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Climbing aboard the Internet of Things

If the Internet of Things was a train, it would have sensors on every moving part - every piston, every element of rolling stock and coupling gear. Everything would be measured from levels of wear to play, judder, temperature and pressure.

The information would be fed back to systems which analysed, identified potential faults and arranged for advance delivery of spares. It would be passed to partners about the state of the track and considerations for future designs. The same feed could be picked up by passengers and their families, to confirm location and ETA.

Meanwhile, in the carriages every seat, every floor panel would report on occupancy, broadcasting to conductors and passengers alike. The toilets would quietly report blockages, the taps and soap dispensers would declare when their respective tanks were near empty. 

Every light fitting, every pane of glass, every plug socket, every door and side panel would self-assess for reliability and safety. The driver’s health would be constantly monitored, even as passengers' personal health devices sent reminders to stand up and walk around once every half hour.

The very fact that our train systems don’t yet incorporate all such capabilities is indicative of just how much potential the Internet of Things offers. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a future where the above scenario doesn’t become commonplace.

As reports Kalman Tiboldi, Chief Business Innovation Officer at Belgium-headquartered spares and service company TVH, “It’s not a question of whether, but when.” Equally, for many organisations the range of options appears so overwhelming, it can be difficult to know where to even start.

To resolve this conundrum, I was lucky enough to sit down with Kalman for a panel session at last week’s Cloud Expo conference in London, as well as with Adam Dunkels, founder and CEO of Swedish IoT integration company Thingsquare. Together we came up with a five-point plan:

 

First off, don’t be afraid to start small. Some of the best examples of IoT innovation are where a simple idea has far-reaching impact - such as the use of sensors in farm gates to detect whether they are left open, and send a message - for example via a simple SMS - if so. Network bandwidth clearly does not have to be a constraint: “We still see high demand for GPRS,” says Kalman.

Second is to exploit the power of brainstorming. “We can learn a lot from sites like Indiegogo,” says Adam. However, companies don’t have to leave all the zany ideas to the startups, particularly as the costs of IoT - sensors, hardware and software - continue to drop.

Third, the corollary to this point is to look for the highest value opportunities. Given that sensors and measures can be attached to just about anything, that doesn’t mean organisations need to attach them to everything. The output of any brainstorm should be a shortlist of options which can be given a hard-nosed assessment.

Fourth, with every IoT opportunity comes security risk. Not least can the IoT be hacked to cause disruption - and it will - but also the data it creates has intrinsic, raw value. “More than ever, organisations need to recognise the value of the data they are creating,” says Adam.

Fifth and finally, start to think about how the IoT needs to be managed. Says Kalman, “Managing IoT devices will require new management tools, very different to mobile device management.” Some experience now will help organisations get ahead of the game.

These are early days: over coming years, new sensor types, new software platforms and ways of managing devices and data will emerge. As the IoT train starts to pull away from the platform and gather speed, there is no time like the present to start understanding what benefits it can bring.

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Jon Collins

Jon Collins is an analyst and principal advisor at Inter Orbis. He has over 25 years in experience of the tech sector, having worked as an IT manager, software consultant, project manager and training manager among other roles. Jon’s published work covers security, governance, project management but also includes books on music, including works on Rush, Mike Oldfield and Marillion. See More

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