Demystifying IoT

While IoT as a buzz word has only really come into the forefront over the last two to three years, the term was first coined nearly nineteen years ago by Kevin Ashton, a British technology pioneer and creator of the global standard system for RFID.

Ashton made this statement back in 1999, and I think it’s even more relevant today than it was then:

“Today computers—and, therefore, the internet—are almost wholly dependent on human beings for information. Nearly all of the roughly 50 petabytes (a petabyte is 1,024 terabytes) of data available on the internet were first captured and created by human beings by typing, pressing a record button, taking a digital picture or scanning a bar code. 

The problem is, people have limited time, attention and accuracy—all of which means they are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world. If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything and greatly reduce waste, loss, and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling and whether they were fresh or past their best.”

I like this quote because Ashton clearly articulates why businesses are investigating and deploying IoT solutions—to deliver value back to the business, and ultimately, to customers. IoT helps companies bring together business operations and IT to take unstructured operations data and turn it into analytical insights.

People hear IoT and they immediately think “sensors” and “cloud.” That’s not necessarily wrong, but there is so much more to it. IoT is not only about the sensors. It’s an architecture made up of technology from a multitude of vendors. When designing an IoT solution, it’s important to keep in mind two key questions: what data do you want to collect, and what do you want to do with that data once you’ve collected it?

It’s important to focus on the business outcome, not the technology. Instead of “sensors” and “cloud,” think in terms of words like “architecture” and “solution.” Consider the bigger picture throughout the entire design process.

Here is an example of what I’m talking about:

IoT Architecture

By focusing on the architecture and not on the technology behind it, you get more choice and flexibility in building an IoT solution that’s right for your business.

So, how do you go about building this architecture?

First, (and I know I just said to not think about these, but…) you’ll need a sensor. This could be anything depending on the environment, the object it’s connected to, or the data being collected. Next, you need to get the data from the sensor/device to either the edge platform or your data platform. There is a wide variety of different communications/transport protocol options, but I recommend getting up to speed on LoRaWAN, Sigfox, Zigbee, and ANT to start.

Once you have decided on a network, you need a gateway. A gateway provides multiple critical functions, including device connectivity, protocol translation, security, and update management, as well as edge data processing and filtering. Some newer gateways can also be set up as a platform for edge analytics, providing your businesses with real-time data streaming onsite before staging the results to your chosen data platform.

Then, you pick your platform. Whether you choose a public, hybrid, or private cloud solution, what’s important is that your data is always available. But it’s not only data availability that you have to take into consideration: there’s also compliance, security, performance, scalability, connectivity, elasticity, and integration.

Again, don’t focus on the technology. Think about what you’re going to do with your data. Are you looking to use the data collected from the IoT devices to provide business insights, predictive analytics, a machine learning platform, or even start venturing into the world of AI? Your platform choice will define your next steps. Take your time and explore your options.

This blog is part one of my new series on IoT. Be sure to check back in for my next piece, where I explore the bigger picture on how IoT can help you drive digital transformation for your business.

Understanding what you want to get out of your data is crucial, but in a world of ever-changing technologies, you need to be thinking about what’s next. What comes after IoT?

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