Interconnected Internet of Things icons over a city.
Image: metamorworks/Adobe Stock

As 2023 kicks off, the industrial transformation continues to accelerate with automation, artificial intelligence and edge-cloud platforms at the core. From production and supply chains to fleet and logistics, companies are leveraging technology to become data-driven.

On January 17, Samsara — a US-based industrial IoT cloud operations provider with over 15,000 core customers — brought together a group of experts for a virtual panel. The panel discussed 2023 IIoT predictions, C-suite executives’ priorities and tech investments. Experts agreed that AI and automation would be big disruptors, increasing safety, efficiency and sustainability.

At the event, TechRepublic had the opportunity to discuss connectivity with Jeffrey Hausman, chief product officer of Samsara, and Conor Riffle, senior vice president of smart cities at Rubicon. Also present at the event was Samsara’s Evan Welbourne, head of machine learning and computer vision, Samsara’s CIO Stephen Franchetti and Leif Eriksen, research vice president of future of operations at IDC.

SEE: Hiring Kit: IoT developer (TechRepublic Premium)

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The IIoT market and its challenges

Future Market Insights reports the IIoT market is expected to have a CAGR of 12.2% from 2021 to 2032, reaching $1.3 trillion by the end of the period. Aviation, transportation, oil and gas, energy and utilities, manufacturing, healthcare and other sectors are driving the growth and strengthening their automation, control and visibility.

The big players in the IoT cloud market include Microsoft Azure, IBM, Intel and AWS, but companies like Samsara — with Q3 earnings set at $723.7 million and a 47% year-over-year growth — are also looking to make an impact with a focus on solving challenges specific to the sector with data and smart analytics.

While industries have been employing data-driven techniques for more than 40 years, the way data is used today has changed.

“How do we use data to drive higher levels of performance that include efficiency, reliability, safety, and increasingly, sustainability?” Eriksen, moderating the panel, asked at the opening of the event.

“What’s changed is the ubiquity of the data, the ability to connect anytime, anywhere, the ability to create new insights from the data through various forms of AI and machine learning and other kinds of analytics, and the ability to share the data across our extended value chain,” Eriksen said.

Data-driven technologies have many business benefits, but they are also designed to solve a set of modern problems.

“Certainly, our customers face ongoing challenges, whether that’s supply chain disruption, operating efficiency, or thinking about the evolution and the electrification of fleets and sustainability,” Hausman said.

He explained that the industry has to treat these types of challenges as data problems and solve them by “taking control of operational data to build resilience.”

Hausman added that IIoT cloud features could have significant impacts, such as those that measure fuel efficiency, percentage and time of utilization as well as usage of assets, idle time for trucking fleets and logistics, and others. These tools can help companies unlock cost savings and identify opportunities to grow.

Hausman also highlighted the Samsara cloud feature that enables companies to evaluate their fleet and workload and informs and guides customers on how to switch to electric vehicles that meet the demands of their business.

CEO-CIO convergence: Evolving roles, tech and priorities

The CIO of Samsara spoke about the evolution of the role and how it relates to the CEO’s responsibilities.

“The worlds of information technology and operational technology have really been siloed, because they’ve solved very different sets of business problems,” Franchetti said. “But the continued digitization, especially in the physical operations world, makes most problems data problems to solve.”

Franchetti explained that when the two roles converge, companies can gain end-to-end visibility across their entire business operations. This new enhanced visibility presents many opportunities for businesses to improve.

“I can certainly see a world in which the CIO is really the primary role, taking on more of the leadership responsibility for running operations,” he added.

Driven by economic and political uncertainty, disruptions, increased regulations and environmental pressures, CIOs are also shifting their priorities as they move into 2023.

“We are seeing CIOs that are looking for ways to do more with less and also continuously, digitally transform their organizations,” Franchetti told the panel.

Efficiencies with rapid return on investments and the ability to free up funds and pivot to manage ESG standards are top priorities for IIoT vendors and companies that turn to digital transformation for solutions.

“The backdrop efficiencies driven by AI and automation are more impactful than ever,” Franchetti said. “As we look ahead to 2023, we will continue to see this fundamental shift from experimental to more pervasive deployments of AI across the business.”

Industrial machine learning and AI trends

Welbourne added that straightforward AI applications will continue to trend, but new disruptive machine learning models will also emerge. Welbourne spoke about the potential of applying AI to enhance the interface between customers and operations as well as AI’s role in safety.

Using AI, companies can identify safety incidents by scanning big data from thousands of sensors and live stream video cameras from facilities as well as their transportation networks.

Samsara’s AI safety features automatically add video stream safety incidents to a dataset. The video dataset is later used to train workers and drivers for insurance purposes and to run better incident investigation and resolution. Features like preventive maintenance allow companies to streamline processes while flagging root causes to prevent disruptions or accidents.

The head of ML at Samsara also said companies should keep an eye out for self-supervised learning — where AI is trained without using human-created labels and the model learns in the process.

“Using that base model, we can rapidly build new high-performance models for a broad variety of use cases, safety telematics, fuel savings and different cases,” Welbourne said. “I think that’s another key area we’ll see in the next year.”

Smart cities on the industrial digital transformation

Riffle talked about the RUBICONSmartCity solution, which helps cities and private waste haulers manage their waste and recycling operations. Riffle explained that cities are on the front lines, dealing with the challenges of climate change, environmental pressures and economic sustainability. Public work officials — declared essential — are also the first responders to natural disasters and crises.

Riffle added that technology companies can help cities transform their operations through data-driven approaches and, for example, support them to be more prepared for storms, disruptions or health events like the pandemic.

Working in partnership with Samsara, Rubicon has rolled out its Smart City solution, which manages heavy-duty fleets, to more than 80 cities across the U.S.

In San Antonio, Texas, the company is using AI to help detect recycling contamination, which is one of the biggest problems in the waste industry. This is because when recycled waste is compromised, the entire load is affected. The AI app can detect contaminants within the recycling bins, flag and warn operators, and produce content to train skilled workers and residents.

Connectivity: The backbone of IIoT

While IIoT devices, edge gateways and cloud platforms are the tip of the digital transformation sword, the backbone of every IIoT system is connectivity. Gaps in connectivity are the most technical obstacles, especially for industries like transportation that move and operate in rural and remote areas with no network coverage.

“We recognize that our customers, particularly some customers, are operating in very remote situations and harsh conditions,” Hausman said. “We have a variety of means to collect the data and help customers analyze it — whether it’s from devices that we build ourselves that have access to multiple communications networks or by integrating with third-party solutions.”

Hausman explained how Samsara uses technology that can perpetuate data if connectivity is lost.

“We are also monitoring on the backend and in our platform, and we’re able to identify any anomalies and respond very quickly,” he added.

Modern industrial IoT operations are designed to solve highly complex challenges, manage heavy machinery and deal with energy-intensive processes.

“Having that connected backbone through 4G and now moving into 5G is critically important for our operations and, I would say, for the IoT sector going forward,” Riffle stated.

Technology is helping companies tackle modern issues like supply chain disruptions, the rising costs of fuel and electricity, talent shortage and the need to bring down carbon footprints. Despite all the roadblocks, one thing remains clear: 2023 will be another big year for the industrial digital transformation. Industries that mature in the use of IIoT platform technologies will continue to lead.

Read more about IIoT with a look at its advantages, disadvantages and the top five use cases.

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