Digital Industrial World: The Industrial Internet and the Internet of ‘Really Big’ Things

Digital Industrial World: The Industrial Internet and the Internet of ‘Really Big’ Things

October 19, 2015 at 01:10pm

From the Iron Age to the Internet Age, people in the region have been using cutting-edge technologies to address their biggest challenges.

Three thousand years ago, people in Oman and the UAE designed, dug and maintained sophisticated above- and below-ground irrigation systems, called aflaj. These provided a solution to the challenge of securing large supplies of potable water for agriculture.

Today, regional companies, infrastructure operators and governments are turning to the Internet of ‘really big’ Things to address their urgent needs to operate more productively and efficiently in order to conserve vital resources and lower environmental impacts, improve performance and productivity, and serve customers better.

From power and water, healthcare, and oil and gas, to manufacturing and transportation, the Industrial Internet has the potential to make a big impact. GE estimates that in the region, Industrial Internet applications could generate as much as $800 million in additional GDP growth between now and 2030. Globally, the boost could be $15 trillion during that period.

According to Dr. Marco Annunziata, GE’s Chief Economist and Executive Director of Global Market Insight, there is a direct linkage between the Iron Age aflaj systems, and the Industrial Internet.

As Dr. Annunziata puts it, human interaction with machines and technologies has evolved through three phases. First, he says — as was the case with the aflaj — humans used machines and technology to reduce the physical burdens of agriculture. Rather than carry water from its source far from the fields, the aflaj systems allowed water to flow, sometimes along channels 10km long, to the villages and fields.

The second evolutionary stage was the use of machines to reduce the physical burdens associated with making things, i.e., with manufacturing.

Now, he says, we are entering the third stage of this evolution, where for the first time, we are looking to machines and technology to help reduce the burden of processing information and controlling tasks and procedures. Instead of physical burdens, he says, we are “taking advantage of the fact that machines can now perform a larger number of tasks with greater precision and at faster speeds.”At the heart of this third stage is big data, Internet connectivity, cloud services, sensors and powerful software analytics.

In popular media, we read about this primarily as the Internet of Things (IoT), a largely consumer- and connected-home-focused future where countless devices, including our smart phones, are connected through the cloud to simplify and improve our lives.

The importance of the Internet of Things globally and in this region is readily apparent, and not just because of the extensive media coverage it gets. For example, over the next three months, in Dubai alone, there are three major events that address the Internet of Things and the Industrial Internet of things. They include GITEX, the world’s third largest technology event, which will have an entire conference day devoted to Internet of Things; GE’s Minds+Machines event that focuses on the Industrial Internet of Things; and the Cisco-hosted and GE Software-sponsored Internet of Things World Forum.

No doubt, the Internet of Things is one of the hottest topics in technology; however, technology consultant Gartner says the Internet of Things won’t reach mainstream adoption and “broad market applicability and relevance” for five or 10 years.

Yet, within this broader, largely consumer-focused Internet of Things space, the Industrial Internet is already delivering meaningful economic results, with its focus on monitoring and controlling the operation of complex industrial machinery, equipment and systems.

By bringing together big data, powerful software, machines, machine intelligence, and human thinking, the Industrial Internet is enabling people to be more productive, “brilliant machines” to work better together, systems and infrastructure are optimizing operations and reducing unplanned downtimes, and intelligent environments are enhancing life and business in smart cities.

While today the Industrial Internet may not have the same name recognition as the Internet of Things, the economic value of the Industrial Internet — if it delivers productivity and efficiency gains at the level already realized by GE’s Industrial Internet solutions — could be worth more than twice the consumer Internet by 2025.

Just as people 3,000 years ago derived tremendous benefits from aflaj technologies, companies and governments today in the region, and globally, are beginning to reap the benefits of the Industrial Internet.

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