There is a lot of mysticism surrounding the Internet of Things (IoT) as it stands today. However, when you strip this away it boils down to the ability to connect things more cost effectively and interact with those things to produce new capabilities or levels of understanding.
To understand the real value of this connectivity, we first need to understand how this technology developed.
Stage I: The Dawn of the Internet
The world went through a similar transformation when we moved from isolated computer systems to computers that were connected together via what we called the ‘Internet’.
The connection in and of itself was not really the point, it was what it could provide us with that was important. No one ever really got excited about installing a network card and a router, but they certainly wanted access to the websites that this technology enabled.
In the early days, the value of access to websites was self-evident. The Internet enabled us to access products and gain knowledge of mankind from around the world, moving the home computer from a hobby to something essential in modern society.
Stage II: Monetizing Connectivity
With the explosion of access and never-ending stream of content, also came the desire from companies to profit from it, which resulted in a number of monetization models in the early days.
One was to attempt to charge users for the content itself, but the problem was people refused to pay for content when similar alternatives could be easily found for free.
Another idea, largely borrowed from broadcast television, was to provide the content for free, and instead insert advertisements into what people were viewing. This seemed simple enough but it was a waste of a technology that by definition allowed two-way communications with its users.
Stage III: The Internet of Us
Then the era of the Social Network dawned, providing users with a free platform that encouraged them to create and post content themselves.
Some of these Social Networks struck gold. Armed with burgeoning analytics technology, they were able to gather relevant insights with a great magnitude of user provided unstructured data and enable advertisers to be far more targeted with their content, thereby making their efforts more effective and valuable.
In fact, both Social Networks and IoT are based on some similar concepts if we consider their fundamentals:
- There is a ‘thing’ you want to interact with
- Technology enables you to connect to that ‘thing’ and gather data from it
- These ‘things’ are connected to some form of network which carries data to a core collection point
- The data is analyzed and combined with readings from many other ‘things’
- Implications are drawn from the analysis of all this data in concert and something valuable is derived
In essence, Social Networks built the first platforms of the IoT era, and we were the first ‘things’.
The True Value of Connectivity
When it came to the Internet, it was not connectivity that provided the pay off, but analytics. The ability to derive insight from a massive number of data points is what really started to turn connectivity into money.
This all holds true with Industrial IoT, where we believe that through the connection of many physical world devices, we can make revolutionary improvements to processes. In fact, the connectivity of the devices is what we need to do, but the ability to rapidly analyze the data is what makes this endeavor truly useful.
An understanding of the nature of the machines and operation processes is necessary. This can then guide the analytic process to inform data mining with the suitable analytics tools and uncover the maximum value from the data.
It pains me to say this as a network engineer, but in industrial IoT, the ‘Internet’ part is the most readily commoditized. And whilst it is fundamental and essential, it does not deliver the most value. Instead, true value lies within the ‘Analytics of Things’.