Industrial IoT Application Store: The next big thing?

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Industrial IoT Application Store: The next big thing?

An application marketplace is a digital distribution platform for applications, mostly used in the mobile context. All of us are familiar with Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store marketplaces. They show how flourishing the marketplace business is by providing a platform for developers to distribute applications to a wide audience. This potential has awakened the interest among the industrial space by combining it with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), or the so-called fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0).

Meanwhile, industrial automation means software lifecycle management at scale. Dozens of Industrial IoT platforms with Edge Computing capabilities enter the market to provide the basis for this, reducing the number of manual tasks in the software rollout process. Companies can save the development costs of building their mechanics from scratch, and instead focus on creating new business value. The question arises if an industry can create a cross-manufacturer open app store? Is the industrial application marketplace the next multi-billion business model or just an illusion?

In this story, I am going to present the use case “Industrial IoT App Store”, introduce a maturity level model, provide a requirements checklist, and discuss impediments that should be avoided when building an Industrial IoT application store.

Use Case “Industrial IoT Application Store”

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) changes businesses and industries such as manufacturing, logistics, food and beverage, transportation, or power generation with smart technologies. Both the amount of IP-capable devices and the number of hardware manufacturers providing powerful edge computing capabilities and solutions is growing. An Industrial Application Marketplace is an ecosystem that connects providers with consumers in a network economy. It has the functionality to distribute digital artifacts for industrial use cases in a consistent and secure manner to any industrial computing device, independent of the device hardware manufacturer. Consumers discover, purchase, and provision digital artifacts such as Docker images, VM images, extensions, application services, and datasets that complement and extend their application ecosystems. Application developers can sell and monetize their apps through this new sales channel, and the plant operator can buy and run them on their site.

In the consumer world applications run on specific operating systems (e.g. iOS, Android). In contrast, industrial computing devices have heterogeneous CPUs and OS which make it hard to provide hardware-independent applications. Edge device manufacturers often create tailored Linux distributions with the Yocto Project. Find more about the impact of iot in manufacturing industry.

Docker enables software developers to run applications in the field in a modular way. They are thus independent from the OS and have IoT platforms to deploy and manage multiple distributed applications across any number of machines, physical or virtual.

Let us assume we put the Docker technology as a fundamental abstraction layer on every industrial computing device and combine it with an open-source application management engine which also communicates with the app store bi-directionally. Now we could unlock the development of a cross-manufacturer application marketplace. This could generate tremendous value for both producers and consumers by opening up the industrial market to new players and individual developers.

I would like to introduce the three-level maturity model for industrial application marketplaces. The maturity level represents the value created for producers and consumers. The higher the level, the higher the total created value:

Level 1 | App Catalog: At this level, the marketplace provides a searchable application catalog, where products are linked to the specific vendor pages. The marketplace does not provide direct distribution of digital goods. This level requires a low investment by the marketplace operator. This approach delivers centralized discoverability with a low value for participants.

Level 2 | Closed App Marketplace: The marketplace directly extends the functions of a specific product family. App developers can offer their apps on the platform. Consumers can purchase and distribute applications through the marketplace directly to their devices. This level requires basic functionality ranging from application discoverability, provisioning, and up to a digital end-to-end ordering process. For some businesses this level generates enough new business value.

Level 3 | Open App Marketplace: Marketplaces at level three are open ecosystems. At this level, the marketplace needs to be independent of the device manufacturer, OS, programming languages, or libraries used for applications. Consumers must be able to deploy applications directly over-the-air onto their devices. All participants should be able to use open web services for end-to-end integrations with third-party systems. By meeting the requirements as discussed later in this story, marketplaces at this level can create the most value for both producers and consumers.

Requirements for the Industrial App Store

In this section, I am going to provide a checklist of requirements for the implementation of an open application marketplace at maturity level three.

  • Device Certification
  • Application Certification
  • Edge Device Diversity
  • 1-Click Deployment
  • Application Configuration
  • Deployment and Application
  • Licensing
  • Business Model Flexibility
  • Seller’s Insights
  • Multi-Country Support

This checklist is not complete and can be easily extended with more topics for consideration: single location with an integrated and consistent experience, high discoverability, on-demand service etc.

Challenges to overcome when implementing an Industrial Application Store

It is important to understand the major challenges of implementation and adaption of the store initiative, in order to develop efficient strategies to cope with them proactively.

Further reading: How IoT Applications are Reshaping Manufacturing

Summary and Outlook

IT service providers, OEMs, PLC manufacturers and machine builders are working towards the open app ecosystem with over-the-air software updates for Docker-based applications. Despite the big potential, the app store business model is not yet widely adopted. The number of offered applications, downloads, users, and diversity of supported hardware providers is still low. In order to create the most value, an open marketplace solution at the maturity level three is required, which implies big investments to meet basic requirements and solve current challenges.

The question is how open will these ecosystems be for device manufacturers, IoT platform operators, application types, and other market participants? There is a clear need for the global standardization of over the air updates, licensing, usage metering, and authentication interfaces in order to avoid marketplace silos.

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maxim babarinowThis article was written by Maxim Babarinow, he is a passionate creator and founder of RUBINLAKE. He has a proven track record in Industry 4.0, IoT, and Data Analytics.