The industrial internet gets its own standards organization, drenched in puffery

What can a connected GE jet engine tell you?

The giants of the industrial internet and the federal government have banded together to form a standards organization to help make connecting sensors, building networks and sharing data just a bit easier. And when I say giants, I mean giants: Founding members GE, Intel, IBM, AT&T and Cisco have created the Industrial Internet Consortium under the Object Management Group.

That’s right, the IIC is under OMG. The effort looks like a commercial version of what Qualcomm and consumer brands are attempting with the All Seen Alliance under the Linux Foundation. However, I’m sure All Seen will not be thrilled about the prospect of playing a limited role as the consumer standard for the internet of things, giving up the industrial side to this new group.

This may look like a big deal, but most of these companies are already working together. AT&T, GE, Cisco and Intel announced a partnership last fall, and IBM has been pushing its MQTT standard since April. The most interesting element of this creation isn’t that it exists, but that it may provide us a view to see Cisco’s smart cities efforts come head to head with IBM’s Smarter Planet initiatives. Or whether GE’s investment in Pivotal wins out on the data warehouse and analytics side or Intel’s new championing of the Cloudera Hadoop distribution finds its way into the standards.

Like most standards groups, the goal here is to build interoperability into the gear and software that enterprises will use to collect, store and analyze data coming from their connected devices (and power grids and roads and cars, Oh my!). Membership is open to all, and the initial focus will be around developing scenarios, reference architectures, and business processes for the industrial internet.

Yet, given the sheer amount of grandstanding in the press release about the epic change that the industrial internet will cause, I’m going to wait for the IIC to actually do something. In general, the amount of good a standards organization will do can be measured as the inverse of the puffery in the release. I’ll also note that the release introduces a new word into the lexicon: cyberphysical.

This appears to be the result of the government’s involvement (the release has a quote from Penny Pritzker, the Secretary of Commerce) and the release touts that the government is investing “over $100 million/year in R&D related to “cyberphysical” systems, and has been partnering with the private sector on a series of testbeds in areas such as healthcare, transportation, smart cities, and increasing the security of the electric grid.”

Here are some things taken from the IIC web site and release just to give you a flavor of this new utopian future that awaits after we deploy the magic of the industrial internet to create a new “cyberphysical” reality:

  • “Predictive policing through video analytics that can pinpoint likely crimes before they happen, and to deploy emergency response resources on demand” — from the public policy scenario web page.
  • Create transportation systems that can sense and respond to changes in real time — from the transportation scenario section of the web site.
  • “We are at the precipice of a major technological shift at the intersection of the cyber and physical worlds, one with broad implications that will lead to substantial benefits, not just for any one organization, but for humanity,” said Janos Sztipanovits, E. Bronson Ingram Distinguished Professor of Engineering and Director of the Institute for Software Integrated Systems (ISIS), Vanderbilt University.
  • “Ninety-nine percent of everything is still unconnected…,” said Guido Jouret, vice president of Internet of Things Business Group for Cisco.

To be clear, I too believe that adding real-time information and connectivity in more places will change businesses. I’m not sure it will generate the “new jobs” that Pritzker references in her quote, or if those jobs will be ones that people will consider good. I do however think that most enterprises will end up deploying a custom and deeply integrated set of hardware, software and services to truly change their businesses for a connected world, so this idea of a standards organization that will make that significantly easier rings a bit false.

But maybe the masters of marketing at each of these companies felt like the “cyberphysical” industrial internet of everything needed a bit of a public relations nudge. It’s going to save the world y’all.

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