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The immediate opportunity for benefiting from the IoT lies in the billions of devices already out there.

By Jim Robinson, General Manager, Internet of Things Group, Intel

The Internet of Things is not just a buzzword or a vision for the future. It exists today in billions of installed devices and can come to life in many industries just by connecting these devices to one another and to data stores. The analysis of the data coming from these devices can improve decision making to reduce costs, improve operations, and find new sources of revenue.

Despite all the hype, the Internet of Things isn’t an entirely new concept. I like to say that the newest things have often been 30 years in the making, and the IoT is no exception. For instance, many of the technologies central to it — such as  near field communication, barcodes, and RFID tags — have been around for a while, and some have been applied in the industry, including at Intel, for decades.

Today, however, we have reached a tipping point in cost and performance, helped by the falling prices for RAM and processors, along with many devices getting connected and the explosion of big data from those devices and social media chips. Coupled with the growing attention from analyst firms such as Gartner and Forrester, this has turned the IoT into one of the most talked about technology developments today. According to at least one prediction, there will be 50 billion Internet-connected devices in use by 2020.

Early Adopters

Already today, industries such as manufacturing, retail, and health care are demonstrating the benefits of the Internet of Things, and enterprises in these industries are investing in developing applications based on it.

Take manufacturing at Intel, for example. What we have been doing here internally is the IoT. We dig holes in the ground, build huge “fabs,’”or manufacturing facilities, and install state of the art equipment so that we can fabricate millions of silicon units for customers around the world.  We connect our manufacturing equipment and monitor the health of this equipment in order to make real-time decisions. It is all about improving throughput and having traceability at the unit level for all our product lines.

Health care is very similar. There is so much technology in health care, whether it is at home or in a hospital, and all of it produces data. Improving access to that data will create a tremendous amount of economic benefit for health care organizations and ultimately for the person receiving health care.  Medicine is awash in data, whether it is in a computer or involving imaging or wearable devices — but it hasn’t been connected very efficiently. The IoT provides that missing link, the network to connect all the devices and the data they produce.

Retail is another sector where there is already a lot of investment in the IoT. You can see it when you go into a large retailer. Retailers have massive challenges that the IoT can help address, from creating better experiences for customers to improving point-of-sale activities and inventory management to implementing dynamic pricing.

Potential Roadblocks

Of course, there are some countervailing forces. Personal privacy, the security of data, and standards for interoperability are issues that have to be resolved for the IoT to be successfully and widely deployed.

Society is also just establishing what are acceptable social norms around wearables. For example, if you encounter someone wearing Google Glass, you don’t know whether you are being recorded. There are certain social concerns about how much is too much use of wearables in public spaces and defining what is an acceptable model for interaction. This is one of the areas that society will continue to grapple with, much the same way we have around phones and laptops. Also, what privacy looks like and is considered acceptable is different by age and culture. Millenials are much less concerned about personal confidentiality. They will opt in when they feel they are being offered something that improves their life — or that of society at large  or is entertaining.

Security is another potential roadblock in the widespread adoption of the IoT. As more and more end points are connected, there is more opportunity for attacks and exploitation. You need security at the edge of the IoT and across the network. A lot of data analysis will happen at the device itself, where you need to make real-time decisions or because of corporate security concerns about transporting sensitive data. You may not want to release some data to the cloud infrastructure.  We view security as a critical component of effectively and seamlessly deploying the IoT.

Interoperability standards are always important in driving the successful adoption of new technologies, and the IoT is no exception. For now, every deployment of the IoT is still unique. HVAC units, say, will connect to one another in a different way than medical devices or wearables will. The way each kind of device aggregates and analyzes data is going to be different, too. That makes it hard to have a scalable methodology and to participate efficiently in this IoT economy.

The role we at Intel try to play is to drive more standards that will enable end-to-end IoT deployment. We do that, for example, through our participation in the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC).  The IIC is an open membership group formed by AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM and Intel to break down the barriers of technology silos to support better access to big data with improved integration of the physical and digital worlds.

Where to Start Your IoT Journey?

People can be mesmerized by the sexiness of something new, like the IoT. It’s better to focus on the key benefit of the Internet of Things: its ability to bring more and better data into your business. While the IoT will affect organizations in many ways, some general guidelines can help you choose where to focus your attention and spending.

For starters, consider all the ways you might like to extract data from your business environment. Most organizations have gradually become more instrumented, but the IoT will lead to tremendous expansion. Any processor or activity will be monitored in near-real time and become a new source of data. The data will need to be shared and analyzed so that it can help you make better decisions.

Once you develop a plan identifying the best opportunities for deploying the IoT, you need to discuss it at the highest levels of the business. The IoT is a strategic investment decision that cannot be made from the bottom up. It should affect the entire business, not just individual functions or units.

Next comes implementation. Typically, when we engage with customers interested in the IoT, we work through a long list of questions. For example:  What is your cloud strategy, and how will the IoT impact it? If you could access this type of data, how would it change how you manage your business? Could this specific application of the IoT enable you to improve operations, develop a new revenue stream, or achieve greater efficiencies?

Those kinds of questions can elicit information that builds awareness about opportunities that might be hidden and how deploy the right resources to go after them.

The Immediate Transformative Opportunity

Uncovering opportunities that may improve decision making in your organization down the road is important. But you should also consider what’s lying in plain sight. From our perspective, the transformative — and immediate — opportunity is the billions of devices already deployed over the past 30 years in various sectors such as the energy grid, manufacturing, and infrastructure and traffic management. A very large percentage of these devices and sensors have been based on proprietary systems and have not been connected to anything. We refer to that as the “brown field” opportunity for the IoT — the opportunity to connect devices that are already installed.

The thinking is that no one is going to rip out and replace all those existing devices, which in many cases have a long useful life ahead of them. That would take a very long time, and it’s not really necessary if you can simply attach a secure gateway device and start collecting data.

As an example, we have worked with Daikin, a large Japanese air conditioner manufacturer. They install many systems in large buildings and wanted a way to improve service and maintenance and perhaps even create a new revenue stream. Daikin also wanted to take existing units in the field and add connectivity so they could extract data to improve the management of their business.  We worked with them on a gateway concept and deployed that securely so that now it collects a wide range of operational data, remotely.

Today, Daikin can access data on what equipment is running at a given location, and they can even control the temperature remotely. They used to have a truck and a technician working on a regular schedule to perform maintenance. Most of the time, nothing was wrong, so it was not really necessary to make the visit. If something was failing — or had broken — they might not have the correct part. Now they can detect problems in real time and save on operating costs by deploying a truck only when it’s necessary  and they can usually arrive with the correct part. They also found the data had value for their customers and has led to better ways of distributing loads and operating more efficiently. That’s a great example of what you can do just by adding connectivity to existing devices.

Computing technology has evolved from mainframes to PCs to mobility, to the point where it is now ubiquitous. That is the essence of the IoT. We think that Intel and others will continue to drive Moore’s Law forward, with ever more transistors in a smaller form factor. That progress will be critical to the growth and success of the IoT.

Originally published in CTO Straight Talk, No. 1 (August 2014)

The Takeaways 
The Internet of Things is not just a vision for the future. It exists today in billions of installed devices and can come to life in many industries just by connecting these devices to one another and to data stores.
Security issues could slow widespread adoption of the Internet of Things, with its billions of points of connection with objects and devices. A lot of data analysis will happen at the device itself, at the edge of the IoT, making it vulnerable to attacks and exploitation. The transfer of that analysis or the raw data to corporate servers or to a cloud infrastructure raises additional security concerns.
Interoperability standards are crucial to the adoption of the IoT. For now, nearly every deployment of the IoT is unique. For example, HVAC units, say, will connect to one another in a different way than medical devices or wearables will, and each kind of device aggregates and analyzes data differently.