IoT Think Tank Considers Disruptive Technologies

IoT Think Tank Considers Disruptive Technologies

Dell Intel IoT Think TankDuring Hannover Messe in April, Dell and Intel sponsored a Think Tank session. I had the privilege to moderate the session. They brought in several partner companies to discuss Internet of Things and Industry 4.0. The first report from the session was reported here, Dell IoT Think Tank At Hannover Sees Bright Future.

[Update: The video clips are now available on YouTube.]

First we discussed whether the Internet of Things is really a disruptive force for industry. And why.

Josef Brunner, Relayr—an MES supplier, said, “For our customers it’s all about competitive pressure. They tell us they need protect their core—services, margins. That’s why predictive maintenance is important. They are also finding new business models around the IoT.”

Ole Borgbjerg of Kepware, noted, “Suddenly there are millions of devices. How do we connect them? Also, the data will be unstructured. Our challenge is how do we provide value to the customers?”

Chet Hullum, Intel, suggested that we don’t have to peer to far into the future. “What can you do now with the technology we have?” But he voiced a question on the minds of many in the automation community, “Is IoT going to disrupt automation and controls?”

To which Tom Burke, president of the OPC Foundation, responded that IoT is scaring the PLC people. For example, he added, “Look at the example of the ExxonMobil request for quote, ‘If the DCS vendor won’t do it, we’ll go out to someone else and look there’.”

Oliver Niedung Microsoft, said, “We couldn’t innovate IT before in many companies. Maybe they were too small. But with the cloud, now they can innovate and find new business models.”

Finally, the representative from ERP supplier SAP, Timothy Kaufmann, brought up still another disruptive possibility, “Look at pay-per-use. Customers don’t want to buy a machine, they want to buy its output. For this they need IoT.”

How disruptive is IoT to industry technologies and practices? The consensus of the panel held that IoT is truly a disruptive technology. The suppliers are laying plans and developing technologies and products to exploit this for the benefit of their customers—and their own success.

Edge Analytics

26422056880_664daf606a_zThe IoT is going to enable a distributed control architecture. Placing lower-cost powerful computing and networking devices close to the edge suggests not only a new architecture but also interesting ideas for new uses.

Intel’s Hullum, suggested, “Ancillary equipment brings the IoT to fruition. We could cut network bandwidth. We don’t need the pump to report 2,000 times per second it’s on. We just need the anomaly. We can do that at the edge. But we will also need tools to find the experts and match to data we are collecting and analyzing at the edge.”

Niedung from Microsoft, countered, “Some customers want all the data just in case they need to analyze everything. Others just want the exceptions. So, we need to support both.”

Kaufmann from SAP taking the broad view noted, “Customers need to architect their system intentionally to allow for their needs and how they can/will collect data. We also must educate customers on what data they really need. It’s not big data, but smart data.”

Kepware’s Borgbjerg pointed out that the RTU people missed it. “We’re really talking about the old RTUs, but they didn’t keep up with the technologies and use cases. We need a platform, not just for communication but to make decisions.”

Data Utilization

Jürgen Kletti, from MES supplier MPDV, reported that customers need the data to make better decisions faster.

Relayr’s Brunner, found that customers have much data locked in machines. Therefore, they build a very simple retrofit kit to get the information out of it.

New Workforce

No discussion of the near future trend for industry is complete without considering what is going to happen with all the retirements that will occur over the next 5-10 years.

Hullum pointed out the problem with talent in the plants. “We need help with workforce. We need technology to help bring new people up to speed. Somehow we must input knowledge quickly to the new people entering without an industrial background.”

Nicola Tsirigotis from Knapp pointed to a common perception of the new generation. “We need younger engineers, but they don’t read documentation. They watch YouTube.” The point being how we reach and educate them. Are we ready?

Collaboration for IoT

Dell’s Helmuth Schmidt, moving the discussion to the famous IT/OT divide, “Why still are not more companies not doing something about that problem?”

Kepware’s Borgbjerg took the question an interesting direction, “What are we trying to sell? A total solution? But you can’t go to IT if you don’’t have support at lower level. We (suppliers) need to get all in the same room.”

We are now building IT protocols and ideas into OT networks, for example security. Now that the technology is beginning to resemble each other more, both IT and OT feel better about what’s happening. More problems have been due to lack of coordination of technologies than from organization.

Dr. Valentijn De Leeuw, ARC, summed up the collaboration discussion, “We need to bring people together. We need both strategy and structure. Then add some governance. We begin with what is available today that I can still connect and extend. Make it interoperable when I add more stuff so that it continues to work.”


This Think Tank idea was a new one for me. Dell’s hope was twofold—generate many ideas; foster collaboration among its partners (and Dell, of course). This brief summary of two hours of discussion exemplifies the breadth and depth of the discussion.

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