- The opportunities unleashed by smart products are seemingly limitless
- But to really work, the ‘things’ need to speak a common language
SMARTPHONES, smart cities, smart cars or even smart toothbrushes – smart technologies are finding their way into everyday things around us.
The promise of ambient computing – electronic environments that are sensitive and responsive to the presence of people – is a powerful concept, which was once the stuff of science fiction, but is almost within our reach now.
In fact, such is the advancement in this area that there are now more smart ‘things’ than people. Innovative companies are adopting the Internet of Things (IoT) strategy and technology to rethink their products and services and redefine their relationships with customers, employees and partners.
With the number of connected devices estimated to jump to a whopping 50 billion by the year 2020, IoT technologies are expected to unlock US$14.4 trillion in value.
Collectively, the power of these technologies can be harnessed for businesses to save costs by improving operations and eliminating inefficiencies.
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The opportunities unleashed by smart products are seemingly limitless. Companies seeking game-changing innovation or new levels of efficiencies need to quickly embrace IoT in order to stay abreast of the accelerating IoT market.
Smart products not only provide reams of insight into product usage and status across the value chain if properly instrumented and personalised, but also enable continuous product improvements and influence strategic moves into connected markets.
However, building and outfitting IT environments with cloud-connected, data-transmitting and self-aware electronics is only a part of the deal. For ambient intelligence to really work, smart devices, smart rooms and the smart things inside them need to speak a common language.
Many organisations still face a road-bump as they await universal standardisation and regulatory bodies to make IoT a reality.
Is there an alternative to the waiting game? What can organisations do to beat competition?
Understanding the challenge
Let’s take a step back and understand the challenge. The issues we face lie in the multitude of languages, protocols and standards, as well as the lack of agreement between each layer of the IoT.
This is akin to having too many enterprising cooks in the kitchen, whether proprietary or open source in their approach.
Trying to achieve an industry-wide acceptance of one unified standard might be a wild goose chase, even though this is not the best scenario for users across the extended enterprise.
For instance, an organisation might plan a framework best suited to its needs and then choose one of multiple standards to best satisfy that need, whether it is an enterprise platform from Axeda, Thingworx or Predix or a competing open source alternative.
However, that’s difficult to do with so many standardisation bodies and consortia vying to become king of the mountain. As more organisations pursue ambient computing initiatives, standardisation attempts are more divergent than convergent.
Overcoming a lack of standards
This lack of standards might be overcome with a consolidated approach that meets the needs of various use cases and real-world deployments.
In other words, ambient computing is moving away from a singular Internet of Things towards a plural ‘Internets of Things’ that operate independently but can still connect to the public network as required.
According to research, ubiquitous or entrenched IoT deployments are still five to 10 years out, placing the technology at or shortly behind the original 2020 target set by many prognosticators late last millennium, when research and development in ambient computing first began.
Hence, additional time and deeper collaboration might be required for this advanced view of the IoT to coalesce.
Pioneering standardisation groups may collaborate on different layers of IoT in areas such as consolidated protocols for devices and their connectivity; data management protocols, including collection, storage, modelling and analytics; and application protocols that can be deployed to devices and desired ecosystems.
The idea would be to develop an IoT framework that encompasses all the layers with hooks and connectors, covering all involved entities, from devices and networks to machine-to-machine and Web standards.
What is encouraging is that such a delicate collaboration has indeed worked in the past, most notably, amongst telecom service providers.
Individual operators followed their own unique protocols until the Telecommunications Industry Association standardised multiple consortia that led to widespread agreements on data centre infrastructure, cabling, fibre-optic colour-coding and other protocols.
The same is true of ambient computing and for IoT.
Although there have been several small-scale IoT deployments, many organisations are reluctant to invest in ambient computing until large-scale victories have been realised or at least proven.
However, as for intra-organisational IoT deployments, conversations with customers in other industries are in advanced stages right now.
Industry leaders are trying to establish new thresholds of performance and deliver highly personalised customer experiences, products and services. Efficiency levels are also not compromised and organisations can expect faster transformation and disruption of their traditional business models.
But until the industry overcomes this lack of collaboration, the race to consolidate standards will continue. The evolution will be around multiple standards paving the way to the best-of-breed standards.
And as always, the stakes are high for first-movers. At the rate at which digital technologies, devices, connectivity and networks are evolving, the sky is truly the limit with IoT.
Venkataraman Krishnan is vice president and venture leader of Engineering and Manufacturing Solutions at Cognizant.
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