IoT Predictions That Could Shape Manufacturing In 2021
If there was ever a year we learned not to trust predictions, it was 2020. How many companies either missed revenue and production targets by a mile or doubled or tripled them because they happened to be in the right business for a global pandemic? To me, it seems like most manufacturing companies saw one extreme or the other, with little or no predictability due to rapidly changing market conditions.
We’ve seen some manufacturers pivot and others prosper because they provide an essential product, and new ones have popped up to serve new needs. Despite the past year of uncertainty, I believe what’s coming next in terms of technology is a little easier to put a finger on. Let’s discuss what I expect to see in manufacturing in 2021 in one area in particular: the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
But first, here’s a quick refresher on the definition of IIoT: IIoT uses connected assets to create a complete data picture for improved industrial processes. We have already seen predictions that IIoT adoption will accelerate; industrial companies are realizing the only way to be agile is to adopt modern technologies that allow for rapid deployment of new applications and services and improved quality and productivity.
In conjunction with the rise of connected devices, Gartner predicts that by 2025, 50% of enterprises will use IIoT platforms to make sense of the data generated at the edge and improve factory operations, up from only 10% in 2020.
I started as an industrial design engineer before I started my edge platform company in 2014, and I’ve seen the changes that have come with the rise of connected devices. So, as the IIoT market comes of age, here are a few of my predictions for what we can expect in 2021:
1. More applications: IIoT enables manufacturers to connect their assets and transform into smart factories. Some are still on this journey, but those that have connected their devices, machines, historians and everything else on the shop floor or in the field need to do something with those connections.
Now, they need to enable use cases, and the only way to do that is with applications. At my company, my team and I frequently see customers that have connected devices and are collecting some data, but they aren’t doing anything with it. As a result, I see an increasing need for, and a move toward, prebuilt applications. In fact, it’s my company’s No. 1 request from customers.
2. Native integration of IIoT technologies: Based on my observations, customers are tired of the piecemeal solutions that come with an immature industry, as IIoT has been in the past. Customers do not want to buy 10 solutions to solve one problem. In addition, many old solutions were adopted without thinking about future applications and use cases, and they leave customers stuck with siloed data and a spiderweb of technologies and coding. In 2021, more vendors will likely need to work toward providing native integration of IIoT technologies to solve these problems.
3. Rapid adoption of IIoT: As I mentioned, this market has been maturing over the past several years as companies realize the value of IIoT to better serve customers. This past year accelerated that realization as companies saw that the key to success is agility. In addition, IIoT deployment times have been reduced significantly, which is why in 2021, I predict we will also see manufacturers have the ability to more quickly pilot, implement and scale IIoT solutions.
4. Consolidation of vendors: As with any emerging market, consolidation happens over time. This year, Gartner’s 2020 Magic Quadrant for Industrial IoT Platforms has 18 vendors. (Full disclosure: My company was listed as one of those vendors.) Those are just the IIoT platforms that made the list; there are plenty of other products in the IIoT space, platforms or otherwise. In 2021, I expect to see some moves toward consolidating this market.
What does this mean for leaders?
One thing I can say as we head into 2021 is that it would be hard to be more surprised than we were in 2020. Industrial companies learned that digital transformation is even more critical now than it ever was before.
As a result, platform vendors need to ensure they’re serving manufacturing clients’ needs today by keeping these predictions in mind. I believe application enablement, native integration of IoT and fast deployment times are all essential moving forward.
• Application enablement: Vendors must enable application deployment for customers to find success going forward, and you can do that by offering prebuilt applications and supporting Docker containers to run applications.
• Native integration of IoT: Vendors can meet this need by developing holistic solutions that cover edge-to-cloud in a unified way so customers aren’t left buying each piece and then finding out they are difficult to integrate or don’t work together well at all.
• Rapid adoption: Gone are the days when vendors can ask customers to purchase huge enterprise software contracts and then take six months to implement them. Vendors need to develop IoT platforms that are flexible enough to sit on the shop floor quickly and that can be implemented easily without disrupting current systems. Manufacturers don’t have time to put production on hold while they adopt IoT.
The key for manufacturing leaders, on the other hand, is not to hide from these trends, but to embrace them. Manufacturing tends to be a legacy industry, with old machines and old technology. It’s time to modernize — to adopt new technology in order to be agile and compete.
Modernization starts with good data. You have to start small, so in 2021, focus on collecting and analyzing all your data, and that will lead to the rapid adoption of IIoT we’ve discussed. With a complete data picture that shows exactly how your assets and operations are performing, you’ll be better prepared to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.