Digital solutions spanning different sectors of industry: interdisciplinary and international
On the surface, the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) would appear to be just one of many networks revolving around the industrial internet and Industry 4.0 (connected manufacturing). But actually it is different – in terms of its make-up, structure, and the many goals of a whole host of national initiatives. This is partly due to its specific take on digital transformation, but it is also because of the emphasis the IIC lays on working across different sectors of industry. Further, the different parties involved in the IIC are highly diverse. This makes the alliance complex, but it is an efficient network of working groups and task forces, which are not just heavily involved in theoretical aspects, but are also actively involved in business practice.
The IIC was founded in March 2014 by AT&T, Cisco, General Electric, IBM, and Intel. It now has around 270 members from over 30 countries. The rapid expansion in members underscores the need for a suitable collaboration platform in the field of industrial internet. It is also a testament to the success of this platform. The IIC is an open and member-supported program and its members include companies, research institutions, and public bodies. Its stated goal is to promote the accelerated growth of the industrial internet of things (IIoT). The IIC defines the industrial internet as the internet of things, machines, computers, and people. It draws on powerful data analysis in order to facilitate smart business processes that change the process of adding value (Haltmayer/Lasi 2016). To this end, the IIC develops practical application scenarios for connecting physical objects with the world of digital technology, using internet solutions to apply these scenarios to different industries based on multidisciplinary methods. The focus of the IIC is to facilitate cross-industry interoperability and interconnectivity, also taking into account multidisciplinary requirements such as security, trust, and reliability.
To achieve its goals, there are a variety of working groups. These meet four times a year on a rotating basis in the United States, the Far East, and Europe. The IIC currently has 19 working groups spanning six broad areas: Business Strategy and Solution Lifecycle, Liaison, Marketing, Security, Technology, and Testbeds. One objective of the working groups is to look at the theoretical aspects of structural conditions. The idea is to provide a framework with different approaches to solutions, particularly with respect to interoperability and interconnectivity. For example, this has resulted in the development of industrial internet reference architecture (IIRA) to provide a common language for elements used in industrial internet systems and how each element relates to others. This common language should help developers decide which elements they will require for their systems, and this helps accelerate implementation. The IIRA operates beyond the boundaries of individual industries and IoT systems, which makes it easier to spot gaps and support interoperability between different components.
One of the main areas of activity of the IIC is testbeds. These are where companies join forces to collaborate across all sectors of industry. The approach is based on pragmatic partnership in order to introduce valueadding scenarios (hotspots) in actual business environments and experiment in ways not previously possible. The main focus of these activities lies in introducing mini application scenarios. This still allows for the use of existing technology, and the approach toward interdisciplinary collaboration allows new products and services in the field of digital solutions and networks to be developed (Weber/Lasi 2017). Interdisciplinary collaboration based on partnership is becoming an increasing important issue with the advent of the industrial internet of things, especially given its increasing complexity. Allowing a number of companies to work together results in internet-based ecosystems revolving around digital transformation and networking. A key enabler for setting up these ecosystems is the internet of things. The goal of the IIC testbed activities is to work across industries to identify added-value scenarios and to use the testbeds to implement these on an experimental basis. The experience gained in the process can be applied to new ecosystems with a focus on adding value and using the internet.
As well as the working groups focusing on certain topics, there are also regional networks. These support collaboration between different members based on countries or regions. For example, the IIC offers a German Regional Team, which operates under the umbrella of Steinbeis. The task of the German Regional Team is to provide a network for German IIC members and offer small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) an early opportunity to play a role in developing the IIC. Aside from being able to interpret any lessons learned and gain access to the experience and expertise of the IIC, SMEs also have the chance to participate in actual implementation scenarios and testbeds. As a member of the Steinbeis Network, the German Regional Team is in a good position to benefit from the variety of expertise and methods offered by the consortium.
The IIC is also closely involved in various further national initiatives in the field of industrial internet/Industry 4.0. In 2016, the German chancellor announced a partnership between the Industry 4.0 Platform and the IIC at the international trade show in Hanover. Ever since, collaboration has intensified continuously. This has also involved working groups looking at the theoretical context (the compatibility of the two reference architectures, IIRA and RAMI 4.0) and issues relating to the practical aspects of using testbeds. The IIC and the Industry 4.0 Platform have also adopted the task of promoting collaboration between other industrial internet and Industry 4.0 initiatives. As part of the IIoT World Tour Event Series, the two partners are working with national IIoT organizations to coordinate local events in different parts of the world. The aim is to leverage synergies and raise awareness.
Dr. Marlene Gottwald is the Industrial Internet Project Coordinator at the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute/IIC German Regional Team. Patrick Weber is a scientific assistant at the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute and is responsible for research in the field of industrial internet/Industry 4.0. The Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute (FSTI) is a research institution for digital solutions and networking. The transfer projects conducted by the FSTI revolve around the increasingly overlapping areas of physical objects and embedded IT systems, in combination with comprehensive, internet-based networks, which are resulting in more and more change in industrial ecosystems and societal structures.