How To Handle a Successful IIoT Project: The Roadmap
Published on: Nov 9, 2021

[…] We started IIoT projects because we wanted to be actively responsive to disruptive innovation within the industry and always stay ahead of the competition…

Head of IT

This is what the head of an IT department said when talking about IIoT. And to be honest, with that mindset, he’s definitely ahead of the competition. 

With each passing day, IIoT becomes more of a necessity rather than a nice-to-have thing. 

Don’t you agree? 

If you don’t, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that it’s because you think IIoT is this big, difficult, expensive, production-delaying thing. AND not secure. 

Well, this blog post will shine some light on that. 

The purpose of IIoT

IIoT is infrastructure. Hence, it can’t be the purpose in and of itself. 

Building an IIoT infrastructure to enable a situation where everybody has access to everything at all times is a wise business move. But your focus should be on the business benefits of such an initiative.

We quickly get enthusiastic about technology, and we look at all the things that are possible. And technology is a great enabler, and it’s possible to create IIoT architectures that provide access to data as needed. But never lose sight of the overall purpose: the business purpose of the initiative. 

What is it you want to achieve? And be specific about it. Define one or two simple starting points for the initiative and focus on those. Not least when you go looking for finance for the IIoT Project: don’t promise the Moon in the first instance. 

One core feature of a well-designed IIoT architecture is that it’s scalable. Therefore, start small, learn along the way, and expand the solution.

I’m a fan of this simple yet insightful quote from John Gall: 

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.

John Gall

The questions

Before you embark on creating anything at all, it’s wise to list some questions or demands of your solution.

We can consider the following a checklist to get you started. 

THE FIRST QUESTION

This relates to the state of the existing systems your IIoT solution is supposed to support.

Consider essential aspects like protocols used, firewalls in your system, networks and access to data on the machine level. Basically, this first survey is all about answering one crucial question: how IIoT ready is your existing stuff? Does it work with IIoT standards like MQTT? Can it connect to the cloud? Can it handle large-scale data collection? What is your starting point in terms of technology and access to data? 

THE SECOND QUESTION

Does it support open standards like SQL, Python, MQTT, HTML5 and CSS? An absolute must-have when it comes to modern IIoT architecture. For all too long, we have experienced vendor-lock-in because systems were built on proprietary standards and solutions. That’s not acceptable. Any modern IIoT architecture must be on open standards allowing for scalability and flexibility in the future. 

THE THIRD QUESTION

Can it work with multiple operating systems? Does the solution work on any major operating system giving you future flexibility? If it works with only one vendor’s operating system, you’re locked into that specific vendor and rely on upgrades from that vendor. 

THE FOURTH QUESTION

Does the architecture support mobile devices and desktops? Mobile devices make more data available to more people, helping them to make better decisions. And that is the whole point of your IIoT project.

THE FIFTH QUESTION

Does the architecture support standard encryption protocols like SSL and TLS? Does it support federated identity providers and 2-factor authentication? And can it handle multiple users with different permissions? These are the minimum requirements for modern IIoT infrastructure. 

The solution

Following the profound insight from John Gall and his words above, the first step in a roadmap must be to build something simple. Maybe you think along the lines of: “I don’t need something simple; we have several sites and many machine cells that all need connecting.” Yes, I get that, and that is the vision for your IIoT project, but not the starting point. Therefore we need a roadmap that lays out the plan from start to finish on a high level. Don’t worry, you will have plenty of technical and practical problems in all the steps in the roadmap, so no reason to think this is way too easy. Connecting things is always, no exception, a problem. 

We believe the best IIoT architectures use MQTT Sparkplug for communication and the solution centres around the MQTT Broker. That is the overall premise of the IIoT architecture: Decouple devices from applications and instead connect them to a platform. 

The below figure shows the general principle of such thinking:

digital transformation

Things and solutions are no longer stacked on top of each other but connected to a more effortless data flow platform. 

The first step

The first step in the roadmap is to build everything on-premise. Fancy engineers will call this “our on-prem solution”, and what they mean is that you connect things locally.

You probably have several sites and at least many machines to get connected in the overall IIoT architecture. But we recommend you start small and see that you can flow data across the platform as planned. 

The below figure shows the principle of this first step.

industrial internet of things iiot

The second step

Congratulations! You got past step one in the roadmap and should have an MQTT Broker running in a local solution.

The next natural step is to move the Broker to the cloud. A cloud-based MQTT Broker allows for all kinds of solutions that will benefit your project: data storage and maybe machine learning for one. And if you have multiple sites, the cloud is the natural solution for connecting everything.

industrial internet of things iiot

This step is also where the rubber meets the road when it comes to cyber security.

Because we move the MQTT Broker to the cloud, secure connections are a necessity. The connection between the site and the Broker in the cloud runs via the internet using TLS.

This blog post will not address how to do this in detail but only state that the architecture uses standard IT cyber-secure solutions.

The final step

The final step in our roadmap is to add more sites. Because the overall architecture is both flexible and scalable, it doesn’t matter how many sites you want to connect. 

The below figure shows the principle of multiple sites connected to a cloud-based MQTT Broker.

industrial internet of things iiot

What you have now is a modern, flexible and scalable IIoT solution that supports your present and future business needs. 

IIoT is infrastructure. Your architecture can flow data across a more comprehensive network like the roads that allow cars and trucks to run and bring things around.

There are lots of details to address and things and points to consider. For one, you could ask “Which platform to use?” The roadmap introduced here is agnostic to which platform you use. It could be any of the many options available, as long as you consider the questions mentioned above and demands lined up. 

Enuda is a Premier Ignition integrator, and therefore, our go-to tool is Ignition for the task.

Final words

What is the best way to get started on my IIoT project? Start small, start simple and never forget that showing is better than telling.  

Get some data available to people. The purpose of your IIoT initiative is to make life easier for people – not get enthusiastic about technology.

Worried about security in an IIoT solution? Download our latest white paper to discover how Ignition takes care of that.
Share This