Move aside SaaS, IaaS, PaaS (Software, Infrastructure, and Platform as a service) – there is a new kid, TaaS (internet of Things as a Service), in town.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a trend in which the physical world is becoming a type of giant information system—through sensors and telematics embedded in physical objects and linked through wireless networks. As with all new and exciting technologies, it's difficult to separate hype from reality. Certainly the IoT, with its promise of connecting homes and cars, smart grids and smart manufacturing fit into this category. What is different this time around is the convergence of disruptive technologies such as cloud and mobile, shrinking hardware and ubiquitous connectivity, increasing business use cases that are rewriting traditional business rulebook.
IDC says the number of connected devices will increase to 30 billion this decade. The mix of devices will shift from traditional clients such as tablets, smartphones and wearables to IoT devices ranging from sensors to jet engines, transmission grids, and facilities equipment to assembly line machinery, train switches, even cattle. The things that we expect to connect to the Internet will consists of sensors, actuators with information processing and communication capabilities that will make themselves intelligent.
While consumers eagerly await a new iWatch, Android wearable or a new smart home device from companies such as Nest; for organizations like Ford, FedEx, and GE it is all about IoT-enabled intelligent sensors, machine-to-machine connectivity, and sophisticated back-end data analytics to reap the business benefits of instrumenting, configuring, connecting, contextizing, and analyzing data from equipment, vehicles, physical infrastructure, smart grids and even humans. At the heart of IoT is machine-to-machine (M2M) communications.
The first thing to keep in mind about IoT is the distinction between the consumer and industrial spaces. IoT industrial needs to support a variety of last-mile technologies driven by unique application and environmental requirements as traditional consumer oriented wireless and mobility would not work in all situations.
We would need a whole new infrastructure where disparate devices on industrial equipment, environmental sensors, home appliances, consumer wearables can relay data, and talk to the central public or private cloud services, where most powerful data aggregation and analysis will occur.
We also need to be prepared for some painful and interesting disruption of "traditional business processes" through IoT. It is particularly true in the arena of marketing, customer service and support. If your home air-conditioning unit requires maintenance, it will communicate automatically to the warranty service provider. If you sell a really expensive machine/infrastructure - part of your value proposition might be being able to perform remote diagnostics and preventive maintenance. It does pose some interesting business model questions: Who does the consumer choose to share the sensor data with? How long does the data is persist in a public/private cloud? How to anonymize the data? Who does the monitoring, you or your dealer or end customer themselves? From a consumer point of view, it all translates well with the end in sight for the interruptible, irrelevant advertisements as now their devices themselves put the orders for replenishment and repairs.
There are a number of things (pun intended) that have to come together for IoT to become a commercial reality at a mass scale. With billions of devices, there needs to be a context framework as to which sensors are providing data at what frequency to solve a specific business problem. For example, a jet engine with hundreds of sensors transmitting millions of data points has a different context if the problem is to improve fuel efficiency versus safety and maintenance. The next problem is how to power these sensors and actuators. Some of these would be in hard-to-reach places such as inside a trans-continental oil pipeline. The next problem is how to efficiently store this enormous amount of data. A jet engine can potentially transmit enough data in a single flight from L.A. to New York that could be more data than the entire Library of Congress. The data security and privacy are areas of immense concern. Think of the connected vehicles where the auto manufacturer has full information on current location, all your past years points of interests and your speed records.
The last decade was dedicated to people who communicate with each other via applications such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Pinterest. The next decade will be for M2M communication with devices in automobiles, planes, homes, pet collars, mining equipment, smart meters and medical equipment. TaaS is the key for IoT to become a reality and improve the quality of life on the planet.
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