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Why System Integration is the Biggest Challenge in Industrial IoT Today

Posted by Ian Uriarte

April 11, 2020

According to recent research [1], Internet of things (IoT) devices grew some 70 percent over the last two years to a total of 6.4 billion; over the next three years, that number is projected to reach 20.8 billion.

For many industries, the rise of the IoT has been a game-changer, ushering in an era of communication and data analytics not previously possible. Despite the benefits, however, there are certainly challenges to the continued growth of the IoT; in particular, system integration is quickly establishing itself as the biggest challenge.

System Integration: Why It’s a Challenge

When the Internet was originally envisioned, and in the early days of its growth, attached devices were relatively simple and alike in design. By and large, any device connected to the Internet was a computer running one of only a few standard operating systems and having similar network stacks that operated on common protocols.

With the rise of smartphones and mobile computing, the diversity of connected devices began to widen considerably. More significantly, the advent of operating systems that can be loaded on smaller and smaller devices opened the way for an almost infinite variety of devices to be connected to the Internet — paving the way for the IoT.

Now, everything from cars to televisions, refrigerators to water heaters, watches to wine racks are connected to the Internet — and these are just commonplace items in individuals’ homes. Move to the industrial sector and the IoT encompasses scanners, monitors, diagnostic sensors, and a myriad of other devices performing functions we rarely take the time to think about. It’s little wonder that integrating these various devices is quickly becoming one of the biggest challenges facing technology companies.

Solutions

While integration will continue to be an evolving issue for companies and organizations to tackle, there are some basic steps every organization should take to reduce the challenges associated with systems integration.

  • Taking time to plan ahead is one of the most important steps — yet one that often falls by the wayside. In today’s fast-moving corporate environments, it’s not uncommon for projects and applications to evolve with features being added as needed until integration issues become an almost foregone conclusion. Taking the time to plan ahead can go a long way to ensuring that devices and services can not only communicate now but also down the road.
  • Using accepted standards is one of the easiest ways to mitigate integration challenges. While standards may not be the silver bullet that solves all problems, they help ensure everyone is playing by the same rules and using the same means to communicate.
  • Employing a middleware solution can go a long way toward helping with integration. Middleware acts as a layer between two applications or devices, accepting data from one and translating it to a format the next application understands. Some middleware layers, such as a Messaging Queue system as MQ Rabbit, AWS SQS or IBM’s MQ, use a messaging protocol for one-way data sharing.
  • Insist on secure communication. As devices and services evolve, sometimes at a breakneck speed, it’s easy to put security off as something to be addressed down the road. In reality, down the road may be too late. Even if a major security event doesn’t occur, a company may find themselves heavily invested in a project only to realize they have to spend more time and money going back and securing communications that would have been far more cost-effective to secure along the way.

As the Industrial IoT continues to grow and evolve, there’s no doubt that integration will continue to be one of its biggest challenges. The sheer number of devices, let alone the variation in types of devices and services, will push developers to find new ways to ensure the IoT continues to grow and thrive. In the meantime, whatever methods are used, the above guidelines will continue to be the best practices for IoT systems integration.