With General Electric moving its headquarters to Boston, the city is likely to become a major center for the developing technology around the industrial internet of things (IIoT). Just last year, GE announced it would exit its financial business, GE Capital, and focus significant investment in GE Digital . At the core of GE Digital is GE’s new industrial software platform, Predix. The company believes the industrial internet of things will be a major growth engine for all of its businesses, and software is at the heart of making IIoT work.
Google “Internet of Things” or “Industrial Internet of Things”, and you’ll often find a companion term: ecosystem. The notion of ecosystems is important because, by definition, IIoT connects objects from different sources to accomplish a common purpose, whether it’s running a home more efficiently or making an entire supply line run more efficiently. Just as in nature, no one organism governs everything that happens in an ecosystem, even the world’s largest companies recognize the need for cooperative partnerships to make IIoT work, including software that can make many many devices interact intelligently.
Today’s software-to-device relationships are relatively simple: we send software OTA (over the air) or by direct connection to a device and update its operating system, adding functionality and fixing problems. Or, a device such as a sensor provides continuous information such as temperature, altitude, or speed to a central management system. In both these cases, the information is almost entirely one-way, simple, and involves very little intermediate decision-making. With IIoT, the environment will involve many more two way communications, with intermediate, automated decision-making that helps the “ecosystem” govern itself and adjust in real time.
Industrial Internet of Things
If it sounds complicated, it is. The challenges for IIoT management software will be significant; especially given the types of environments that it is expected to improve: health care management, manufacturing plants, energy supply systems, to name a few. The real-time management demands of these systems make IIoT both attractive and challenging at the same time.
With IIoT complexity doesn’t just come from the continuous flow of data that needs to be acted on and reacted to. Complexity also comes from the challenge of communication between the software and the physical devices. It needs to be extremely reliable, secure, and fast. And it needs to happen across the floors of large hospital, a multi-mile pipeline, or marine traffic and central management systems.
Boston, where the first functional version of the internet was designed and built for the government by BBN, is no stranger to complex technical networking or software problems. In fact, both the internet infrastructure and software development ecosystems here are deep, and both of these will help GE’s global ambitions. GE has already showed its confidence in the software innovation taking place in the region by buying NeuCo, a software data analytics start-up, for an undisclosed sum.
So, for those of you wondering when the industrial internet of things will actually get here, GE’s Boston move means the answer now is: much sooner.
Images are from the GE Digital website.