployment of IIoT hardware, in terms of long-term support for security and device repairs. "If the manufacturer doesn't offer that, I would look for another manufacturer," said Eric Ogren, Senior Analyst for Information Security at 451 Research.

Ogren notes that the biggest issue with securing IoT is visibility, because "If you don't know it's there, you can't secure it." He adds that "Most people have no clue what IoT devices are on the network, or what IoT devices they're communicating with... Most IoT devices do not have any security inside the device at all. They're made for low cost and to do a certain job and do it well, but they're generally not structured to have of any kind of visibility or supervision. And what's even worse is they're hard to update."

How do you manage mass amounts of data generated by IoT devices?

Because of the hundreds of companies in the IoT space, and the relative lack of standardization in terms of file types or data formats, combined with the extensive amount of logging these devices generate, the task of generating any comprehensible level of intelligence in aggregate from this is the larger challenge. The use of artificial intelligence and machine learning is increasing for IIoT markets to generate intelligible insight from this data.

Also See

How IoT might transform four industries this year
Healthcare, manufacturing, automotive, and public sector set to see big changes.

GE's new industrial IoT software business: What it means for customers
With GE's new standalone software business, the company has given the clearest signal yet that running a successful software business is very different from running an industrial conglomerate.  

How to leverage the industrial internet of things
Manufacturer provides smart-connected products that offer a way to monitor critical parameters of its customers' equipment.  

Manufacturing industry at higher risk of cyberattacks thanks to industrial IoT (TechRepublic)
Industrial IoT devices and Industry 4.0 initiatives are putting the manufacturing industry at higher risk of breaches and attacks.

Internet of Things (IoT): Cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
Learn about IoT's benefits for businesses, IoT security risks, IoT-related jobs, how industries and smart cities are using IoT, and more.

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