Preparing for the possibilities of the Internet of Things
The development of the Internet of Things (IoT) will be one of the key drivers of innovation in the technology industry, and in the world economy. However, given the ambiguity of “things,” there are going to be many different manifestations of this development.
The path toward the realization of IoT will probably take two distinct branches, each with its own value, and each requiring a different approach and investment by businesses.
The first major approach involves linking a large number of simple, relatively unintelligent devices in a fixed or slowly changing network. That network is then connected to major computing resources that can organize and analyze the information, and help guide improvements and action. This approach is most useful where organizations are tracking and optimizing known processes. While this approach could be looked at as an extension of the computerized monitoring and controls that businesses have been implementing for many years, however the added benefit of having more frequent, accurate and granular data coupled with the ability to integrate the information and events across the complete process will create significant opportunities for analysis, improvement and prediction.
Connecting our manufacturing lines, power systems and hospitals in this way will allow us to take the next steps in improving the efficiency of business processes and supply chains.
This IoT model will generate significant improvements in corporate settings. However, since these improvements are the results of scale, this generally will not be a consumer-led phenomenon.
While the power company may be able to offer you better rates and service due to its use of smart meters and more telemetry, single-home automation is unlikely to deliver more than incremental improvements in efficiency. That said, the data that consumers choose to share with aggregators will be valuable and should foster new innovations.
Technologically, this approach will rely on relatively simple devices that report their status, and sometimes have controls to take action through the network. These reports will be aggregated into a big-data store, and analysis and subsequent actions will be created using large-scale, cloud-based computing.
“IoT will be the driver for significant expansion of big data beyond consumer and web behavior analysis”
In fact, IoT will be the driver for significant expansion of big data beyond consumer and web behavior analysis. Organizations wishing to take advantage of these opportunities will need to invest in technology that allows them to gather and organize the information, perform the analysis and craft new uses of the findings.
The second approach will focus on delivering connectivity between autonomous devices, so that they can each control their own behavior more effectively. This is the scenario where you can have “swarming” behaviors, self-organizing and self-tuning systems, and highly dynamic process control. This approach will be used to automate some tasks that have been previously too undefined to gain from extensive automation.
This approach will start out as a derivation of robotics and other autonomous machinery. It will start with devices that have a wide range of capabilities and are highly complicated. This complexity results from the complexity of information and processing required to create autonomous behavior.
As this trend progresses, the devices will become less intelligent and more able to base their capabilities on information gleaned from peers and from their surroundings. While the “connectedness” of this behavior can have a tremendous impact (for example, the increase in both safety and efficiency when using adaptive cruise control in cars), development in this area will be slower than when using the first approach. However, the resulting improvements in automation will be more valuable as this approach enables the automation of unique systems and configurations.
The direction that this approach will evolve toward depends on continued improvement and miniaturization of robotics and industrial controls, and the continued evolution of their autonomous capability. Advances will likely come from patient incremental improvements. It is this approach that truly requires capability most analogous to the Internet, in terms of universal communication between devices.
Finally, for the Internet of Things to really take off, it needs many of the same qualities that the Internet gives computers today. That level of standardization, while desirable, is not yet achievable.
The Internet of Things really is the next big thing, and I have every confidence that many of the benefits that have been posited (and many that have not) will be realized. However like any large-scale architectural endeavor, it will require incremental steps.
Organizations that want to maximize the future advantages of IoT should invest now in integrating information across their organizations, and in developing predictive analytics based on that information in an architecture that can scale.