In 2012 General Electric (GE) came up with a new term to describe the ground-breaking practice of adding networked software and sensors to machinery, and the Industrial Internet was born. Focusing on manufacturing, maintenance and data collection, the Industrial Internet is the next phase of the digital revolution for many business sectors.

Where the Internet of Things (IoT) will eventually draw together personal and professional software users (many of them human), the devices connected through the Industrial Internet will work with machines. The Industrial Internet will incorporate a number of next-wave IT aspects to collect and analyse data from machines to improve operations. These aspects include machine-to-machine communications, big data, the Internet of Things and machine learning.

The Space Age in 2015

Perhaps the most eye-catching machine of the moment is the Google driverless car, which is being hotly pursued by Renault-Nissan and criticised by Chrysler. Using remote sensing to measure distances with a laser and machine-vision to analyse a route and its obstacles, the vehicle’s steering, brakes and throttle are all operated without the participation of a human driver. So far, so useful to the average consumer. But what about businesses?

GE’s vision is to use the data mined by sensors to improve and maintain the performance of their products, such as trains, MRI machines and jet engines, repairing and upgrading them before they break down. The company has installed more than 10,000 sensors across 16,700 square metres at one of their factories, all connected to a high-speed Ethernet. By incorporating a similar data strategy into its own equipment and manufacturing processes, the theory is that any business will eventually be able to benefit from the Industrial Internet – provided it keeps up with the technology when it becomes more widely available.

Big Data’s place in the Industrial Internet

Big Data, the collection of very large data sets, will also contribute to this leap in quality control and marketing. By linking information and identifying trends and patterns, Big Data will draw correlations in customer data. This in turn will lead to new ways of selling products and services to new markets. While most of the data collected in manufacturing is currently kept internal, in the future products will be tracked to their destinations and tabs on their performance will be sent back by sensors. When your company’s printer runs out of toner, you may be the last to know. A new cartridge will probably be ordered automatically, and Hewlett-Packard informed of a repeated jam in Tray 3 in case it turns out to be common model malfunction. Meanwhile your printing should continue (almost) uninterrupted.

It’s also thought that when big data allows a business to identify large problems or deal with a majority customer profile, its employees will be able to turn their attention to the smaller, less typical and more interesting exceptions. Will this lead to more employee autonomy and a rise in talent? It’s not a bad hypothesis.

Get connected ahead of the trend

With the resulting centralisation of manufacturing and the localisation of service provision that the Industrial Internet will allow, businesses will need to start looking into changing the way their hierarchies operate and creating new job roles. It’s a lot to take in, but making networked devices a part of the integral structure is a strong first step. Could there be room somewhere down the line for a digital robot designer or a specialist in engineering analytics in your office? It may not happen tomorrow but sooner or later your business will be on board – or wish it was – so it’s best to look into the huge development possibilities now.