Interview: Frank Piller on people, smart factories and Industry 4.0

nalysis: Frank Piller on people, smart factories and Industry 4.0

Professor Frank Piller talks Internet of Business through the workshop he’s preparing for our Internet of Manufacturing event in Munich in February. 

Analysis: People, smart factories and Industry 4.0

Professor Frank Piller

At many manufacturing companies, the time for IoT pilots and experimentation is over. Technologies have been chosen, business models have been defined. The challenge now is people-focused. In other words, it’s time to help employees get productive in smart, connected factories.

That’s the view of Frank Piller, professor at RWTH Aachen University in Germany and co-founder of the Smart Customization Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Professor Piller will be chairing a workshop at the Internet of Manufacturing event in Munich on 6-8 February and he’s keen, he says, to get attendees thinking about these people issues. Even if their own organisations are still piloting and experimenting with IoT technologies, he adds, it’s never too early to think how the workforce will get the most from them, in terms of boosting efficiency and becoming more productive.

Read more: Analysis: Four smart factory trends to watch in 2018

People, process and technology

It’s worth bearing in mind, after all, that getting workers to accept and adopt new technologies can be the hardest aspect of any technology deployment.

“Absolutely!” Piller agrees. “That’s always true – and there are some really interesting new challenges emerging as we start to think about the role of people in smart factory of the future. Some people say that algorithms are better decision-makers than humans, so we should outsource decision-making to machines. Others say that humans can exercise better critical judgement and should therefore be cooperating with algorithms.”

And then there’s the issue of robots, he adds: many organisations will need to decide how to allocate tasks between humans and robots, based on whether they’re complex, repetitive, error-prone, dangerous and so on. In many cases, robots and humans will collaborate on tasks – and human workers will need to become accustomed to working side-by-side with robotic colleagues and perhaps even helping to programme them.

Read more: Analysis: A manufacturer’s guide to IoT monetization

Job for humans, jobs for machines

Piller’s research work takes him to many factories worldwide every year. But, he says, “in all the smart factories I’ve visited, I can tell you that there are always humans there – always! I’m not seeing 100% automated factories.”

“There are jobs for humans and jobs for machines,” he continues, “and it’s really important for manufacturing companies to carefully consider how they can best combine human expertise, experience and knowledge with automation.”

The aim of his workshop, he says, is to get attendees thinking about these issues, hearing how other companies are tackling them and leaving the event with the start of a plan for preparing and skilling staff for the Industry 4.0 era.

Our Internet of Manufacturing event is coming to Munich on 6-8 February 2018. Attendees will get the chance to learn more about how connected technologies open up new paths to increased productivity and profitability for industrial companies. 

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Internet of Business

Bridge between Startups and Local Government [Interview with San Francisco’s Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath]

In 2014, under the leadership of former Mayor Ed Lee, the San Francisco’s Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation created Startup in Residence, a program connecting startups and local government to make government more effective and responsive to residents. Startup in Residence (STIR) brings startups and local government together to develop targeted solutions to civic challenges through a novel approach to shortening the typically protracted and arduous government procurement cycles. This collaborative effort provides local government agencies access to more efficient and responsive technologies and participating startups the benefit of sharing their solutions in the govtech market.

In 2016, the STIR program expanded to four Bay Area cities: Oakland, San Francisco, San Leandro, and West Sacramento. And in only two years, STIR has worked with nearly 30 startups and recently announced their expansion to 12 local governments nationwide providing a larger platform for startups and continued impact on local government.

Recently, we had a chance to interview Jay Nath, Chief Innovation Officer of San Francisco, to talk about STIR and entrepreneurship in the U.S.  Jay described how STIR is mutually beneficial for startups and local government by providing startups with a low risk foray into the world of government technology and allowing government agencies to take advantage of new technologies quickly to accelerate better outcomes for residents.

STIR is helping government agencies catch up to the private sector’s customer-driven market focus. Startups are invited to apply to work with participating cities on specific technology needs. For the upcoming 2018 cohort, challenges include improving 311 request routing in San Francisco, an interactive park finder in Santa Monica, and a resident service and engagement tool in Washington, D.C.

During the 16-week program, government departments work with the startup to co-create, working through four phases: discovery, design, build and user testing. At the end of the 16-week residency, startups deliver a prototype. The goal is for cities to access new technologies that help them to improve quality of life for residents. From the startup’s perspective, working with these cities allows them to apply their innovative solutions to public sector challenges, setting them on a pathway to contract with cities nationwide.

Bringing startups into Govtech

Given San Francisco’s notoriety for entrepreneurship and all things innovation, there are countless startups and entrepreneurs from all over the world hoping to find the perfect platform to showcase their visions. It is this environment, Nath said, that allows STIR to attract early stage companies with big ideas to join the program, providing startups a unique opportunity to explore the govtech market, a market that currently, presents many barriers to entry.

STIR is an opportunity for startups to engage civically and set them on a path of steady and long-term business opportunities in the public sector. One such startup is Binti. Binti participated in STIR’s 2016 cohort partnering with San Francisco’s Human Services Agency (HSA).   During the residency they developed a mobile-friendly app for prospective foster parents, making it easier and more straightforward for them to complete HSA’s foster parent application process. The impact was significant; Binti’s tool reduces the time for social workers to process foster parent applications by 50%, ultimately helping them do more social work and less paperwork.

“Through our participation in the Startup in Residence program, we co-developed an impactful product, and the partnership with Binti really helped us advance our efforts to nurture a more modern, tech-friendly organizational culture,” said Barrett Johnson, a Program Director at the San Francisco Human Services Agency.

According to Felicia Curcuru, founder of Binti, after the collaboration with HSA, the company has expanded their business to other cities in California. LotaData is another success story.  The startup worked with the City of San Leandro to create the “People Intelligence” platform, an easy-to-use geo-dashboard that consolidates data from across the city into a single place. Startups like Binti and LotaData are helping to modernize government while exploring new markets for their services and products.

Calling all startups to board the government train!

The application for 2018 the Startup in Residence program is open through midnight on January 1st at midnight PST.  Jay said STIR welcomes applications from startups, tech firms, and individuals that are willing to share their ideas, make efforts to improve civic challenges and serve the public using technology. The 2018 STIR program has extended to 12 local governments in California, Texas, Florida, Colorado, Virginia, and Washington, DC. As for startups, this is a perfect chance for them to showcase their capabilities.

To learn more:

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The IBM QuickBYTES Interview: Datamato

Ahead of this week’s Watson IoT Continuous Engineering Summit 2017 (November 15-17 in New Orleans), we’re asking attendees for some thoughts about the event and the latest technology trends.


What are you most looking forward to at the CE Summit this year?

Networking. Grabbing an opportunity to mix and mingle with technology experts, IBM partners and other executives. Sharing views and discussing the latest technology trends, forming new relationships and getting technical know-how on the varied IBM products’ case studies that have been implemented. I also want to learn how IBM technologies can help people address new engineering complexities associated with connected products, IoT ecosystems and service-centric business models. And we’ll be exhibiting how our clients have benefited due to our state-of-the-art offerings of IBM continuous engineering in conjunction with UrbanCode deploy implementations for variant management and achieving proactive compliance with industry standards.

What advice would you give to future engineers?

Don’t stop thinking. Be innovative and curious, as an inquisitive spirit makes for a rewarding career. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable and don’t be afraid to fail. Never stop learning, continuously upgrade your skills and love what you are doing. Stay aligned with recent market trends, technologies and innovations.

How does CE help drive a connected, software-driven world?

CE begins at point where customer needs are expressed, i.e., at the requirements stage or sometimes even before they are translated to formal requirements. CE drives the user for being ‘continuous’ in an engineering context and translating requirements to working product features as frequently as possible without compromising on quality. It enables model-based engineering, and engineering analytics, and it is key to continuous quality in the digital world by implying continuous improvement and innovation, ensuring harmony in agility, engineering, and quality to create a beautiful melody.

What do you see as the biggest risks or challenges for CE or IoT?

The challenge I foresee is, will CE or IOT be able to catch up with the pace of technology innovation, growth in number and types of IOT devices? Bringing out a compatibility list and ensuring participation from a maximum components should be on high focus.

How is the world of continuous engineering changing and evolving with today’s technology?

Visibly, everything is now getting faster, right from demanding a solution, designing it, coding it, testing it, deploying it, controlling it, improving it and the cycle continues. It’s time now to think in parallel how to ensure that we don’t crash in this pursuit of faster and fastest!

What is the goal of your session at the CE Summit?

The goal is to get an overall idea of things that will change, in terms of the way the community accepts and embraces CE, and our preparation to gear up to it. 

What app can you not live without?

LinkedIn! It’s a great app to stay connected with my professional network, friends, tech influencers and employees. Scrolling LinkedIn feeds is my favorite pastime activity whenever I get free time in between my work schedule.

What is your favorite thing about New Orleans?

It’s a very lively city, a melting pot of culture, music and food. I have heard a lot about the live music there and am looking forward spending my weekend enjoying some great music.

The last time I checked my phone was:

While having this conversation with you :p.

For more information about the 2017 Watson IoT Continuous Engineering Summit, visit the event page.

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Internet of Things blog

[Interview] Nokia Managers on Choosing Your IoT Network

Jason Elliott, 5G market development manager

Samuele Machi, marketing manager, 4th industrial revolution


ReadWrite: When we talk about networking around IoT there’s a lot of smaller networking models e.g mesh networks and protocols. Everything from that to large networks talking about 5g deployments. So, there’s a lot of issues for large enterprises to plan around IoT. For you two, what are the biggest issues to consider for an executive that’s choosing the network for their own IoT deployment?

Jason: It depends on the business need.  You need to ask yourself questions such as:

  • Do you have an immediate business need such as a one plus year time frame?
  • Are you looking at a strategy type decision over the next five years?
  • Do you want to build expertise?
  • What’s your investment model?
  • When thinking about digital automation and connectivity and automating your enterprise your enterprise, do you want to control the entire set of infrastructure?
  • Are you actually building your staffing resources and infrastructure to control and manage the network yourself?
  • In terms of spectrum, are you going to build it yourself or are you going to partner with a wireless provider to do that?

These are critical, strategic business decisions that you need to address and then you decide upon the underlying technology that will help you realize the individual use cases.

There are existing technologies that can be used today that could meet certain business requirements at a limited scale, which can then be expanded and extended to include more mission critical functions when you deploy 5G.

You definitely want to apply the right piece of technology for that particular business case. And then there’s different types of investment cycles.  For example, obviously there’s a lot of mature technologies out there today that may be mid to lower cost that you could invest in.  This decision may yield shorter term operational savings that you are looking for.  However, for longer term needs such as providing new use cases that increase revenue it may be necessary to invest in a bigger and better technology such as 5G.

Samuele: There are major things that executives should take into consideration before planning connectivity for an IoT project and in fact, it isn’t easy. The first consideration is the type of use case you want to enable because they are all different and require different levels of reliability and different types of latency.  For example, say you want to connect your parcel which is traveling the world and you want to know where it is, this is different from connecting an autonomous vehicle in a factory or maybe in a harbour.  They are both IoT use cases but completely different.

The next consideration is what connectivity networks are available in your area? The key questions to ask yourself are: Do you have a public IoT cellular network available (eg. NB-IoT or LTE-M), or will/can you purchase/lease spectrum so that you can build a licensed LTE private network, or do you have to use some unlicensed /shared spectrum LTE based technology (e.g. Multefire and CBRS)?

The final consideration is about the existing ecosystem. If you want to use a very new technology which has not been associated with that many devices yet, you have to have a plan. Maybe you need to galvanize your local ecosystem into action to speed up things. You have to be aware of how long it might take for you to get the pieces that you need to build your use case.

I would say these are the three key steps to think about (use case, connectivity and ecosystem), but of course, there are many sub items And details associated with them.


ReadWrite: I think we’ve dovetailed into number 2. Can you elaborate on the types of use cases that you see and how those networking use cases might start out?

Jason: We’ve been talking a lot about the industry 4.0 because that’s where we see the potential for a lot of transformation. If you look at it, there’s different types of industries such as: manufacturing, construction, power generation, and distribution. . Let’s look at a new possible business model for the ‘process’ industry like chemical manufacturing. Instead of taking raw materials and just creating a final product that is sold, they could provide tighter integration into their customers operations. Allowing them to make tailored products or offer analysis services.  The ability for a business to interact with partners and customers at different parts of the value chain is important. Building flexibility into the infrastructure allows you to be able to do that. It is critical.

Today proprietary systems are in place because a business has one specific part in the value chain. However, what should be done is take a big step back and ask yourself, ‘OK how could I sell my product or my services that I create at any part of that value chain. What do I need to do with my infrastructure to be able to enable that and become a much more flexible and agile business?”  Once these are addressed, then the conversation changes to things like building a flexible network architecture, using fundamental technologies like NFV and SDN, being able to automate all those processes using advanced analytics (AI) and ensuring security. Looking at the problem from a business perspective is the first step and then identifying the right set of technology tools comes next.

Samuele: You also need to take into account whether you are going to ask your network operator for a dedicated piece of their public network, or will you build your own network. Think of when you do speed tests.  Your “score” does not really depend on you, does it? Basically, if your business model is that you want to use the mobile network so that you can easily deploy whatever use case or device whenever you feel like, you have two choices.  You can either make the wireless network a part of your IT infrastructure so you have full control over it (e.g., you go and place your access points and you provision the devices, and so on) or you can ask a communication service provider to do it all for you.

You need to start playing in IoT today and gain some experience with the technologies that are available now (eg LTE based technologies + edge computing) in order to be ready to capture the full potential of the 4th industrial revolution that will be powered by 5G.


ReadWrite: We talked about edge computing. We know that around IoT everything seems to be covering at the edge and it’s not just connectivity or compute capacity but also energy as well. When you think about an IoT network, you think of them meeting all these utilities. I use the example of an autonomous vehicle because it happens to be there largest, sexiest appliance in an IoT network that everyone likes to talk about, but it’s also one of the biggest consumers of all of those three things, those utilities if you deploy a network. 

How do you see energy and compute capacity factoring into a connectivity network of choice for an executive? 

Samuele: Regarding mobile edge computing, we see more and more IoT data being processed at the edge and this is estimated to reach around 40% of all data within the next couple of years.


ReadWrite: Do you know what the percentage is now?

Samuel: I do not have the latest figures but it is negligible.  Also, a number of cloud providers are now rolling out solutions working at the edge clouds.  It’s a big growth area and the EDGE concept may mean something different depending upon who is talking about it. Nevertheless, we all agree it means we want to essentially minimize the distance from where the data is generated to where it is collected and processed. There are a few reasons why we do that:

  1. It’s related to the speed of light. Even if the speed of light is very fast, there are some applications where milliseconds delay, say a control system, might not be feasible. If you imagine something like a system control in a factory, you need a millisecond or less to make sure everything runs smoothly.
  2. When you think of the amount of data that is created, for example, an airplane creates a lot of data during each of its trips. It’s not very meaningful as most of that data is raw data.  The significant data may only be an outlier taking place, such as a warning, and that is the part you have to pay attention to. Edge computing provides the capability for the data to be analysed locally and only a small amount is actually transferred.  In the end, there is cost reduction in the transmission bill.
  3. Another aspect is related to the privacy of the data. Edge computing makes sure that data that is created locally stays local. There are many cases where regulators make data stay in the country where it was generated.  Also, certain companies may feel more comfortable when they know the data stays in the company and never goes out.

For us, the edge is a data center because you need a lot of processing power available.  Not every IoT application needs this. Edge computing makes sense when one or more of the above 3 requirements exists. You hear a lot about Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) that are designed to minimize energy consumption of smart objects so that you won’t need to change billions of batteries every year.

Not all IoT use cases aim at minimizing energy consumption. This might be a priority for a gas meter but not crucial at all for a remotely controlled vehicle.

Jason: Back to the flexibility point of view, because with Multi-access Edge Compute (MEC) not only are you processing the data closer to the access network, it’s accessible and controlled by the enterprise, so deploying an application on a MEC server becomes simpler and faster.  Flexibility and local control is very powerful in the case of IoT when dealing with the type and quantity of data that gets collected and the applications that get hosted rather than having to go back to a centralized cloud that might be 3rd or hybrid owned.

Samuele:  By the way, edge computing is the key component of what we call Future X network.  Once we get to 5G, cCore edge cloud it’s a natural evolution of Nokia Edge Computing.


ReadWrite: Networks require constant upgrading to keep up and that requires investment from whoever your partners are going to be or new participants to come in and disrupt the services or technology but those all have time frames as well. Will today’s IT technology look dramatically different in 5-10 years?

Jason: From my perspective, we’ve had cellular IoT out for a while.  What you’re seeing now is some wireless providers turning off their 2G networks and it is taking a long time to get there. Previously, networks were designed for different specific purposes. So, if you think about 2G, it was designed for voice, 3G for web and data, and 4G for video. When you make an investment in IOT, you’re making an investment for a number of years. Particularly when you’re deploying large number of devices and they’re embedded in the ground. In those individual use cases, you will use the existing technologies that you have today and they will serve their particular use case within their lifecycle.

In terms of 5G, we see the fundamental design criteria differently from before. We are going from just a few bits per second to gigabits per second. We see 5G as more of a unifying technology in the longer term. So you might deploy IoT using today’s technology and once that’s served its lifecycle you can swap those devices out using 5G.  By the time we get to a certain point, we might see maturity in a 5G environment where you would have that capability and you start to transition those devices piece by piece and that’s just purely from the radio access side.

Instead of having a separate networking technology environment, the goal would be to have this underlying access technology that could cope with all of them. Once we get to a critical mass to scale from a cost and overage perspective that’s when it becomes very powerful.  However, critical mass acceleration and adoption won’t happen overnight.  It takes a while.


ReadWrite: What should you expect from your provider and what are the main concerns they should address as a partner?

Samuele: A few things to think about are:

  • Spectrum coverage
  • The types of interference you might encounter in your IoT deployment
  • What capacity is the operator providing
  • What level of security is guaranteed

These are the key parts I would want to ensure with an agreement with a connectivity provider.

Check coverage: check if the service is everywhere for everything you want to connect to. For example, can you get every corner of your factory connected? Is there some kind of connectivity hole? You might need to go and check with the right tools on the field. Interference or poor connectivity will jeopardize your IoT applications. Also, you want to check if the bandwidth you need is available at any time you need them.  If you don’t have a (semi or fully) private network, it means that anyone could be using the some of the uplink capacity you need.

Then, finally, security is extremely important, connectivity as well as every endpoint needs to be secured. You want to avoid data manipulation or loss.

Jason: I’d add the management of the device as well. Can you do diagnostics on it, firmware upgrade, getting information out of it. How that device is managed and how you extra that data from it is also very key.

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The IBM QuickBYTE interview: LORD Corporation

Ahead of next week’s Watson IoT Continuous Engineering Summit 2017 (November 15-17 in New Orleans), we’re asking attendees for some thoughts about the event and the latest technology trends.

What are you most looking forward to at the CE Summit this year?

This will be my first time at an IBM Continuous Engineering Summit. I am looking forward to meeting other users of the tool suite and gaining valuable insight on better tool use and how others are using the Jazz Suite of tools.

What do you see as the biggest trends in IoT technology today?

Driving more with less. The business environment is always pushing the envelope to be faster, better and efficient. IoT is looking to solve this problem with better tools integration and provide team collaboration.   

What advice would you give to future engineers?

Communication is the key to success. The better you communicate with your peers and management, the better position you will be in to succeed. Soft skills are underrated in school and yet so critical in the work force.

How does CE help drive a connected, software-driven world?

It is all about reflection and response. Addressing issues discovered during the engineering process and having a plan to recover from unforeseen issues that arise is the key to success. CE can provide the means to better react to the changes that will occur.

What do you see as the biggest risks or challenges for CE or IoT?

Driving better decisions requires better information. We live in an environment of information overload, the ability to get to the pertinent information to make informed decisions has always been a challenge, only made worse by the information overload that we live in.

What is the goal of your session at the CE Summit?

To provide a glimpse into our real world experience with the implementation of usage of DOORS Next Generation in our highly process-driven, safety-oriented industry.

What app can you not live without?

Any web browser.

What is your favorite thing about New Orleans?

I don’t know; it’s my first time here.

The last time I checked my phone was:

Ten minutes ago.


For more information about the 2017 Watson IoT Continuous Engineering Summit, visit the event page.

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