Demystifying the Internet of Things

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May 8, 2015 - Do you know that the everyday objects around us now possess the capability to talk? This is as much about stuff you typically find in your home—coffee makers, refrigerators, microwaves, lamps, fans—as it is about industrial heavy-duty machines—engines, oil drill rigs, construction equipment, etc.—virtually anything with any form of connectivity to the Internet. The embedding of sensors into the things we have been using all this while means we have a whole new plethora of “intelligent" machines endowed now with the capability to provide us feeds and feedback. Everything is now connected by the Internet of Things.

So what is it after all? The Internet of Things or Industrial Internet of Things is the massive network that connects all these things or physical objects, helping us to “talk" to devices, turn them on/off, monitor them, and even predict how they would/should function over a time period. IoT, as it stands, serves to blur the lines between the animate and the inanimate. The phenomenon that it is applies to almost everything and everyone from banking and insurance to energy/utilities, and further even to agriculture and manufacturing. All of a sudden, things that were seemingly always a part of our day-to-day life are now digital, implying that we can connect and manage them better. As we talk to these objects and they talk back, the world around us inevitably becomes an extension of one's own self.

IDC estimates that the IoT will encompass ~30 bn installed/connected units by 2020, and the opportunities this creates for consumers are phenomenal—imagine something as trivial as your alarm clock signaling the coffee maker to start brewing a fresh cup in 30 minutes or a main door lock triggering a forced turn-off of all lights in the house. Thinking even broader, a flight delay could well trigger airport retailers to spring into action and dole out offers to the flight's understandably harried passengers. (Click here to view how impactful smart machines could be.)

Businesses, too, stand to gain substantially from the multiple avenues opened up by IoT—they could create more efficiencies and optimized throughput for business processes, personalize offerings based on customer needs/preferences, even predict and prescribe actions at every step in your value chain, and all in real time. Who'd not want an inventory that monitors itself and issues a re-order request when the quantity drops below a threshold, or, maybe, a retail shop shelf that transmits a personalized offer to a user's smartphone based on a fetched-in-real-time customer preference/sentiment or her/his most recent store activity? In another parallel, a service provider could well have a remote ops center connected to machinery equipment, collecting all vital signals coming in, and further analyzing them to correlate patterns and undertake prognostic maintenance.

The broader applications would, of course include, among several others:

  • Urban Planning
    • Smart cities
    • Smart grids
    • Waste management
    • Emergency alerts
    • Energy management (identify leakages/efficient usage)
    • Real-time security surveillance
  • Infrastructure
    • Pollution monitoring
    • Predictive maintenance of equipment
    • Smart lighting (or heating/air conditioning)
    • Climate—temperature/weather monitoring for associated weather-based actions
  • Consumer/Home
    • Infotainment
    • Remote-controlled appliances
    • Utilities monitoring
    • Fire/smoke detection
  • Life Sciences/Healthcare
    • Patient care
    • Elderly surveillance
    • Intelligent tags to monitor drug usage in real time
    • Remote diagnostics
    • Medical Equipment monitoring
  • Transport
    • Smart parking
    • Monitoring package movements
    • Telematics
    • Traffic routing

Foundations of IoT

  • Sensors that detect and transmit unique data for an event; could include location, temperature, speed, machine reading, usage levels, or virtually anything
  • Connectivity—critical to ensuring that information reaches from the producer (the thing/machine/device) to the consumer (another thing/device/machine/user)
  • People and processes—could constitute location-based services, intelligent operations, emergency response, security surveillance systems, and the like

Nothing is devoid of challenges/issues, and IoT is faced with some, too:

  • Privacy concerns regarding what should/should not be allowed to be monitored
  • Deemed lack of personal touch, as every entity is an IP address after all
  • Standardization across communications from devices, systems, et al, across heterogeneous countries, jurisdictions, and environments
  • Managing vast amounts of data
  • Change management and adoption issues with people given the pervasive nature of IoT

Nevertheless, IoT, by the sheer nature of its applications and the volume, variety, and velocity of data produced, has clear and present implications for service providers (BPM/technology/analytics). IDC predicts the market will grow from $1.3 trillion back in 2013 to ~$3 trillion in 2020 (a CAGR of 13%).

Sensors, RFIDs, and QR devices produce data in real time and hence have a high requirement for 24× 7 delivery, the ability to respond quickly, and, importantly, skilled domain experts to understand business process nuances.

Again, wireless connectivity is everywhere, but the key will be the proficiency and effort needed to synthesize and analyze this plethora of big data with all its dynamics and nuances, and produce a discerning output. A service provider with appropriate software and mechanisms in place to “listen" to the steady stream of bits and bytes from a machine could well connect the dots and produce meaningful data--> information-->insight--> action paths.

Regardless of the thing in question, IoT backed by a competent service provider enables seamless control and intelligent operations—rule-based behavior and exception handling, easy prediction of working conditions based on known past behavior, and proactive and customized targeting of any issues on a case-by-case basis.

In sum, more and more devices getting online effectively means a digital nervous system that can be harnessed by all kinds of digital technologies—mobility, cloud, and the like—further implying that service providers need to ramp up fast on capabilities to become relevant in this increasingly connected world.

Learn how Genpact is helping large enterprises harness the power of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Author: Girish Malik - AVP, Corporate Strategy and Initiatives