A new view on the Internet of Things with Pete Karns

Worldwide Industry Leader, Manufacturing, IBM

Recently IBM Vice President, Offerings, Internet of Things Pete Karns was interviewed by Manufacturing Worldwide Industry Leader Mary Bunzel to discover how the Internet of Things is affecting the industrial sector, as well as other industries. Read on to learn how to speed up IoT adoption in your business.

Hi, Pete. Thanks for joining us today to answer some questions about IBM’s viewpoint on Internet of Things.

My pleasure, Mary.

As consumers, we experience benefits of the Internet of Things in a variety of ways, from home thermostats to garage door openers. What sort of buzz are you hearing regarding industrial use of Internet of Things capabilities?

There’s no shortage of hype, and usually where there’s hype, there’s some reality. Here’s an example. I love my Fitbit! And the device itself is important, but what really makes the magic happen is the data. My Fitbit is giving me insights, and it’s changing my habits. It measures my daily activity and politely asks me to do more. That’s wonderful—and benefits me personally.

But the magic for me is around the interconnection with other devices. My Fitbit is linked to my son’s account, and my son and I often challenge each other, particularly when I’m traveling—it’s a good way to stay connected. Now, we’re talking about cloud, patterns and usage of data, from which many other innovations are possible. So if you take that same approach (data, cloud, engagement) and apply it to any industrial use, the benefits are there both for businesses in terms of efficiency, risk, output and liability, but also in that business’s ability to connect with its customers—B2B or B2C—in a very different way, enabled by the data that’s coming from all these things.

So where is the industrial sector looking to apply this first? Where is the most enthusiasm and excitement today?

What organizations are investing in now is building on existing instrumentation, adding interconnectedness between devices and between equipment. That interconnectedness enriches the data streams by adding additional contact points, and that’s where you hit this new level of intelligence and automation.

A good example would be an exhaust fan in a paint shop in the automotive industry. Historically, a time-based or a condition-based approach has been used to maintain that exhaust fan. Service every month or based on things like vibrations, inlet and outlet pressure and so on. They’d be running nominal maintenance schedules but would still experience some downtime.

What IoT brings to the table now is data from the machine itself. Now extend that data from many machines across several plants and assets. Run it through new forms of analytics with models to simulate the engineering characteristics and performance of that fan and to predict potential failures. Now you’re predicting and eliminating unplanned downtime to a very high degree. And that gets you a step further than where many in the industry are today. Where we see the next jump in innovation right now is infusing more data to make the outcomes even richer or to provide more confidence in the outcomes.

Back to the paint shop example, we know that weather—things like humidity and temperature, pressure, etc.—have a big impact on the performance of the exhaust fan. IBM partnered with The Weather Company to incorporate weather data into the predictive models—that’s a real IoT scenario where the life cycle of the fans are extended and, more importantly, quality of end product is enhanced, eliminating rework and enhancing customer satisfaction.

We’re also starting to see the world move to machines that communicate with each other. So the exhaust fan starts to have an issue, or maybe it’s losing its effectiveness. It may cause downstream damage to the fan motor or shaft it’s connected to. It can directly communicate with other systems in that painting process and slow the line down, so quality remains high even though the equipment’s performance has been degraded.

Integration with environment and production plans are crucial not just for automotive, but for almost every industry, especially pharmaceutical and food processing, as we see every day in the news. So now let’s talk about getting into the game. What are the barriers to entry? Why aren’t more businesses moving faster?

I see a few barriers often. One is a lack of innovation. Businesses that would benefit the most are often in industries where cycle times between changes have traditionally been longer. And people are often more focused on what they do versus why they do it.

An analogy is the ice business back in the late 1800s. So you’re a Wisconsin gal, and I’m a New England guy, and you know the ice industry in the late 1800s was often a horse pulling plows through the ice in the middle of winter to harvest ice, then going down to the big cities to sell it.

And they were very focused on their process, and they completely missed the “why” of the industry they were in, which is: Our job is to provide ice, and maybe there’s a better way. And a better way came along, called ice factories, and they put all the originals out of business. The ice factory folks became so good with their technology. It was the better mouse trap—until they completely missed the boat on the development of personal in-home refrigerators and went out of business as well! So probably the greatest barrier is not looking ahead in terms of how you’re going to serve your customers down the road, why the market you serve is changing and how you’re going to participate in that change. Portions of the market will be left behind.

A second barrier is a do-it-yourself approach. I can’t tell you the number of clients I’ve met with who have some level of experimentation they’ve done internally, which represents wonderful initiative. But for IoT, custom projects inevitably run into a problem of scale. They can’t handle the number of devices or the amount of data or security. They can’t lock it down. Better is to start with a more open platform enabling the same level of experimentation, but providing scale and security clients are looking for.

A third barrier would be focusing on the wrong thing. There’s a tremendous amount of focus on connectivity, and that’s important—it’s the foundation. You’ve got to get data from these devices and communicate back to them. But the end game is not “It’s going to be X billion devices and I want to connect to them.” The end game is “What analytics-driven insights am I looking for to drive my business, to innovate, to develop a new service offering, to disrupt my industry and my supply chain? What insights do I need to effectively do that? And from those insights, what data do I need from what devices?” Where I see some clients beginning to separate from their peers, it’s those who are very focused on the insights they desire, and they’re working back from there.

I’ll add one more thing: Security is a very real and evolving challenge. IoT security may be the biggest factor governing the adoption of IoT and its scale. In that regard, I believe we know how to manage security, and I believe as an industry we’re going to continually adjust and improve.

One more question: What’s the one thing companies could do now to pick up steam in adopting Internet of Things technology?

Let me give you two—one business and one technical. From a business perspective, the one thing everybody should be doing in all lines of business—I don’t care if you’re a plant manager or VP of parts, whatever—ask yourself: How are you going to disrupt your industry, and how can your industry disrupt you? You have to know the answer to that question. Fast.

For the technical folks, I would say to look beyond tomorrow. You’ve started, you’re connecting devices, you’re looking at data. Now go farther. Technologies are going to emerge. You’re going to want to take advantage of them two to three years from now. The world is open, the world is composable. Maintain your flexibility as you go towards the future.

Thank you, Pete!

Explore more insights on these issues in the recent expert panel webcast "What does IoT to industrial manufacturing?". Panelists include George Williams, from Bristol-Myers Squibb, who shares interesting viewpoints on the impact of weather and environments, and Brian Baird from North Star Blue Scope Steel has provides insight into humans as sensors, integrating environmental sense back into work management and open safety governance. Terry O’Hanlon from ReliabilityWeb, additionally, brings his overarching view about how connecting this Internet of Things for industry relates to asset reliability and uptime. Pete Karns, as featured in the interview above, is also a panelist in this insightful webcast.

For deeper insights, check out the CrowdChat on what IoT means to Industrial Manufacturing on July 23, 2015 at 3:00 p.m. ET.