Henry Ford Invented the Internet of Everything


The Internet of Everything is not new. In fact, it was invented more than 100 years ago.

Over the past couple of years, there has been a lot of hype around smart homes, connected cars, intelligent healthcare, wearables, and connected devices – the Internet of Things. Every major analyst suggests that Internet-enabled devices will change all industries and all businesses on the face of this earth. IDC forecasts that the worldwide market for IoT solutions will grow from $1.9 trillion in 2013 to $7.1 trillion in 2020. Cisco believes the category is a $14.4 trillion dollar industry.

I agree.

IoT is huge. It will have a greater impact than the Internet, which, in the last 20 years, has destroyed or significantly altered the newspaper industry, the music industry, the movie industry, the transportation industry, the hospitality industry, ad infinitum. In a short time, the Internet spawned some of the largest companies in the world: Amazon was founded in 1994; Google 1998; Facebook 2004; YouTube 2005; AirBnB 2008; Uber 2009. The list goes on.

Before I explain how Henry Ford invented the Internet of Everything and why it will have such a huge impact on the world, let’s first define IoT and IoE:

The Oxford dictionary defines “the Internet of Things” as: “a proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.” OK, well that is simple enough. Except that devices sending and receiving data on their own – without any context or structure – isn’t very useful. Therefore, it is fair to say that devices only solve one fourth of the connected puzzle.

A successful Internet of Everything requires the interaction of people, process, data, and things.

If all of those components work together in a coordinated, automated fashion, then organizations will be able to lower operating costs, increase production output, reduce manufacturing times, eliminate waste, make work environments safer, and improve transportation times.

Simply put: the Internet of Everything is about machines working alongside humans to improve efficiency. That’s it. Improve efficiency through automation.

Thus, on December 1, 1913, the Internet of Everything was born.

On this date, Henry Ford installed the first moving assembly line for the mass production of an automobile. Ford’s massive plant in Highland Park, Michigan, was a physical location filled with People networked along an assembly line, trained on a Process to work with Machines (aka Things) to improve efficiency. The Data that triggered the assembly line to move forward was the most basic of all control flow statements (IF/THEN). IF this step is done, THEN move on to the next step.

Granted there was no Internet at Ford’s time and no “true” machine-to-machine connectivity, but the concept and ideals he established are the same as those we are trying to achieve today with the Internet of Everything.

More specifically, Ford divided the labor by organizing the assembly of the 3,000 Model T parts into 84 distinct steps. Each worker and each machine was coordinated to “automate” just one of these steps. His innovation reduced the time it took to build a car from more than 12 hours to two hours and 30 minutes.

This new approach not only transformed the auto industry, it changed production lines in many industries around the globe. The moving assembly line is a perfect, real world example of humans and machines working together to greatly improve efficiency.

Now, how does Ford’s assembly line compare and contrast to today’s IoE challenges?

Essentially we are working with the same ingredients (People, Process, Data and Things). But there are two main differences that cause significant problems in today’s world:

•       Closed system versus Open system: Assembly lines are linear and the sequence is well defined. When the automobile begins assembly at the beginning of the line, it moves from one station to the next where each assembler and machine’s task is precisely defined, perfected, and orchestrated over and over again. The ecosystem is closed, so it is relatively easy to control the process and measure efficiency. In today’s world we have many systems talking with many other systems talking with many devices sharing large volumes of data that interact with countless users. It’s an API explosion that is fraught with security holes.

•       Physical location versus virtual locations: Today’s connected devices and humans are all over the place at any given time. When machines and devices are all connected to the cloud, any connected device can theoretically trigger any other device regardless of its physical location or its sequence in a system. There is no factory floor where everyone shows up at the same time to repeat the same task.

To solve these two significant problems, we must utilize a “virtual” factory floor, which is called a Connected Device Platform (aka IoT platform) that joins all the different components together and enables smooth, secure communication. It’s an interface that provides interaction between People, the Internet, and the Things, which may include hardware, web services or applications.

Aside from the need for a virtual factory floor, the IoE ingredients are the same today as they were when Henry Ford introduced the moving assembly line. The efficiency goals are also the same.

Yes, Ford made a better, cheaper car – but that pales in comparison to the impact that his new system created. Ford used the automation of machines and humans to vastly improve production times, output, profit and wages.  And as other companies adopted his system, they achieved similar results.

Yet, despite Ford’s accomplishments and the Internet of Everything being around for over 100 years, I am certain that the greatest efficiencies are still yet to come.

Kevin Bromber is an entrepreneur, investor and proven leader with a track record developing, acquiring or selling innovative hi-tech businesses. He has held a number of executive positions in both private and public technology companies. Currently, he is CEO of myDevices, a connected device, IoT platform company that provides its middleware solution as a Platform as a Service. 

Edited by Ken Briodagh
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