What is the Internet of Things (IoT)? Is it just another “marketecture” or something more meaningful to today’s data-driven organization?
Well, according a report by McKinsey Global Institute, “Unlocking the Potential of the Internet of Things,” the Internet of Things is defined as the following:
“Sensors and actuators connected by networks to computing systems. These systems can monitor or manage the health and actions of connected objects and machines. Connected sensors can also monitor the natural world, people and animals.”
Look closely at your particular industry and I’d be very surprised if you haven’t already been impacted at some level or another by the IoT. Bear in mind, sensors and actuators need not be as industrial as the names imply. They can just as easily be a mobile device and dynamic video display as a thermocouple and solenoid valve. To understand just how broadly this definition can be applied, look around you at all the digital devices (or analog devices which could be retrofitted) that output some kind of data. Every vehicle, appliance, machine and even living organism is producing data about its current and – sometimes – past state. But it’s unlikely that information is currently being collected and analyzed in a meaningful way.
What gives this data meaning, of course, is context and application. By context, we mean the ability to see it in relation to other sets of data produced by adjacent or otherwise interrelated components. Again, the easy example is industrial: thermocouple and rotational sensor output cross-referenced with historical maintenance needs.
Another example could be sensors monitoring traffic patterns and air quality in a neighborhood. And with that context comes the opportunity for application. In the industrial example, that might be developing a more accurate picture of machine load in order to enable better preventative maintenance and reduce unscheduled downtime. In the municipal example, we could use this information to schedule road maintenance in a way to minimize disruption to the local residents or minimize impact on those with breathing difficulty.
The Four Critical Elements to the IoT
1) A sensor
2) A network
4) Analytics software
Each of these architectural elements comes in a variety of flavors and without them, we’re unlikely to have the ability to both collect the data and apply it to meaningful outcomes.
Another way of looking at the IoT is to consider that today we are surrounded by “data islands.” The goal of a well-conceived IoT project should be to connect these islands either to each other – or to a central data store and then apply that data to address an organizational need. That need, however, should be well understood at the outset. While the IoT concept applies equally to a variety of use cases across industry, government and beyond, the choices made for each architectural element will vary widely depending on the solution setting and goals.
Considerations for the IoT
- Off-the-shelf versus custom built sensors: Whether you are retrofitting an old industrial furnace or developing a mobile application for retail, know that you likely have a choice between buying or building. There are trade-offs to both, so take the time to evaluate the use cases you are addressing and how they will be best supported.
- The network: It can be wired or wireless. Managed in-house or outsourced (including carrier-provided cellular solutions). Ultimately, a well-designed, implemented and managed network should be invisible to the application – just as water has no knowledge of plumbing. A key to fully realizing the promise of IoT solutions is minimizing friction at the points of interconnection.
- Storage and analytics: Cloud or in-house storage? Custom or off-the-shelf reporting? Again, what’s best for one is not best for all. Take an honest look at the skills available in-house. Consider the regulatory environment related to the data you are collecting. And don’t forget that your IoT project is only as successful as the usefulness of the reporting it enables.
Finding a partner to work with you on the planning and implementations stages is crucial. Reach out to your CDW account manager for more guidance on this exciting IT revolution.