Companies around the world are increasingly interested in using remote monitoring, predictive maintenance, equipment-as-a-service, and other new Industrial IoT (IIoT) applications to digitally transform their business. This has led to the development of a growing market for IoT application enablement platforms (AEPs). AEPs help companies develop, deploy, and manage IIoT applications using their existing business and web application development skills.
These AEPs have succeeded in simplifying many parts of the front-end IIoT application development process. However, customers still sometimes struggle to manage the complexity involved in building out the back-end IIoT infrastructure needed, to securely extract data from industrial equipment and seamlessly orchestrate its integration into cloud-based AEPs. This is leading many AEP companies to take a closer look at adding edge computing capabilities into their products.
One such company that’s taken a closer look is Losant, an AEP company based in Cincinnati that won two Innovation Awards at this year’s IoT Evolution Expo. Losant’s AEP includes its Edge Compute Agent, which enables its customers to deploy logic to edge devices, allowing them to process and pre-filter equipment data before it is sent to the cloud.
These edge computing capabilities, along with Losant’s recent integration of its AEP with Octave – Sierra Wireless’ all-in-one solution for connecting industrial assets – helps customers quickly, easily, and securely extract and orchestrate data from industrial equipment.
We recently sat down with Patrick Hughes, Senior Strategic Partner Manager at Losant, to discuss their AEP, how Octave complements this platform’s existing edge capabilities, and how the integration of Octave with Losant’s AEP provides customers with a simple, secure, comprehensive solution for IIoT application development and management.
The Losant Enterprise IoT platform was built from the ground up to be a full-fledged, true AEP, able to address any company’s IIoT application development needs. Basically, companies use our platform to make their equipment smarter by connecting it to the cloud.
Our platform is currently being used by a variety of different industrial customers to build and manage IIoT applications. In particular, we are seeing a lot of demand for the platform from OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) who want to build remote monitoring, multi-tenant, and field-based service IIoT applications.
Before I joined Losant, I was actually one of their customers. I worked at a telecommunications company and used Losant’s AEP to connect to and leverage data from our company’s assets. I was so impressed by the platform that I joined the company.
One thing that is driving demand for IIoT applications is OEMs wanting to transition from a reactive approach to service, to a proactive approach to service. They don’t want to find themselves getting a phone call from a customer telling them their equipment is not working and they need to come out and fix it right away, because otherwise they can’t get any work done.
In addition to the costs associated with dispatching a technician to the customers site to fix their equipment on short notice, these OEMs’ customers are unhappy because their operations are stalled while they wait for this equipment to be fixed.
This is why the lion’s share of demand we are seeing from the industrial side is for remote based services. Whether they are making generators, HVAC systems, or industrial robots, these companies want knowledge-based IIoT applications they can use to remotely monitor their equipment to see if it is trending in a direction that indicates it might break down in the future. With this knowledge they can then work to proactively fix it – either with an adjustment to the equipment done remotely with the IIoT application, by contacting the customer, or by sending a technician to the site as part of their normal maintenance activities. Using these remote monitoring applications, OEMs can both reduce their maintenance costs and improve their equipment’s uptime. These applications also enable them to start offering customers new revenue-generating remote monitoring and predictive maintenance services, helping them transform their repair and maintenance operations from a cost center into a profit center.
In addition, these IIoT applications change the relationship between the OEM and their customers. Rather than seeing them as just another vendor, customers begin to look at the OEM as a partner invested in their ongoing success. So, rather than turning to another OEM when they need a new piece of equipment, they first turn to their current OEM to see if they have a smart, connected piece of equipment that will do the job. As a result, these applications make OEMs’ customers more loyal and “sticky.”
Another area where we are seeing a lot of demand is for IIoT applications that make buildings, campuses, and other facilities smarter by connecting various assets in these facilities to the cloud. For example, by monitoring the energy used by an office building’s assets, a customer can reduce energy costs while improving the building’s sustainability. They can also track the utilization of assets ranging from conference rooms to cafeterias to bicycle corrals, allowing them to reduce spending on assets that are not being fully utilized and increase spending on assets that are.
Or the facility can improve the experiences of its customers, visitors, or guests. For example, an airport can make sure their bathrooms are kept clean, or provide travelers with real-time updates on when they can expect the next indoor terminal train to arrive. In all these cases, the facilities’ owners and operators are using IIoT applications to collect data on their assets, that they then use to enhance the value of their facilities.
It is tough to predict the future, but given the COVID-19 pandemic, I predict we will see more customer interest in contact tracing and similar IIoT applications that allow companies to track who their workers have been in contact with, and for how long when they are working on-site.
I think COVID-19 is also going to lead to more interest in remote monitoring and predictive maintenance applications, as companies try to ensure they can monitor processes and maintain equipment from afar. In the age of COVID-19, being able to avoid having to send someone to a site to fix a problem is a big deal.
Finally, I think we will see an uptick in smart city applications, like smart street lighting, parking, trash collection, and pollution monitoring applications. In many ways, the smart facility IoT applications we are working on today were jump started by smart city applications, and I think the pendulum might be turning back on that trend – with cities using the innovation that has happened in the smart facility IoT application market to deploy new or enhanced smart city applications, helping them lower costs while improving their residents quality of life.
It is complexity, and has always been complexity. Until recently at least, IIoT applications were not inherently easy to implement. There are many reasons for this:
Losant designed its AEP to directly address these and other IIoT implementation challenges. That is why we have drag and drop tools within our work-flow engine that allow our customers to quickly create or change an application’s rules or logic, and why we have built in triggers they can modify to alert them if certain equipment conditions are met. We also enable customers to import their own algorithms into the platform, and integrate these algorithms into their workflow. These components provide our customers with the flexibility they need to ensure their IIoT application meets their specific needs, without having to become IIoT experts themselves – they can just use their existing web and business application development skills.
To further help our customers accelerate the development and deployment of their IIoT applications, over the past year we introduced remote monitoring and other application templates that can be tailored for different use cases and industries. With these templates, our customers get a head start on their application development, allowing them to bring it to market really quickly.
It is an 80/20 approach – the templates provide our customer with application architecture guidance, implementation best practices, and a starting point for their application, getting them as far as 80 percent of the way to the final application functionality they need. So, rather than working from a blank canvas, our customers start off with remote monitoring, smart building, or another template that just needs a little work on their part to address their specific needs.
In the same way that it does for new types of IIoT applications, our platform makes it easy for our customers to complete the 20 percent of work they need to customize the application template for their use case or industry. After all, while we understand the IoT, our customers are the ones who are experts when it comes to air compressors, robotics, and other industrial equipment. So, whether they are building a new IIoT application from scratch, or using one of our templates, we want to empower them to take this domain expertise and incorporate it into their IIoT application.
Another challenge many of our customers experience is taking the data produced by their IIoT application and putting it into a format that they can use to generate actionable insights. So, we made it simple for them to use our platform to output this data to dashboards that visualize this data. These visualizations help them more easily identify trends and patterns in their IIoT application data, allowing them to uncover insights they can use to improve their business outcomes.
We also considered the IIoT application lifecycle and recognized that our customers are going to want to update their applications during the proof of concept phase, right after launch, and over time. It is hard to plan for everything up-front, and in most cases when a customer first deploys an IIoT application, they find they need to make adjustments if it is to work like they intended. Then, over time, as they gather more data from the equipment, they realize they can do other things with the application and want to expand its functionality.
With our drag-and-drop and other IIoT application development tools, templates, and customizable dashboards, customers can start off small with an IIoT application, get executive buy-in, customer feedback, and equipment data, and then enhance the application over time.
Two key ways in which our platform and Octave help our customers expand their use of the IoT is by making it easy for them to acquire data from all the different types of equipment used in their industry, and then integrate this equipment data into our IoT platform.
For example, Octave comes with a variety of APIs that, in combination with our platform’s edge computing capabilities, make it easy for our customers to connect IoT gateways to the operational technology (OT) systems used by their generators, air compressors, HVAC systems, and other types of industrial equipment. This allows them to simplify the extraction of data from their equipment’s sensors and microprocessors, as well as the transmission of this equipment data to the cloud.
In addition, Octave’s built-in cloud APIs allow our customers to seamlessly integrate all these different types of equipment data into our cloud-based IoT platform. For example, we recently used Octave to integrate data from a generator into our platform in only half a day, which is much faster than this process would take normally.
Octave works in concert with our platform’s data orchestration capabilities, which allow our customers to process, filter, and prioritize equipment at the edge. This is really helpful when it comes to getting the right data into our IoT platform at the right time.
Rather than streaming raw data from a piece of equipment, you can create rules at the edge to pre-process that data. For example, you tell the edge device to only send these five different types of data, at these specific times, or only send this data if it exceeds a certain threshold. This reduces the amount of data you transmit with the edge device, extending the life of its battery while also reducing your data transmission costs. At the same time, it helps you avoid having to try to manage in the cloud the tsunami of data generated by hundreds or thousands of pieces of equipment. When it comes to data, you don’t want the coal, you just want the diamonds. Our platform and Octave make it pretty easy for our customers to just collect data diamonds from their industrial equipment.
In addition, our customers are always concerned about the security of their data, but implementing a robust IIoT security strategy from edge devices to the cloud is complicated. We have simplified these security challenges for our customers by using end-to-end encryption and by securing SOC 2 certification for our platform. We also only work with partners who are as dedicated to security as we are.
Sierra Wireless is one of these partners. Octave automates edge firmware updates and security key rotation. These and its other security features make us confident that, when our customers use Octave with our platform, they will be able to protect their data from malicious actors.
In combination with our platform, Octave also helps our customers update their IIoT applications over time. Want to add a new type of industrial equipment to the application? Octave has the API you need to connect an IoT gateway to the equipment in a jiffy. Want to update the rules you have put in place at the edge device to process data before it is transmitted? You can use our platform and Octave to push that new configuration to the edge device. The great thing about Octave is that it’s adaptable, just like our AEP.
We are looking forward to using Octave for a large variety of IIoT applications. We think that it will accelerate time to market for IIoT applications — especially applications that involve connecting our platform to generators, transformers, boilers and other big pieces of industrial equipment. It will definitely make the process a lot quicker than if our customers tried to build the IIoT infrastructure needed to collect this equipment data on their own.
I do. A lot of mid-tier OEMs see the benefits of the IIoT, but with minimal resources and limited IIoT expertise, they can’t justify the risk of investing in an IIoT project that will take months and might not pan out. But if they have an AEP and an IIoT infrastructure solution that simplifies things for them from end to end – from connecting their equipment to an IoT gateway to visualizing the insights generated by their equipment data – the time and risk associated with these IIoT application development projects goes way down.
Being able to cut development time for an IIoT application from months to weeks might not seem like that big a deal – but for mid-tier OEMS and similar companies, it makes all the difference on whether to green light an IoT project or not.
One of the key trends I see is companies realizing that they should get back to the basics and start small when it comes to the IIoT. I am not saying that artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other technologies that allow you to do more with your equipment data don’t hold a lot of promise. But especially when first starting out, I see companies beginning to understand that they need to walk before they run.
Increasingly, companies are starting off with a pretty basic remote monitoring or similar application with a very clear ROI, and then enhancing the application from there. They gain institutional knowledge from the IIoT application development process and from the equipment data they gather, so that when they do begin using AI, ML and other technologies to analyze this data, they are able to create real value for themselves and their customers.
Start with Sierra to learn more about how Octave enables AEP companies like Losant to simplify the development and de-risk the deployment of IIoT applications for their customers, freeing these customers to focus more on using their equipment data to unlock value in today’s connected world.
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