There’s a lot of talk lately suggesting the industrial IoT market is trailing expectations. Volkhard Bregulla, who leads HPE’s Global Industries Manufacturing and Distribution, isn’t buying it. For one thing, the term “Internet of Things” itself had a ballooning definition over the years. The technological community who helped popularize terms such as “IoT” and its industrial cousins IIoT, Industrie 4.0 and the like “came up with an idea and then created a whole ecosystem around it,” Bregulla explained in an interview at HPE Discover. “They created a big story around it. And sometimes it’s getting bigger than it was actually designed for.”
In the beginning, early IoT visionaries such as Kevin Ashton foresaw the use of connected sensors imbued with processing power. Such connected devices as Ashton wrote in 1999, would come to provide useful feedback about the world around us. The technology would free humans from inputting information into computers. That matters because we “are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world,” as Ashton wrote in 2009. In addition, IoT devices could be programmed to make decisions without human interaction.
Over the years, the definition of the term swell and, in Germany, the term “Industrie 4.0” popped up in 2011 to suggest that IoT would play a role in driving the next industrial revolution.
About two and a half years ago, HPE reflected on the research swirling around the terms such as IoT, IIoT, Industrie 4.0 and saw a plethora of theory. “We just said: ‘Hey, there are too many rumors. Let’s make this systematic,’” he said.
So the company began to identify use cases, study the technology adoption rate of specific industries and come up with a plan to identify industrial IoT projects that represent solutions to real problems rather than technologies looking for problems.
Another challenge is the lack of vendors who can offer end-to-end support for IoT projects. “There are all of these conferences where you have [vendors] saying: ‘I have a technology. Here’s the answer,’” Bregulla said. “Guess what? It’s not the answer. It’s one element of it. And then you have the classic integrator who says: ‘Okay, I’ll throw a ton of people at the problem.’”
Conversely, HPE prefers to work with customers on a more consultative basis. “The market is looking for people who are committed to start from the beginning, invest time and say, ‘I really understand where you are. Let’s look at the technology. Let’s be critical. And then we’ll get the transformation process,’” Bregulla said.
HPE’s process starts with ideation. That means jointly working with a customer to identify possible projects. “We say: OK, here are the 100 things we could do,” Bregulla said. That involves defining the scope of each of the project on the list, the potential business outcome and the payback period of each. “You need to build trust. If you have a CEO who has inherited facilities that have been built up over generations, who loves what he is doing, you can’t just come in and say: ‘Let’s just rip and replace everything,’” he added.
HPE’s process for sifting through the concepts developed in the ideation phase prioritizes transparency. “You need to be very open, explaining: ‘Does this technology really work. Is it proven? Are you the guinea pig or not?’” Bregulla said.
And when a customer can see that an industrial digitalization project delivers on its promises, the organization can move on to explore additional use cases.
For instance, when Texmark Chemicals enlisted the help of HPE to help them create a plan for a Refinery of the Future near Houston, Texas, HPE identified predictive analytics as a low-hanging-fruit type of application. HPE identified a pump that, if it breaks, causes the whole plant to go down.
HPE identified a plan for putting predictive analytics technology on the pump, establishing an on-prem data center to accept data from it while developing a housing for the pump technology that would prevent a new electronic device from causing an explosion. “There was a lot of invention we needed to do to create that use case,” Bregulla recalled. “We didn’t want to just do a POC for its own sake. We wanted to prove the value.”
Ultimately, when the project was complete, Texmark could see pump data on a screen within its own control center, giving workers there a higher-resolution understanding of a component that, when broken, could grind the entire facility to a halt. The company’s employees were trained to read that screen and draw conclusions out of it. “The CEO of the company can put that kind of information in the income statement balance sheet,” Bregulla said.
Achieving such an outcome wouldn’t have been possible without building trust from the beginning, Bregulla explained. “You sit down in the beginning and start thinking about the art of the possible,” he said. “A lot of the vendors skip this. They say: ‘Let’s throw [our solution] at the problem.’ But you need to work to elevate the client’s business from the beginning.”