The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): A Complete Guide

While many decision makers and managers are still catching up to the Internet of Things (IoT) and associated terminology, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in particular has started getting a lot of attention.

Sometimes referred to as the ‘industrial internet’ or ‘industry 4.0’, experts predict that the IIoT will be an important part of a global fourth industrial revolution.

As a distinct subcategory of IoT, the industrial internet is growing fast, and businesses will find both opportunities and challenges as they modernize their manufacturing and control mechanisms with this technology.

What is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)?

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is the improvement of industrial and manufacturing processes through the use of IoT sensors and devices, big data technology, and modernized control systems.

Ultimately, IIoT traces its origins all the way back to the first programmable logic controller (PLC), invented at General Motors in 1968 by Dick Morley. PLCs were simply computers adapted to factory conditions, designed to dependably control or automate manufacturing processes with a high degree of durability.

Lowering hardware costs and advances in networking technology led to Distributed Control Systems (DCSs) then integrated Process Automation Systems (PASs). These increasingly reliable, interconnected, and decentralized manufacturing control technologies directly anticipate and fold into the IIoT.

Now sensors and devices are cheaper to deploy, and networking technology far more advanced. This means that smart instruments and connected devices are available at a larger scale and for more use cases than ever before. IIoT is having all of these machines speak efficiently to each other while reporting back to management and control processes. 

Finally, networking and connectivity innovation has also meant that IIoT can fold in big data and analytics. Technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence contribute to the transformation of sensor data into valuable insight. 

The IIoT vs. the IoT

The IIoT is a subcategory of the Internet of Things (IoT), but involves many of the same relevant concepts. First and foremost, both concern the automation, process optimization, and economies of scale which come from deploying highly networked objects, sensors, and devices with greater levels of autonomy.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

Internet of Things (IoT)


Industrial applications (e.g. agriculture, energy, defense, and manufacturing)

IIoT + all other applications (consumer products, scientific sensors, and more)

Typical Application

Improve critical infrastructure

Consumer convenience

Reliability and Latency

Quality assurance is essential, sensors must be precise and accurate, devices durable and always-on. Lowest latency.

Relaxed requirements overall, though low latency generally preferred as well.


Must be compatible with legacy control systems, operations technologies, and ERP systems

Can be completely ad-hoc software, or use common standards and protocols


Systems must be highly adaptable and reconfigurable

Software shaped by use case, often not reprogrammable by end-user

Top 5 benefits of IIoT

Predictions of future worldwide value generated by IIoT have climbed quickly, some estimate it will make up a $15 trillion chunk of global GDP by 2030. The industrial internet presents clear opportunities for improving business models, optimizing industrial processes, cutting costs, and leveraging analytics into endless new value.

  • As a modern development beyond DCSs, the cloud computing and process control systems brought by IIoT will help organizations reach new levels of automation. By networking together new sensors, devices, and parts of the manufacturing chain, businesses create more widely self-managed and, eventually, continuously self-improving systems.
  • Intelligent management leads to greater reliability. For example, companies in multiple industries have already started benefiting from increasingly intelligent maintenance systems. In fact, the most mature IIoT technology at the moment is predictive maintenance, or systems designed for the early detection and resolution of problems. These systems reduce downtime, costly maintenance, and in some cases can eliminate breakdowns completely.
  • New connectivity, and the introduction of analytics and big data methodologies, also bring the usual benefits to IIoT. Better data collection, centralized and mastered sources of truth, and improved information exchange all lead directly to enhanced productivity and efficiency.
  • IIoT facilitates the creation of ‘digital twins’, end to end copies of an entire process which can be used for backup, or for development without any risk to production systems. This introduces the possibility of real-time optimization, with no sacrifices made in data security, physical safety, or uptime. Digital twins can also be used as a functional reference, and for training new employees.
  • IIoT will help industries develop wider, deeper perspective by generating more available, valuable data. This includes the ability to explore larger market trends, examine detailed historical data, or create and share business insights far faster. Ultimately, IIoT will allow companies to exploit data for innovation.

What is IIoT used for?

Though IIoT technologies are generally still in their infancy, many tools and methods have matured enough to see implementation and start generating value. Most manufacturing and industrial organizations are aware of IIoT’s growing importance, and myriad use cases are now established.

  1. In manufacturing, predictive maintenance systems currently lead the way. For example, these can track the frequency and conditions under which instruments break down, giving managers real-time prognostic information about their critical assets. This improved monitoring is also more accessible than ever before, with apps on mobile devices or the web available for viewing live maintenance reports.
  2. An extension of this use case is the new possibility of creating perfect, real-time inventory control. Objects tagged with digital identifiers or equipped with tracking devices are easier to count, manage, move, and organize.
  3. In industries where employees are exposed to physical risk or dangers, safety devices and gear can be integrated into an IIoT system so that managers can track and ensure the continuing safety of personnel. This also allows faster action in the case of actual accidents.
  4. IIoT plays a big role in energy management, as digital functionality can be embedded in any type of device which consumes power. With individual switches, bulbs, entertainment gadgets, and more all communicating usage information back to the consumer and utility companies, power generation can become more balanced and optimized. Smart metering infrastructure brings more transparency and power to end-users, and better, automated systems for energy companies.
  5. One of the largest benefactors of IIoT technology is the car industry. 3D printing technology simplifies both the manufacture of tools and parts, and the design process behind this manufacturing. Vehicles are now built as efficiently, but with entirely new levels of customization or modularity. Production plants in different regions or even countries are more interconnected, allowing components to be assembled anywhere across a wide and optimized network. 
  6. Beyond the initial manufacture of vehicles, IIoT can also improve various driving and traffic systems. For example, parking lots can direct drivers to empty spaces by tracking saturation and guiding cars with smart LEDs. Vehicles sharing information to a centralized system help manage traffic, detect bottlenecks, and better plan for new infrastructure or policy.

IIoT and security

There are already rising security concerns regarding IoT , and IIoT suffers from many of the same challenges. What’s more IIoT systems are implemented in critical, operational environments where safety and security are tantamount, and failures far more disastrous than for consumer IoT devices. Each connected component or device adds additional liability or a potential point of failure. 

Currently, cybersecurity for IoT systems is lagging behind both reasonable requirements and security present in traditional systems, making it a major potential focus for attack or exploitation. Unprotected devices are subject to DDoS attacks, to internal network infiltration, or to leaking private, proprietary, and personal data .

One of the biggest difficulties in ensuring IoT devices are secure comes from the fragmented hardware and software involved. In addition to lacking the kinds of regulation necessary for more stringent IIoT requirements, IoT technologies are increasingly diverse and devices increasingly numerous.

As a solution, organizations are increasingly moving towards security architectures which are hardware and device agnostic, anticipating the continued massive expansion of IoT ecosystems.

The cloud and the future of the IIoT

It’s interesting to note that the primary innovation of DCSs was the decentralization of control and management processes, but IIoT and the cloud are actually bringing focus back to centralized systems. Though individual objects and parts of networks become increasingly autonomous, real value comes from fully integrated and available enterprise data, on top of the new automation.

It isn’t clear whether traditional DCS will continue to borrow ideas from IIoT, or whether IIoT will keep evolving independently. What is clear is that IIoT was born directly from the emergence of cloud technology, allowing distributed programs and devices to interact with each other regardless of human intervention, all while improving data storage capacities and the ability to analyze historical trends. 

Getting started with IIoT

Though the future is undetermined, it’s at least obvious that IIoT is already a critical technology in our primarily cloud-based IT landscape. IIoT tools and methods are already established in many industries, for many use cases. Additionally, they are increasingly integrated with data infrastructures, and the cloud, beyond the simple addition of hardware or streamlined control processes.

In fact, IIoT’s integration with analytics and the cloud is perhaps the most important aspect of this emerging technology. Modern distributed computing, combined with IoT sensors, adds massive new riches in data sources and types of information, but also the processing power and tools needed to effectively transform that raw data into valuable insights.

Talend Data Fabric is a powerful single suite of apps for data ingestion, transformation, governance, and sharing. As an integrated tool, it becomes far easier to manage the data pipeline, from sensors and control mechanisms to business intelligence, reporting, and more complex analysis. Try Talend Data Fabric to bring manufacturing and industrial data to the cloud, where it can power the most cutting edge IIoT technology.

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