Published on the 21/09/2017 | Written by Donovan Jackson
Don’t be drawn by the numbers. Focus on the value behind them…
When it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT) it is the numbers which impress – billions of sensors, generating enormous volumes of data, providing the unmatched opportunity to trace just about anything. But the devil is in the detail: when just a fraction of the world’s existing data is being analysed, creating even more of it isn’t going to be useful. What does become handy is when the data being generated is turned into useful information – and to do that, more than the sensors is required.
That’s according to Vernon Turner, Boston-based IDC Enterprise Systems SVP and IDC Fellow for The Internet of Things. He will visit New Zealand to share his insights at the research company’s Internet of Things Conference 2017 taking place at the Auckland Hilton early November.
Asked if IoT is still somewhat, to coin a neologism ‘hypey’, Turner said yes, this is certainly the case. “Which is kind of odd, because conceptually, IoT is nothing new. Tagging and monitoring assets is something which has been done for decades, so that’s always useful to point out to the naysayers who don’t believe in IoT value.”
This point – around historical monitoring – was recently mentioned by building management specialist Paul Singleton.
“The difference is in the cost of the devices and the intelligence which is being embedded in sensors, which means we can communicate with them. This opens new opportunities to connect things which would never have been connected in the past. That’s where the magic dust starts to sprinkle.”
But magic dust itself has drawbacks: it tends to be sprinkled here, there and everywhere. While it may be a natural progression for anyone and everyone to go to town exploring the potential use cases and applications for emerging technologies (or, in the case of IoT, ones which have undergone fundamental structural changes), there arises confusion over what, where and how it can add practical value. In simple terms, when a remedy is proposed as a panacea, scepticism is wise.
“There are unreasonable expectations from IoT because what we’ve done poorly is to throw the net so far and wide that IoT is like a priest’s blessing, covering everything,” Turner confirmed. “It’s proposed as an answer for the public sector, the private, business and also consumer. Sure, there are some overlaps and perhaps just about every aspect of life can be impacted by IoT – but now you find yourself in a room asking 50 people what IoT means, you get 50 answers back.”
In his view, the sensors are pretty much ‘blah’.
So, too, are most use cases put forward (‘They’re uninspiring’). That’s not where real value will be found, said Turner. Instead, it is what lies behind the ‘things’. “It’s not the sensor in a streetlight that matters. It is the workflow behind managing what the streetlight does. When you have 10,000 streetlights and can predict when any one might fail and optimise the workflow to manage those assets, then you’re starting to appreciate the value that can be created. But people aren’t yet talking in those terms,” he explained.
“Instead, most are obsessed with products when we should be thinking in terms of services. Just like Wipro [IT services company] and JCB [which makes diggers] offer services now and not products, using IoT to create digital links. But this is really difficult, as most companies aren’t ready to go from products to services. And that is the problem with IoT; we’re overwhelmed with the devices, but the real question should be ‘so what if you’re connected to them?”
Turner said IDC and other analysts estimate that less than 5 percent of all data created is used today. “We’re just sitting on it. Creating more rubbish just means you have more rubbish. But, with the IoT, if you can push up the amount of data being used to six or seven percent, you could be looking at knowing 40 percent more. And what services might you be able to create with that insight?”
Far from a nattering nabob of negativity, the good-humoured Turner is justifiably excited at the progress which is being made in the IoT ecosystem and he said with terrific advancements in sensors, back-end analytics solutions to process data and low power networks like LoRa, SigFox and various other LPWAN protocols.
“IoT is absolutely an ecosystem play which depends on the interoperation of multiple players and specialisations. This ecosystem is broadly in place in New Zealand; for improved dairying by better monitoring and using that data for workflows. Or logistics, supply chain management, you can start layering on new outcomes thanks to applied IoT solutions.”
To hear more of Vernon Turner’s views on taking IoT ‘from concept to commercial reality’, register for IDC’s IoT Conference 2017.