IOT: We have a problem

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The Internet of Things (IOT) is the term used to describe the network that continues to expand at an ever increasing rate, connecting any device with an on/off switch to the internet and each other. This allows anything from dental implants to crop-dusting drones, to send data for analytics or indeed where appropriate receive remote instructions. This interaction between the…. physical world and digital world is revolutionising business opportunities, for service providers and manufacturers by generating new operating models, therefore ultimately providing a more customised service to consumers.

However, to make this possible; sensors, actuators, transceivers and processors are being incorporated in a huge range of products.  The value of connecting these devices lies in the data which is returned for further analysis.  Understandably there are great challenges with connecting IOT devices, generally over a wireless protocol. Then there is the data storage and processing capabilities of the device, with decisions on whether data can be part processed on device, or completed at the edge of the network before being passed to the remote server.

In this article I am not going to focus on the traditional challenges identified for the future of the IOT, such as;

  • Security: Poorly designed devices can, if exploited, allow access to a user’s personal data or media (including live video feeds)
  • Privacy: Smart devices constantly listening and analysing user conversations to provide in-context answers, such as; Amazon Alexa, Smart Televisions, etc.
  • Scalability: With Siemens predicting that 5.5 million new devices are connected every day, it is clear that infrastructure the world over will need to grow to support the overwhelming future data requirements.
  • Regulation: Cross border data-flows and privacy laws will be debated to find an appropriate level of regulation.
  • Standards: Protocols, gateways, API’s and agreed best practices are all being developed, adopted and dropped at a fierce pace of development.

With the promise of great returns, every consulting firm (Capgemini, Accenture, etc.), vendor (Amazon, Google, Siemens, PTC, HPE, IBM, etc.) and even traditional businesses (GE, Bosch, etc) are building out enterprise IOT solutions.  The market is quite fragmented and oriented around verticals such as; Smart Logistics, Smart Factory, Smart Agriculture, Smart Cities, Smart Grid, Smart Retail, Smart Healthcare and IOT Security.

Instead I want to focus on something many PLM veterans will recognise as a familiar issue. Are we at risk of creating new “closed” data silo’s, due to all these different proprietary IOT systems and platforms not being able to talk with each other? The potential for the IOT to improve our lives significantly across; manufacturing, healthcare, construction, supply chain and mobility will only be realised if data can be shared, analyzed and repurposed across these different platforms.

Enterprise customers are already discovering that they currently need to purchase and configure several different IOT solutions, due to proprietary single purpose M2M (Machine 2 Machine) solutions.  The need for global open standards for data exchange across platforms is critical to the predicted growth figures and realising the benefits. Left untouched I can see a situation in the not too distant future, where CIO’s are launching expensive programmes to consolidate down the closed IOT data silos of data and just selecting a single IOT platform and Big Data Analytics (BDA) solution.  This feels an awful lot like the early days of justifying PLM, pushing for open standards and the consolidation of closed data silos onto a single PLM platform, but history does have a nasty habit of repeating itself!

At Product Innovation a CIO-led learning community for manufacturers, over several years we have captured through interviews and recorded presentations, how leading organisations have understood the importance of data analytics and actionable intelligence to drive business adoption. This content is available through our PI membership community, with curated content ensuring that both new and existing manufacturers tackling the challenge will gain insights into effective strategy, implementation and the inevitable pitfalls that exist in getting there.

Paul Empringham, VP Research, PI – a CIO-led learning community for manufacturers.

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