Bsquare finds IIoT gaining pace, notes machine-learning ‘overblown’

Software provide Bsquare has published its IIoT Maturity Survey, and its findings read like good news for all those with skin in the Industrial IoT (IIoT) game – with businesses looking to boost their investments. The company’s Senior Director of Products, Dave McCarthy talked us through the results, as the company hopes to push its DataV software offerings on an industry hungry for uptime improvements.

The findings of the survey were collated from decision-makers and influencers in three main areas – Manufacturing, Oil and Gas, and Transportation. Bsquare says that they show that the IIoT has progressed beyond hype to widespread use, with 86% adopting an IIoT solution, and 84% saying that their solution was very or extremely effective – with Transport averaging 96% on that answer.

The other headline figures are that fewer than 2% of respondents are not considering an IIoT implementation within the next year, and that there’s “ample opportunity for growth,” as only 54% of devices deployed by the adopter organizations are IoT. Some 73% are planning on increasing their IIoT investment in the next year, with both transportation and manufacturing reporting higher investment than oil and gas.

When asked about those plans for the next 12-months, 35% said they would focus on automating those single-step actions, and 29% planned on increasing real-time monitoring functions – which struck McCarthy as odd, as the industry seems to think that everyone is currently doing so. As for automation, the greatest opportunity for improvement here lies with the Oil and Gas sector, according to McCarthy.

McCarthy said Bsquare had intentionally pursued respondents involved in the OT (Operational Technology) side of things, as many surveys skew towards IT. The survey apparently chronicles the opinions of 300 senior-level staffers, in companies of over $250m revenue.

While 86% currently have an IIoT solution in place, 42% have had one in place for longer than a year. Some 45% installed within the last year, but 91% of adopters say the new system is very or somewhat important for their company. Cloud-based systems are preferred, with 77% of installs using a cloud system, and the other 23% going with an on-premises option. Some 12% say they plan to implement an IIoT solution this year.

One of the more interesting findings in the survey is the maturity of each sector’s systems. Overall, 78% of respondents had managed a simple device connectivity and data forwarding system – the least mature level, according to Bsquare. Real-time dashboards, monitoring, and constant data streams were used by 56% of the respondents, and advanced analytics (including machine-learning) were used by 48%.

However, the most mature level, automated simple single-step actions (like service-ticket requests) were only used by 28% of respondents – and this is the area with the highest ROI opportunity, according to Bsquare. McCarthy thinks that this gap, between the 48% who had advanced analytics and the 28% that had managed to use their findings to automate business processes in response, is partly due to people thinking that gaining an insight is the end of the story – whereas he says it is rather the beginning of the hard part, of putting it to use.

A major challenge in this analytics-based automation is simply finding ways to carry out the number-crunching more quickly – in days rather than months. McCarthy explained that over time, it became obvious that it was the data and not the device that was most important, and so, four years ago, Bsquare focused on moving away from custom software to a more product-based approach that could be used with all manner of devices and systems. That move led to the launch of DataV, in Q3 2016, to provide ingest, rules, and workflows, as well as an analytics suite.

The newer element of Bsquare’s story, according to McCarthy, is that there are hundreds too many IoT platforms, and while there is some necessary consolidation due in the industry, there is a new type of customer emerging – one that wants out-of-the-box applications, rather than a DIY platform on which they could build anything.

Bsquare is focusing on the three aforementioned segments because of their greater focus on OT, rather than traditional IT. We asked if this could be fairly described as a pivot for Bsquare, and McCarthy said it was more of an extension of the platform, as adoption wasn’t coming quick enough. The new approach is apparently accelerating adoption.

In this vein, a code-free visualization and application building system was designed, with Bsquare leaving the door open for custom applications where needed. According to McCarthy, machine-learning is a bit overblown as a standalone thing, and needs to be used in combination with other components – it is not a silver bullet. McCarthy noted that it can provide the “Aha!” moment that a deployment needs, but is currently just a means of being more efficient.

Another notable finding was that adopters cared much more about eliminating unplanned downtime (91%), and not so much operating costs (24%) – indicating that the unplanned outages are much more costly than manageable day-to-day expenditure. They are willing to spend money to fix uptime problems, according to McCarthy, and are particularly drawn to fleet management offerings that let them monitor fleets of devices.

Touching on some of the more negative experiences presented in the survey’s findings, McCarthy noted that some of the dismay came from a mismatch between the customer and their approaches, with most underestimating the volume of data and the noise in the data that they are ingesting from their newly connected devices. Automation is very important to tackling this problem, says McCarthy, but customers end up frustrated that they have to add another step to the process.

As for the PaaS market in general, which McCarthy thinks is set to consolidate substantially, he said that it will continue to grow – as OEMs that are afraid of missing out on adding analytics services to their products jump on board, and sign PaaS partnership deals. However, McCarthy says the flip-side is that everyone will end up with a partial system, potentially tied to a platform, and incomplete.

He also warns that as the market grows, it will be harder for small PaaS providers to carve out their own slice, as the larger companies move in, even if they often take longer to deliver on promises. Bsquare’s CEO apparently says that the key to success is out-innovating the steamroller, staying ahead of the giants, but when we asked what the likes of AWS or Microsoft thought of Bsquare, McCarthy said they viewed them as good partners, not direct rivals.

McCarthy also mentioned GE and its Predix PaaS, noting that many industrial customers don’t want the likes of GE managing their data – in case it comes back to bite them in an equipment or infrastructure deal. In contrast, he pointed to OSIsoft as a great example of the success a neutral third-party could have – a company that has carved out a nice slice of the Oil and Gas market, providing historian data software that isn’t tied to hardware, and an alternative to the likes of GE, Siemens, or Bosch.