Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Internet of Our Things

There is a lot of talk and statistics around about the internet of things (IOT) and the amazing number of connected devices. But the real questions are: how can these connections be leveraged and where is the benefit? Is the internet of things another marketing buzz-word like big data or cloud?

A quick recap in case you have been living in a cave with a dial-up modem. What is IOT? Everyone seems pretty clear on what the internet is these days. However the thing (pun intended) that confuses a lot of people is what are the things? Generally speaking these things:

·         Capture (e.g. video, audio, temperature, heart rate, location, etc.)
·         Process (e.g. ETL, editing, controlling, analysis, etc.)
·         Store (e.g. historians, NAS, cloud, etc.)
·         Distribute (e.g. visual-display, loud-speakers, network components, etc.)

In other words web cameras, televisions, hard drives, routers, tablets, computers (and yes mobile phones) are all common examples of connected devices. Increasingly manufacturers are “connecting” every other type of thing they can think of. Some examples include air conditioners, refrigerators, cars, and biometric equipment to name just a few. Don’t forget the wearables, jury is still out on their uptake, they are certainly adding more ‘things’ to the internet.

So is the internet of things a simple equation? Where IOT = ‘things’ + internet. This is of course one definition. For me it’s not about the number of connected devices but instead beneficial use cases that leverage multiple connected devices. The trick of course is the beneficial part. So for example, if your television determines your favourite shows by reviewing your credit card and browser history, downloads these shows automatically, and when you get home turns itself on and shows you its handy-work. Is this of benefit? Likewise is it actually useful for your coffee machine to know what TV show you are watching? If you are like me many of my appliances are not left plugged in but instead go back in a cupboard when unused.

Historically the IOT topic has been one for business. For decades industry, with PLC and other sensors, has used connected devices to great benefit. In areas such as Manufacturing, FMCG, Mining, and Pharmaceuticals data gathered from machinery has reduced manual effort and increased yields. However connecting one or more devices to gather data or control remotely is the thin edge of IOT. In the home an early example of similar technology can be seen in the home stereo market. Manufacturers understood the benefit of allowing consumers to connect different components together for the purposes of control and content sharing. Now many more industries are leveraging the benefits of the IOT. Areas such as:
·         Medical
·         Sports Science
·         Finance
·         Military & Law Enforcement
·         Automotive
·         Entertainment

These industries and many more are innovating, checking feasibility, and finding benefits in a variety of use cases including Biometrics, Remote Monitoring, Connected & Targeted Sales, Marketing, and Advertising. With the changing times and evolving technologies come many more possibilities. This can be considered a double edged sword for the enterprise sector. While consumer spend drives rapid innovation and competition. It doesn’t focus on areas important to most organisations (for example standards, stability, support, and security).

One of the last remaining barriers to getting the most out of IOT is of course common agreed standards. Much work is occurring in this area however there is still more to do. It wouldn’t be surprising if this becomes a tech battleground like BETA versus VHS or Blue-Ray versus HD-DVD. Giant companies that manufacture many different consumer products have been able to keep to their own standards. However this is not much more than an extension of the old home stereo example (where each company used proprietary cabling and messaging). To make the most of the possibilities of the IOT requires that the 'things' used in a solution are able to communicate effectively. Usually for cost /benefit reasons when a solution is implemented it is only focused on its own specific outcomes. For IOT to accelerate organisations need to think longer term and broader than just an individual product or project. The good news is that some companies are beginning to team up to produce standards.

Speaking of good news there are some great success stories when it comes to IOT. One that always springs to mind was the SETI project. While I’m not sure it actually found any extra-terrestrial intelligence it did spark innovation and collaboration across the world. Along with WIFI, and more recently NFC, another great success has been Bluetooth. From its introduction the Bluetooth earpiece often lead to awkward social situations! In the early days of Bluetooth many experienced the unfortunate one sided elevator conversation. However Bluetooth has allowed conversations to take place hands free while driving or when just out and about. It really has been successful in severing the cord that connected phones to other devices. Bluetooth relatively short distance standard allows file sharing and proximity based services between trusted (or untrusted) partners. And judging by the amount of consumer devices available Bluetooth is increasingly used between mobile phones and a variety of other peripheral devices (headphones, speakers, car hands free, and network sharing, etc.)

What has this IOT got to do with mobility anyway? Since their arrival in the 80's mobile phones have continued to increase in capability and popularity. Now reaching saturation point in many markets they are much more than just a device for making calls. Mobile phones are a very personal item, increasingly used more than any other personal possession. Modern phone capabilities cover all aspects of the 'things' in the internet of things.  Mobile Phones:
·         Capture (photos and videos of loved ones.)
·         Process (editing, computing, controlling)
·         Store (every model has greater capacity)
·         Distribute (view, listen, and share)

As you can see mobile phones are an enabling IOT technology. With their wide variety of increasing capabilities including proximity and geo-location the use cases are endless. As technology evolves so does society and acceptable social norms. A while back bulletin boards where used by a relatively small group of early adopters. As the internet proliferated IRC chat became a popular communication tool. This was followed by instant messaging and social networks which combine the features of the past with new easily accessible features. In the future will IOT innovation bring biometric social networking? 

This article was originally published at Enterprise Mobility Network

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