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Internet of things: the next platform for global innovation

The internet of things is likely to be a key technology driving innovation over the next few years. It’s a theme that’s grown over the last couple of years, and now in January 2013 we saw the launch of the ‘Internet of Things Consortium’, formed at International CES in Las Vegas, and after that, Wall Street Journal tech columnist and key influencer Walt Mossberg also highlighting the internet of things (IoT) as the ‘next big thing’ at a talk in North Carolina, USA.

The ‘IoT’ refers to devices of any kind connected with mobile or wireless to networks, enabling machine-to-machine communications (M2M).  Mobile SIM cards or radio modules with Wi-Fi/GPRS can be embedded in almost anything, ranging from entertainment, safety and security, to business services. Put another way, the IoT or M2M communications is the networking of intelligent, communications-enabled remote assets, allowing key information to be exchanged automatically without human intervention via a back-end IT infrastructure. The remote assets, which can be fixed or mobile, include cars and truck fleets, utility meters, copiers and printers, ventilation and air-conditioning sensors, home medical devices, fitness monitors and CCTV cameras.

The conditions they monitor can include temperature, location, consumption, heart rate, stress levels, light, movement, altitude and speed – or anything else. This can be used to gain immediate feedback on how a particular remote asset is being used, which features are most popular and what problems typically arise.

Typical examples already common are in energy management and health and well-being: for example, smart energy meters remotely transmitting usage data or controlled by utility companies, or patient monitoring systems where key patient data can be transmitted automatically to a carer or care centre.

In patient monitoring, research from analyst firm Berg Insight suggests around 2.8 million patients worldwide were using a dedicated home monitoring service based on equipment with integrated connectivity at the end of 2012 (figure excludes patients using their personal mobile phone, tablet or PC for remote monitoring). The analyst forecasts the number of home monitoring systems with integrated communication capabilities will grow to reach 9.4 million connections worldwide by 2017.

It is possible to connect any type of remote machine or device to critical information systems and collect real-time field intelligence to improve efficiency, reduce costs, introduce new services and gain competitive advantage. The ultimate aim is to enable anytime, anywhere access to real-time intelligence from remote machines.

‘Everything will be connected to everything else’

According to the ‘Internet of Things Consortium’, formed at International CES in Las Vegas, “In the future, everything will be connected to everything else.”  The consortium is a non-profit organization with the mission of facilitating cooperation between hardware, software, and service providers. It is primarily focused on Internet enabled devices and related software services that directly touch consumers in the form of home automation, entertainment, and productivity.

One of the goals of the consortium is to see billions of connected devices that benefit from communication with other devices and services.

According to Machina Research, global M2M connections will increase from two billion at the end of 2011 to 18 billion at the end of 2022. Even Ericsson has been forecasting for a couple of years that there will be 50 billion connections by the year 2020. Connections will be dominated by two sectors: consumer electronics (including cameras, music players and TVs) and intelligent buildings (for example security and HVAC systems). Between them they will account for almost 70% of the total.

By 2022, Europe and developing Asia-Pacific will be tied as the biggest region for M2M, each accounting for 27 percent of connections. The biggest single markets will be the China and the US with 20 percent and 19 percent respectively. In terms of revenue, M2M will grow from US$200 billion in 2011 to US$1.2 trillion in 2022Two-thirds of the revenue opportunity is accounted for by devices and installation, and one-third by M2M services.

Matt Hatton, director of Machina Research, says, “M2M, in all its diversity, is little short of a second industrial revolution. The growth in connected devices over the next few years will fundamentally change the way we live and work. The potential to save money, generate new revenue streams and create sustainable cities will drive businesses, governments and individuals to embrace M2M. The potential impact is huge.”

It’s not the technology that’s important – it’s the data and how you read it

They key thing about M2M is that the technology is transparent or hidden to the application – the user doesn’t necessarily need to know it exists (think of Apple and its gadgets). What’s more important is the data that is produced, and how it is interpreted.  The challenge with having billions of connected devices generating many data points in this new era of connectedness is how to read and interpret the data. This is where the role of business intelligence systems analytics comes in.

Take for example the cold chain logistics supply chain of the pharmaceuticals and food industries. Dutch company Dyzle monitors the temperature and other key parameters of medicines, pharmaceuticals ingredients and food ingredients in storage, transport and distribution.  Tags with connectivity travel with the medicines or food or while they are in transport or cold storage, to monitor the temperature and other key parameters to ensure that they do not deviate outside a specified temperature range stipulated by a company’s quality requirements as well as regulatory requirements – and patient/consumer safety expectations.

But it’s not the technology that’s important – sensors and hardware can be integrated from any solution. What’s important is how that data is gathered and reported.  In this case, regulatory requirements mandate that the entire history of temperature during storage and distribution must to be documented to provide proof of product quality, which means many data points are being generated continuously. So Dyzle collects the data in the cloud, provides automatic reporting and analysis of that data via personal dashboards, and makes it available securely via any internet-enabled device to quality managers and company managers.

‘Big data’ needs business intelligence

These reports and data link into to company-wide business intelligence and ERP systems. Business intelligence is increasingly becoming an area that many organisations are exploring, in order to deal with the massive amount of data that is collected. Hence the emergence of service providers offering platforms that allow you to do things with the data, often in the cloud as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution that eliminates the need to install any systems, and requiring no additional resources for data warehousing; they also provide analytics engines, report building and visualisation tools amongst others.

One such business intelligence provider is datazuum – CEO Samir Sharma comments, “Business intelligence and advanced analytical tools should be embedded into the culture of all organisations (where enough data exists).  These types of systems don’t need to be expensive or technically dependent on the IT department; you also don’t need to buy a lot of hardware and software to support these activities.  It’s the business people that know their business and their data, not someone sitting in an ultra-technical department.”

Business intelligence in the cloud provides companies with fast, inexpensive deployment, no hardware and setup expenditure, no capital expenditure (lowers entry barriers), software upgrades and maintenance, pre-built connectors and dashboards for many systems. It also provides improved data sharing capabilities to access data anytime and anywhere.

It’s up to the imagination and business model for innovation with IoT

Coming back to Walt Mossberg’s comment that IoT will be the next big thing, it could indeed be the basis of the next industrial revolution, especially since it is totally up to the imagination and creativity of business model. Businesses and individuals have the ability to connect anything using a wireless connection to talk to other devices and report back on social or business parameters.

This ‘Internet of things’ will have a huge impact on how businesses look at their business operations, efficiency and productivity – in the next few years it could actually help restore confidence after the global economic crisis, providing a leap forward in global productivity. Combine this with the need to interpret the huge number of data points that will be generated – the so-called ‘big-data – and automated business intelligence and reporting systems also become increasingly important. The next wave of innovation will therefore come around the internet of things, big data and business intelligence.

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