Ordinarily, I am pretty jaded about catchy new phrases that describe something not all that new. The latest “hot topic” is the Internet of Things (IoT).The concepts behind it are not really all that new. In my career as an engineer and executive at several firms, most notably as VP of Symbol Technologies, colleagues and I pioneered many first in class technologies; wearable devices, high speed handheld scanners, RFID sensors and the M2M communications pathways that form the foundation of today’s Internet of Things. But what’s brand new is the current potential for ubiquitous deployment of aware, communicating devices across consumer and enterprise applications. In its breadth, this represents a new paradigm.
The key elements of the “Internet of Things”:
1. Sensing - The first step in IoT workflow is gathering information at a “point of activity.” This can be information captured by an appliance, a wearable device, a wall mounted control or any number of commonly found devices. The sensing can be biometric, biological, environmental, visual or audible (or all the above). The unique thing in the context of IoT is that the device doing the sensing is not one that typically gathered information in this way. Sensing technology specific to this purpose is required.
2. Communication - This is where things start to get interesting. Many of the new IoT devices we are seeing today are not designed for optimal communication with cloud services. IoT devices require a means for transmitting the information sensed at the device level to a Cloud-based service for subsequent processing. This is where the great value inherent in IoT is created. This requires either WiFi (wireless LAN based communications) or WAN (wide area network… i.e. cellular) communications. In addition, depending on the need, short range communication or other capabilities may also be needed. These could include Bluetooth, ZigBee, Near-field or a range of other short range communication methods. For positioning, GPS is often required as well.
3. Cloud Based Capture & Consolidation - Gathered data is transmitted to a cloud based service where the information coming in from the IoT device is aggregated with other cloud based data to provide useful information for the end user. The data being consolidated can be information from other internet sources as well as from others subscribing with similar IoT devices. Most often, there will be some data processing required to provide useful information that is not necessarily obvious in the raw data.
4. Delivery of Information - The last step is delivery of useful information to the end user. That may be a consumer, a commercial or an industrial user. It may also be another device in the M2M (define) workflow. The goal in a consumer use case is to provide the information in as simple and transparent a method as possible. It requires execution of a well thought out, designed and executed user interface that provides an optimized experience across multiple device platforms — tablets, smartphones, desktop — across multiple operating systems — iOS, Android, Windows, etc.
Approaching IoT so it meets the needs of your business.
There are a number of important questions and considerations when investigating the implementation of IoT for your business.
1. Where do we start?
- ASSESS the benefit for your business case and business model. What information do you need to gather so you can reduce costs? Improve customer experience? Increase sales?
- EVALUATE your market tolerance. What are the value props that consumers or enterprises will pay extra for? How much additional are they willing to pay?
- DETERMINE cost of entry into IoT space versus the expected ROI and the time frame for same.
- CONSULT with friends, family or any trusted business experts in-the-know.
- NETWORK! There are meetups and trade shows all across the tech world right now and LOTS of friendly folks willing to share. Really. You won’t believe it!
2. How do we implement?
- IDENTIFY PARTNERS – Once you’re started on the path, find the partners to optimize your implementation. Consultants. LinkedIn groups. Firms whose business models dovetail with yours.
- USE THE RIGHT SIZED TOOLS – Are you a small company with a home security app? Make sure your approach is scaled to target the best experience for your customer instead of taking on something that is out of scale for your customer, will overwhelm them and/or make them questions your motives. If you’re a large-scale enterprise, take a serious look at data services exchanges which enable quick implementation and speed to market.
- IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED… self-explanatory. Stick with it. If you’re taking a considered approach, tweak it as you go. It will pay off.
3. Where do we go from there?
- LOOK INWARD – How are the new IoT initiatives encouraging excellence in your business practices? Have your values changed? Are staff and management aligned to maximize the benefits of implementation of the new technology?
- LOOK OUTWARD – Where can your business go with the new information you’re collecting? How can you measure improved customer experience? How can that increase sales or drive new revenue streams? Can you build a whole new business based on the information you now have or can aggregate from multiple sources that wasn’t available for you in the past?
There is tremendous potential for the use of IoT in many unusual and novel ways, as well as continued potential for inclusion of products and technologies which actually pre-date the phrase and formed the basis for its inception. IoT is prompting huge shifts in everyday and specialized products for users of all kinds. The Internet of Things is truly “a thing”. It’s worth the hype and offers more than just empty promises.
Mitch Maiman is CEO and Founder of Intelligent Product Solutions.