The Industrial Internet of Things: Redefining Reality

Contributing authors: Daniel Benton, Ben Salama, Michael Marsh

While it has long been widely accepted that digital technology will be a key driver of economic growth in coming years, it has been less easy to appreciate where and how that growth will be achieved. That is why it is encouraging to see business leaders and many governments turning their attention to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). This growing network of increasingly intelligent connected devices, machines, and physical objects could be the biggest driver of productivity and growth in the next decade. It could add $531 billion to the UK economy by 2030, lifting GDP in that year by 1.8 percent.

The opportunities for economic growth are a product of the IIoT’s potential to revolutionise industries, such as manufacturing, oil and gas, agriculture and healthcare, which make up almost two-thirds of the world economy. As businesses weave digital technology into their operations, they will transition from simply selling services and products, to delivering measurable results determined by the consumer. This is known as the ‘outcome economy’ and will require organisations to optimise the collection of better and more data in order to calculate costs, manage risks, and keep abreast of all factors which could influence the delivery of the promised outcome. These outcomes will increasingly depend on once independent sectors working together. In Europe, farm equipment makers are working with chemicals companies and satellite service providers to offer data-based services to improve crop yields.

On the ground, businesses will feel the effect of the Industrial Internet of Things significantly in their workforces. Through augmenting and redefining labour, organisations will have to cope with both new employment opportunities and changes to the skill-sets required for existing positions. Tasks will take on more sophistication as collecting and managing different sets of data become an integral part of a job. Roles within data science, software development, hardware engineering, testing, and operations, for example, will require greater analytics abilities to maximise output from digital technology. Over time, the Industrial Internet will transform workforces into a blended unit where humans and machines no longer compete for efficiency, but instead, unite to deliver outcomes that neither could produce alone.

Society, businesses and education institutions all have their part to play in this story and will need to champion a new approach to working effectively with intelligent machines. All stakeholders must recognise the benefits of human talent and intelligent technology working in tandem, embracing both as crucial members of the reimagined workforce. To facilitate this, platforms for continuous learning could be used to ensure employees are constantly developing the most advanced skills to maximise the synergy with their machine counterparts.

The fundamental technical requirements for widespread adoption of the Industrial Internet of Things have been provided for through the circulation of tens of billions of devices on which the technology depends. Despite this, the economic gains are by no means guaranteed and most companies are making limited progress. Accenture’s research reveals that 71 percent of companies have yet to make any concrete progress with the Industrial Internet of Things. Just seven percent have developed a comprehensive strategy with investments to match.

The Industrial Internet of Things will bring new growth opportunities to governments, companies and countries who invest in the necessary infrastructure now. As people and machines become increasingly connected, the IIoT will unleash new energy into the world of industrial products and services.

However, feeling the effects of the Industrial Internet of Things will require a cultural shift where companies are able to see the value of digital technology outside of making efficiency gains. Specifically, they should be exploring the value of data to create integrated workforces, new markets and revenue streams. Success will depend upon effecting a fundamental change in business conduct, with organisations embarking on closer collaboration with competitors and key players within other industries.

Article by Daniel Benton, managing director, IT Strategy, Accenture Strategy, and Ben Salama, managing director, Mobility, Accenture Digital.

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