IoT market pulse: horse-trading, bread, thread and pinpointing the new normal

August 6 2020
by Christian Renaud, Katy Ring, Ian Hughes


The IoT market has begun to look forward to the future and prepare for life after the pandemic. In this report, we pull together quick observations from our IoT team to shine a light on what is happening in this part of the technology sector.

The 451 Take

Work is continuing within enterprises to get their infrastructure ready for the delivery of digital services, while vendors such as ARM and Synaptics are looking to bolster their capabilities and positioning in this area. The use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) as the GUI for IoT technology is often pointed out by 451 Research's IoT team, but less well understood, perhaps, is the role these technologies can play in helping smaller consultancies and SIs expand their global reach to successfully deliver IoT-centric digital transformation projects – an opportunity that Schneider Electric recently highlighted.

Meanwhile, Siemens and SAP have been spinning the digital thread into more resilient directions for the industrial sector, with the big self-styled 'dream team' partnership announcement between SAP and Siemens for closed-loop digital thread. Also, the newly formed Emergent Alliance intends to apply digital twin technology to help its members understand when society is establishing new behaviors as we emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown.

Horse-trading in IoT wireless and silicon

It has been an active few weeks in IoT 'plumbing.' ARM announced that it is spinning off its IoT Services Group businesses, which includes the Pelion platform unit as well as the Treasure Data enterprise data management offerings it acquired in 2018. The two businesses will land together or separately in new entities outside of the seller but controlled by ARM parent SoftBank Group. This is surprising given ARM's efforts to shape the silicon conversation in the IoT industry over the past four to five years. Platforms and data management are key components of IoT deployments, as are the multitude of wireless technologies in the segment.

Synaptics announced in early July that it had signed an agreement to purchase assets and manufacturing rights to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS/GNSS from Broadcom for $250m in cash. While this is a low-cost consolidation move on the buyer's part, it does raise questions about Broadcom's commitment to the IoT market beyond enabling silicon. 451 Research's Internet of Things survey results have consistently shown Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as two of the top four to five networking connections preferred by organizations deploying IoT, and GPS/GNSS provides a critical location component for all industries to track assets, vehicles or workers.

Augmented reality helping consultants deliver daily bread

At a recent Schneider Electric Innovation Talk, there was a session on the remote management of operations. The market is becoming increasingly familiar with the use of AR to assist in worker safety and training but – of course – the technology also has had a transformational impact on the way that consultants can continue to carry out their work during the COVID-19 crisis.

The case study that was presented concerned a large industrial bakery in the Netherlands, Schneider's EcoStruxure platform and a local SI. The challenge that the bakery faced was that it employs 100 staff and needs to maintain 24/7 production on a low-margin, short-shelf-life product: bread. Commercially, downtime must be kept to a minimum and yet complicated processes around cleaning or resolving malfunctioning processes were only understood by a small number of operators.

As the project kicked off under coronavirus restrictions, the CEO of the bakery took pictures of the factory and talked the operations through with the SI team so that it could visualize all of the processes. Deploying AR, the SI was able to undertake a factory acceptance test remotely of its service, which offers smart field support of all logged procedures to ensure that they meet regulatory compliance when undertaken by less-experienced operators, freeing more experienced managers from the management of repetitive processes.

Not only did this mean that the project was completed with the desired business outcome to reduce downtime at the bakery at a time during the pandemic when the continued availability of bread was critical, but it has also empowered the consultancy itself to be more confident about undertaking new projects that are global in nature. This is because the project proved the validity of AR for situations where the consultants are not geographically local.

Weaving a bigger digital thread powered by the industrial sector

Much of the initial industrial revolution revolved around the growth of textile factory automation. Now, much of the manufacturing and industrial segments are talking about a different type of thread, a digital one. We have previously discussed the lifecycle of a digital twin, detailing the concept of a digital thread and the subsequent benefits in areas such as simulation and generative design. This is now reaching a much grander scale. Digital twins can be created at any level of abstraction from a small part to a whole factory, all dependent on context and need. The idea is equally applicable to the entire end to-end-supply chain.

We recently saw the partnership between SAP and Siemens bringing business systems and production systems together for a total digital thread. In our previous IoT market pulse, we described PTC's digital thread bringing design models out to production through the passage of the data along a digital thread. Honeywell Process Solutions has also increasingly evolved the digital thread for complete digital commissioning, testing and running of industrial plants. Each of these approaches leverages the need for 'silo busting' in companies and at an intercompany level. COVID-19 has made the fragility of supply chains apparent and required agile responses in manufacturing to nimbly alter the product mix, such as moving to produce ventilators instead of car parts.

Having control and awareness in real time of an entire lifecycle as a digital expression of it can be equated with having a single machine instrumented to benefit from predictive maintenance. At an enterprise level, an overall view of all business and manufacturing operations combined as a digital twin on a journey along a digital thread offers complete insight and options to adjust for resilience. These examples indicate the ongoing need for digital transformation, where once you have a digitized system, its data works with other equally transformed systems and snowballs (or 'yarn balls') in effectiveness.

Emergent Alliance working to inform post-COVID-19 decision-making

The Emergent Alliance is a nonprofit community that was recently established to better inform the future economic decision-making of corporations, small businesses and nation states. Drawing on a diverse collaboration of corporations, individuals, nongovernmental organizations and governments, the Alliance plans to contribute expertise, data and resources to inform decision-making on regional and global economic challenges to aid societal recovery in a post-Covid-19 world.

Emergent Alliance founding members include IBM, Rolls Royce, Google Cloud and Microsoft. They are working to pipeline data from open data sources. Data-owning/controlling members make desensitized versions of their proprietary datasets publicly available to the Emergent Alliance community via the organization's home page. Data-owning/controlling members that have proprietary datasets that are too sensitive to share in public – even when desensitized – can collaborate with other members (by invitation) in a closed environment. In this way, datasets may be kept private but the results of analysis or models will be published openly by the Emergent Alliance.

The founding principle is that the Emergent Alliance will allow businesses and people to come together in a trusted environment to share their knowledge, data and skills, enabling societies to recover better and form a stronger position for the future. We recently spoke with one of the alliance's founders, Ali Nicholl, head of engagement at Iotics, who explained that the alliance is tackling a generic horizontal problem with the digital twins working group to understand when societies are reaching a new normal.

The digital twins are helping to pinpoint the morphic moment that determines when people are settling into a new pattern. This is to be achieved by tracking unrelated things such as, say, property prices, building occupancy and train usage to surface these events to data scientists in an additive, iterative way. Iotics' technology will play a key role in accomplishing this as its patented Event-Data platform enables data and insights to flow freely anywhere. The Emergent Alliance will put the ensuing insights into the hands of world leaders.