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A Smarter, Safer Workplace Needs An Industrial Internet Of People

Edge connectivity within the industrial sector isn't new. Typically referred to as the industrial internet of things, or IIoT, connected, industrial "things" are projected to increase from 17.7 billion in 2020 to 36.8 billion in 2025. How machines and devices “talk” and interact in the industrial sector has evolved from programmable logic controllers and other fixed-line systems into the today's easily deployable wireless sensors, instruments, and other devices that enable copious processing, capacity and connectivity.

Yet there is an enormous gap in this "smart" industry. There’s a lack of consideration for humanity.

The way things and people interact is fundamentally different. People care about privacy —things don’t. People can choose what they like—things can't. Human behavior is changeable, while things remain fairly constant. Industrial opreations requires connectivity that accounts for both people and machines.

It’s time to acknowledge and adopt the concept of the industrial internet of people (IIoP).

People Vs. Machines

Connectivity has been embedded in consumer life for years. Google and the social media platforms know our preferences better than our own family members. But consumer-level connectivity hasn’t been available to frontline workers (until recently), and challenges abound in industrial environments—from spotty network coverage to form factors that allow situational awareness and ease of work by role or task.

Growing ESG pressure, combined with worker expectations, are changing this. Folks entering the workforce today grew up on screens with incredible UX. They’ve always had the power of the internet at their fingertips. So unsurprisingly, 51% of Gen Z, according to Deloitte, ranked technology as the top industry in which to work. Do we expect them to take a step backward technologically to enter the industrial workforce? Deloitte data also shows that manufacturers are finding it 36% more difficult to find talent today than in 2018, even in times of higher unemployment. The labor crisis we’re already facing could worsen.

This is why we need to expand beyond IIoT into IIoP capabilities. To do so, we need to better account for:

1. Data: The data people generate is multi-format, multi-structured and sometimes unstructured entirely, stemming from a combination of sensors, manual inputs and audio/visual capture, etc. Most machines, on the other hand, create structured data based on reliable, repeatable protocols and programs.

2. Behavior: We expect technology to behave in a certain way based on how it's designed. People are independent thinkers. Let’s say there’s an alert about dangerous noise levels, notifying workers to put on hearing protection. Most people will cover their ears, but some might ignore the alert. Human responses are infinite and so therefore are outcomes. Managing compliance against all potential outcomes requires systems than can adapt to best meet worker needs.

3. Connectivity: People can choose to go in and out of connectivity. Machines and people could lose connectivity due to service issues, but only people might intentionally shut off connectivity during a break. This means life- and production-critical information, alerts and decision-making must be as close to the user as possible. Edge computing capabilities are more important in IIoP compared to IIoT applications, where compute responsibility has been driven to the cloud for flexibility and cost savings, with the exception of sensitive data.

4. Privacy: Machines don’t care if we know where they are or how they’re performing, but people do care. To feel comfortable with devices that capture information like location and activity, for example, leaders need not only compliant solutions but to also educate their workforce on exactly how they’re being monitored, why and how they can benefit from such solutions. According to ISACA research, the main privacy failures that enterprises experience include not building privacy by design in applications or services (63%), lack of training (59%) and bad or nonexistent detection of personal information (47%).

If organizations fail to account for these differences, safety, recruitment and productivity could worsen. With IIoP, that's avoidable.

The Path Forward Takes Courage

The frontline worker checklist seems straightforward: Do you have the right person in the right place at the right time with the right tools, support and documentation to do the job well? Are they safe? Currently, disparate systems cannot readily or accurately confirm this information across a site or workforce. An IIoP perspective can address this exact challenge, creating a well-protected, connected, empowered workforce.

The size of this market is immense. With over 2 billion deskless workers out there today—beyond the industrial workforce, including remote healthcare, delivery workers, etc.—the IIoP equates to 2.32 billion CPUs and .58 ZB of storage, sending nearly 1 ZB of data across the network per year, based on our own company data by worker, by shift. In comparison, the connected vehicles market is expected to generate .51 ZB of data by 2030 based on data from Foley and Tuxera.

We can leverage this opportunity while learning from mistakes made in IoT. Many of us have purchased several smart systems for our homes, such as security systems or music devices, that don’t talk to each other. New platforms—only just now seeing traction—provide a single interface across devices, making using smart systems easier and more enjoyable.

That said, change is hard. Research shows that telematics dongles in cars have reduced accidents by 20% and lowered insurance rates, but getting people comfortable took time. Adopting IIoP practices will take courage. The industrial sector needs leaders willing to uncover new risks as they gain a more holistic picture of operations. It will be a journey of discovery, and surprises may be waiting, but first-movers have the distinct advantage of setting the standards for others.

So, where to begin? Firms investing IIoT, digital twins and data infrastructure need to add the considerations of workers into these efforts now. Start with a worker need you can address right away. Take existing sensors or PPE and add or expand connectivity or deploy a wearable to protect against a specific high-risk activity. IIoP, like IIoT, isn't rip-and-replace. It’s about listening to and learning from the people on the ground to understand how IIoP can empower them to build a safer, more sustainable business.

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Simple. Powerful. Cybersecurity.

IPG’s GearBoxTM is the first cybersecurity tool designed to secure and protect the Internet of Things (IoT).