Preparing for a World of 50 Billion Connected Things

Capitalizing on big data is more than collecting data. You need new infrastructure, systems, and processes to analyze and act on your findings.

networking earth

We live in a smart and connected world. From smartphones and watches to automobiles and appliances, everyday objects and devices are now connecting to the Internet to share and analyze data. This connected world is soon to get even smarter and even more connected. Gartner, Inc. forecasts that 6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016, up 30 percent from 20151, and IDC reports that connected devices will reach 50 billion by 2020.2 Gartner further reports that this year, in 2016, 5.5 million new things are connecting every day.[1]

With the rise in connectivity, we are experiencing an explosion in data that can be used to generate business intelligence. This Internet of Things (IoT)-generated data can provide valuable insights to drive efficiencies in operations and fuel new data-driven business models.

But there’s a big caveat here: Just because you have massive amounts of data doesn’t mean you know more. Data won’t do anything for you unless you have the systems and processes in place to capture it, analyze it, and act on your findings. The IoT requires an updated infrastructure in sync with new connectivity needs and new processes. We need new approaches that will allow us to store and process data at the point of capture. We need to reimagine platforms, rework architectures, and rethink our communications capabilities.

With these challenges in mind, let’s look at five steps your organization can take to prepare for a world with more than 50 billion connected devices. But let’s keep this thought in mind: This is not an all-or-nothing list of requirements. You can move forward in phases—and, to be sure, many organizations are already taking steps in this direction.

1. Develop an end-to-end, open, scalable IoT solution architecture

The traditional architectures of the past can’t meet the emerging IoT challenges. You need an end-to-end IoT open, scalable solution architecture that is designed to connect both legacy devices and connect smart things, which can take advantage of computing capabilities across all connected things. This architecture should allow you to connect the unconnected and take full advantage of smart devices that are already connected, and identify where you can secure the connected things and their data, from the thing through the network to the cloud.

As new technologies and capabilities emerge, the ideal IoT architecture is software-defined, so you can reprogram things that are already in service. This architecture should be open, flexible, scalable, and secure. It should allow you to connect devices to the cloud in a secure and seamless manner, and to filter, process, and store data at the edge—at the point of capture—and not just in the cloud.

2. Put security near the point of capture

Security is a serious and fundamental challenge with the IoT. Security should be pervasive. It should be embedded in all of your systems, from the silicon level on up through the software layers. This is a challenging proposition when you consider that many of the things that are now connected or will be connected were not built with integrated security.

To overcome a lack of integrated security capabilities in things you are connecting, you can add security capabilities close to the point at which you are ingesting data. One way to do this is to identify a control point where you can insert a security layer. For example, you can deploy an IoT gateway with integrated security to protect data as it heads into the cloud.

3. Focus on interoperability

Interoperability is a challenging proposition with end-to-end IoT solutions, which invariably include many third-party solutions that connect to the cloud or your data center. Keep interoperability in mind as you move forward to build out your IoT solutions. Your technology decisions should focus on open, standards-based options that will position you to scale easily and cost-effectively.

With that objective in mind, take advantage of the work being done by IoT standards bodies, such as the Industrial Internet Consortium, the Open Connectivity Forum, and the OpenFog Consortium. Similarly, engage with an ecosystem of hardware and software vendors who provide interoperable solutions based on emerging industry standards.

4. Integrate OT and IT processes

The IoT is a place where operations technology and information technology converge. For example, a business might put real-time monitoring capabilities in place to enable better management of energy and water consumption on a corporate campus. To make systems like these work, OT and IT managers need to work together closely. The goal should be to maintain open lines of collaboration, identify OT sources of data that IT can ingest and analyze for identifying efficiencies of resources, and work together to implement.

5. Leverage advanced analytics

A core value proposition for IoT is get to new insights that drive business value. That takes advanced analytics systems that can continually process data and generate actionable information, alerts, and reports. Remember it’s only a thing until it connects to the Internet, and it only becomes valuable when you can analyze the data for meaningful action.

So how do you get there? Think in terms of an analytics maturity curve: As a first step, get things connected so you can collect data. Then enable the visualization of that data so you can see what you’ve got. After that you can move to simple alerting—for example, a machine that notifies you it is out of something. For your next step, you can put more complex rules in place for alerting and then move to the ultimate step—predictive modeling, which enables you to predict and more proactively to prevent problems or take new actions.

With those five steps, your organization should be well on its way to capitalizing on the growing tide of data from the Internet of Things—data that will increasingly hold the keys to business competitiveness and marketplace advantage.

Bridget Karlin is the managing director of the Internet of Things Group at Intel Corporation.

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[1]Gartner press release. “Gartner Says 6.4 Billion Connected ‘Things’ Will Be in Use in 2016, Up 30 Percent From 2015.” November 10, 2015. 2 IDC Report, Business Strategy: The Coming of Age of the "Internet of Things" in Government.” April 2013.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.