Industrial IoT Needs Visual App Builder Solutions: Part 1

This article is the first of a two-part series about visual app builder solutions, and their role as an accelerant to industrial IoT adoption. In the second part (now available here), we will cover the core requirements of visual IIoT app builder solutions.

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Introduction

Digital transformation is reshaping the strategy and tactics of many industrial companies. Fast and deep data, combined with advanced analytics, enable organizations to improve service levels, drive down operating costs, and re-imagine their core products and services. Further, industrial cloud platforms such as GE Digital's Predix and Siemens' MindSphere are emerging to form the bedrock of digital innovation. But important questions have surfaced about the completeness of current IIoT platforms, and what else is needed to deliver transformative value to the industrial enterprise.

For example, are analytics alone enough to drive strategic business outcomes? How will industrial innovators operationalize the critical new insights they acquire from their digital initiatives? How can the expertise of key employees be unlocked and amplified across the organization?

Our Take-aways

This blog post posits that visual application builder tools – such as Edge2Web Director – will quickly become a pillar of IIoT solution stacks:

  • Industrial companies need custom apps to support digital initiatives in the plant, in the field, and in the executive suite. Visual app builder tools compress the time needed to create high-value, custom applications.
  • Where analytics expose critical insights, visual app builders can quickly turn those insights into actions that drive strategic outcomes.
  • Industrial companies must transform the knowledge of their leaders into repeatable, scalable business processes. Visual tools empower key stakeholders to institutionalize their vital expertise.

IoT in the Industrial Enterprise

Figure 1 depicts a high-level technology footprint for organizations adopting industrial cloud platforms like Predix and MindSphere. Asset, event, and timeseries data are transmitted from the OT infrastructure to the cloud at defined intervals, and populated into digital models (aka digital twins). Historical timeseries data is analyzed to identify favorable operating ranges, improving the accuracy of realtime anomaly detection. Exploratory analytics execute advanced, long-running operations on massive datasets to identify nuanced patterns, trends, and causalities. Derived insights are folded back into the digital models, further enriching their stochastic and predictive value.

 

Figure 1 – IIoT Technology Footprint

 

Connected enterprise applications benefit directly from industrial cloud platforms by gaining fast access to data and analytics. Where traditional data integration is throttled by extract-transfer-load (ETL) batch cycles, industrial clouds deliver data to applications with little or no latency. This optimization alone can significantly improve operating efficiencies, with benefits flowing further to adjacent applications like Service Management and CRM.

However, all organizations have unique competencies and differentiators that are seldom implemented in off-the-shelf software packages. Thus, "organizational DNA" must be captured in custom applications that are built and maintained in-house. Even more challenging – these applications must support mobile and remote personnel, and they must scale elastically as end user adoption increases.

Visual App Builder Tools Accelerate Digital Innovation

Cloud-based visual app builder solutions are now reaching the market, and will add critical capabilities to the evolving IIoT technology stack. Although visual app builder tools vary in their design goals and architectures, they all share three core capabilities: Connectivity, Integration, and Visualization.

Connectivity

Industrial cloud platforms expose secure endpoints for accessing machine, process, and analytic data. Visual app builder solutions intensively consume data from those interfaces. But IIoT mash-up apps also need to communicate bi-directionally with many applications and datastores that run outside of the industrial cloud (e.g., SAP, Salesforce.com, OracleDB, Slack). Thus, visual app builder tools must also support interfaces to a broad universe of enterprise systems.

 

Integration

Visual app builders enable non-programmers to create a wide variety of data-driven applications such as dashboards, diagnostic guides, and digital operating instructions. Leading solutions provide built-in data mapping and transformation features that enrich and contextualize raw data. For example, plant managers can quickly gain a 360° view of their critical infrastructure by using apps that integrate analytics, current operating metrics, location data, and service record histories.

 

Visualization

All visual app builder solutions allow users to display data in a variety of useful renderings – line and area graphs, bar charts, data tables, bullet charts, gauges, sparklines, maps, and many others. Most tools provide asset browsers and drill-down features that allow end users to navigate in context across relevant dashboard pages. A few leading tools – including Edge2Web Director – enable integrated flow-based applications that drive highly intuitive user experiences.

 

Summary

Industrial IoT provides the technology foundation upon which enterprises will achieve transformative changes to products, services, and markets. Most industrial companies are still in the early stages of digital transformation. Although industrial cloud platforms like GE's Predix and Siemens' MindSphere deliver core capabilities for data acquisition, modeling, and analytics, user organizations also require advanced application functionality to drive strategic innovations. Visual app builder solutions – specialized for industrial data sources and use cases – will emerge as a pillar of the IIoT solution stack.