The Key Values of the Internet of Things [eBook]

A few weeks ago I talked about the criteria your team needs to assess before moving forward with adopting into the Internet of Things (IoT) for enterprise. There is definitely no shortage of resources when it comes to accessing the Internet of Things in the market. In fact, the venture capital funding for IoT startups totaled $7.4 billion over six years. However, that does not mean creating an IoT business is easy–your company needs to overcome multiple hurdles in order to create successful IoT devices. We recapped some of the most common challenges you might face in IoT, and how to tackle them.

1. Devices

The challenges within the Internet of Things go beyond making devices that work; both product and service need to work seamlessly, almost invisibly to an end user. This is true for both the IoT and the consumer side. The service needs to meet needs, easily integrate into daily life or the industrial process, and has to enhance the user’s life or the business process. That means IoT solutions can’t focus simply on reliable hardware; the software backends need to be reliable as well. Consumers expect both their device and its website or app to function 24/7. When devices control real world environments, they cannot simply shut down due to a software bug, as some users experienced with the Nest thermostat. For industrial applications, the consequences of a device shutdown are far more severe than sleeping under an extra blanket. Security poses another challenge. There have already been worms targeting connected devices, such as security cameras; researchers demonstrated they could take over a driverless car. Security experts expect “machine to machine” attacks to increase during 2016. In fact, the risks are so real that the FBI issued a public service announcement to alert companies and the public to the dangers.

Companies also need to develop a strategy to cope with all the data collected by IoT devices. The volume of data is enormous; a jet engine generates 1TB of data every flight. Companies will need to cope with the massive amounts of data, combine data from multiple sources, and run efficient analytic processes. Finding ways to work with it may require adopting new techniques, like edge/fog computing, to reduce the amount of data sent to the backend systems.

2. Process

To build a level of software required by an IoT business model—with high capabilities of availability, security and performance—companies need to bring in skills they may not have needed when developing other products — embedded programming, real-time event processing, big data analytics. Before bringing that level of skill sets, it is important to think about the IoT product’s value to the user, it has to remove friction and perform a practical and useful service. For your product to succeed, the focus must return to the end user. You also need to be careful about committing to specific technologies. It is still early for many IoT standards, so expect to change your architecture as the technology evolves. There are multiple choices for almost every component of an IoT device — different chip vendors, various communication protocols, numerous backend software platforms. Future developments in sensors and batteries may someday let you implement additional functionality that isn’t possible right now. You may also need to adapt in order to scale your device and backend applications to larger volumes of data.

3. End Users

The primary challenge of the IoT device is that its design has to be customer-centric. End users won’t implement technology just for the sake of technology; the hype only goes so far to generate buzz. To achieve market loyalty, the technology must be able to simplify.  The devices also need to mesh with societal expectations. For example, the insurance issues around self-driving cars, including concerns such as the extent of the manufacturer’s liability, aren’t settled. Some insurers may want to adjust underwriting based on data about driving habits gathered by sensors in vehicles. This kind of usage of data raises privacy concerns the public may not be comfortable with.

Building an Ecosystem

Your IoT offering requires more than just a fancy hardware device. It needs to be part of an ecosystem in which the hardware is just one element. The ecosystem needs to include features for end users. This means a website or smartphone app where they can adjust device configuration settings and monitor device activity since things typically have neither displays nor input mechanisms to interface with.

The ecosystem needs to include features for third-party developers, to encourage its adoption by allowing others to create add-ons. This means creating APIs and tools for developers to use and implementing a process by which you can test their creations for safety before offering them for download in an online store.

Finally, the ecosystem needs to include features for your own developers. They need tools to monitor the usage of your product “in the wild” to keep an eye on performance and identify issues. Performance testing not only needs to make sure your production environment will handle the volume of messages received but also how your system operates if the connection fails and messages are not received. Your ecosystem also should provide a way to automatically deploy bug fixes and firmware updates to your products.

Outweighing the Challenges

There are inevitable complexities when it comes to creating and maintaining a consistent IoT product and software. With those challenges, however, come more opportunities for innovation and revenue. There are three main opportunities for companies to implement IoT business models:

  1. Digitize current processes or services: Tasks that are currently performed manually can be automated. For example, remote patient monitoring lets patients transmit vital signs to their doctors’ offices automatically, eliminating the need for follow-up visits.
  2. New business models: For some firms, using IoT devices can mean changing their business model. The World Economic Forum predicts a new “outcome economy” in which sensors will enable companies to charge for usage and guaranteed quality levels. Rolls-Royce, for example, charges per engine flying hour for its TotalCare aerospace service.
  3. Enhancing customer experience: Customers benefit from the always-connected aspect of IoT devices and being able to look at their data themselves. Companies can also take advantage of the data collected from the sensors to understand how customers use their devices and identify opportunities for new features and services that will make customers even happier in the future.

Your IoT offering requires more than just fancy hardware. It needs to be part of an ecosystem in which the hardware is just one element. The ecosystem needs to include features for end users and developers. Sometimes it means providing a front-end application for users to adjust device configuration settings and monitor device activity. Third-party developers must be encouraged to adopt by allowing them to create APIs and implementing a process by which you can test their creations before offering them for download in an online store.

Finally, the ecosystem needs to include features for your own developers. They need tools to monitor the usage of your product “in the wild” to keep an eye on performance and identify issues. Performance testing not only needs to make sure your production environment will handle the volume of messages received but also how your system operates if the connection fails and messages are not received. Your ecosystem, if built correctly, must provide a way to automatically deploy bug fixes and firmware updates to your products to ensure application and device performance is always providing the ideal experience to both developers and end users.

Get more out of the Internet of Things, and read the full eBook, Breaking Down the Internet of Things here.

4 Questions to Ask Before Adopting the Internet of Things

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: there’s another side to the Internet that isn’t just about connecting people. The Internet of Things (IoT) is about connecting virtually any “thing” or machine. They could range from personal wearables to smart homes, smart cities’ infrastructure, utilities, transportation, and manufacturing. You’ve probably heard by now; the IoT is far bigger than the Internet of people, and it’s growing fast. Gartner says the IoT will grow 30 percent in 2016, reaching 6.4 billion devices, with more than five million new devices connected daily. It’s expected to continue growing to 20.8 billion devices by 2020.

It’s more than likely any business today sees the potential of adopting an Internet of Things model into their enterprise, but are you doing it in the best way? We set aside the four questions you and your team should be answering to determine how to find the right opportunity in the IoT space for your business.

1. What is the Internet of Things?

First things first. Defining the Internet of Things, and establishing its context to your framework is instrumental in determining your potential with IoT. Gartner defines the IoT as “the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.” Verizon identifies three characteristics of IoT devices:

  • Aware: The devices include sensors that report information about their surroundings.

  • Autonomous: IoT devices are connected and automatically transfer information to a central location or application for processing.

  • Actionable: The information collected is integrated into business processes for decision making.

Figure 1: The three characteristics of IoT Devices

2. Is your software configured to connect with the IoT?

Talking about the IoT in terms of things makes it sound like the IoT is all about physical hardware. While the IoT doesn’t exist without sensor-based devices, the devices don’t actually function without software. Most IoT devices have a user interfaced website or smartphone app where the user can manage configuration settings and review activity. Some IoT devices have more sophisticated analytics that gather big data and crunch the numbers to make decisions about what the device should do or present insights to business management.

While building the software that runs on a device may require specialized skills for embedded programming, the backend processes are conventional software applications with common software development concerns, including performance and ease of use. The usual security concerns around software become even more important with the IoT, as software controls devices in the real world and security failures can impact physical systems.

3. Do your team’s technical capabilities scale with the needs of the IoT?

Technology developments now make dealing with the technical challenges of IoT devices easier. Platforms like Raspberry Pi provide low-cost boards equipped for IoT development. Low-power sensors and new low-power communication technology, such as LoRa, mean the limited power available to IoT devices does not limit functionality. Sensors and circuits are shrunk to the point that they fit into devices a person is willing to wear.

On the software side, companies have made platforms to create a standardized environment for IoT development. Applications can use RESTful APIs or lightweight protocol, which were designed to work where memory and network capacity are limited.

Both Amazon Web Services and the Google Cloud Platform offer features explicitly intended to meet the needs of IoT applications, including both real-time communications with IoT devices and performance of the big data analytics necessary to make sense of data once it accumulates. Combined with the hardware platforms, these services make it easy to get started prototyping a device and its software. Because prototyping platforms are scalable, if an idea is not successful, it is easy to continue developing it and create a robust product without throwing away the work that was already done. 

4. How does it create a ROI for your business?

Customer-generated data collected by IoT devices offer companies insight into customer behavior and create additional selling opportunities. They provide an in-depth insight that provides opportunity for companies to forecast everything from product roadmaps to market leverage. There are four main kinds of benefits for businesses:

  • Improvements in operational efficiency and asset utilization: Companies gain the ability to manage equipment remotely and schedule preventive maintenance to eliminate downtime. The IoT can also help with optimizing supply chains and loss prevention.

  • An outcome-based business model: The tracking and monitoring enabled by the IoT lets companies change the way they sell equipment. The use of sensors allows them to sell based on usage and quality level, allowing capital goods to adopt the “as-a-Service” model that’s become popular for software.

  • Analytics-based controls: Combining analytics with smart devices will let companies fine-tune control over their processes. Adjustments can be made in real time to ensure continued production and compliance with environmental standards.

  • Improved work efficiency: Smart devices will allow increased collaboration between workers and equipment, improving productivity.

Internet of Things (IoT) – A Technical Primer

We are rapidly moving to a brave new world of interconnected smart homes, cars, offices and factories known as the Internet of Things (IoT). Sensors and monitoring devices will touch every part of our lives. Let’s take a closer look at the Internet of Things.

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things is a worldwide network of objects and devices connected to the Internet. They are electronics, sensors, software and more. These objects connect to the Internet and can be controlled remotely via apps and programs.

Because they can be accessed via the Internet, these devices create a tremendous opportunity to integrate computers and the physical world. They will improve our lives by making things more efficient and accurate, providing economic benefits derived from more effective use of resources.

How big will the Internet of Things become? Consider these statistics:

  • According to Gartner Incorporated, by the year 2020 the Internet of Things will consist of more than 26 billion devices.

  • A survey by Pew Research Internet Project showed that 83 percent of technology experts agreed that embedded sensors and wearable computers will have significant global benefits by 2025.

  • In 2015, the United Kingdom allocated more than 40 million pounds to research the Internet of Things.

Origin of the Term “Internet of Things”

The term “Internet of Things” was originated in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, an entrepreneur from Britain. The Internet of Things goes beyond what is currently known as machine-to-machine (M2M) communications — it is broader, encompassing a wide range of devices, services, and systems.

Because these devices are interconnected, many experts believe we will experience a new level of automation in nearly every field. For example, urban planners foresee “smart cities” that can better control transportation, utilities, power and other systems by continuously monitoring services with smart sensors.

Wide Variety of Devices

The Internet of Things includes almost anything that can be connected to the Internet and monitored remotely. Heart monitoring systems, biochips in animals, electric sensors in the oceans, cars with a complete set of sensors, devices that help rescue teams, and more can be considered part of the Internet of Things.

Each system collects data using a number of various technologies and then sends that data to other devices. A simple example is a thermostat in the home. It continuously adjusts the temperature of the room based on where the homeowner sets it. Another example is the growing use of sensors in washers and dryers that use Wi-Fi for remote operation and monitoring.

Shortage of Internet Addresses

Currently, a connection to the Internet involves an IPv4 address to identify that item. IPv4 has room for over 4.3 billion addresses. However, since experts expect there to be more than 30 to 50 billion devices on the Internet, this will not be enough.

IPv6 will be able to handle all of the addresses the world needs. The IPv6 address space can accommodate millions of objects, but also needs to be able to control devices, not just monitor them. That means that IPv6 is critical to the growth of the Internet of Things in the coming years.

Automating Home Sweet Home

Home automation is another area that will experience rapid expansion in censoring and monitoring capabilities. For example, you can program your home system to start heating the water one half hour before you wake up so that it is ready when you want to take a shower.

These developments led to the term “smart home.” The next extension of the smart home is connecting multiple smart homes together, tying them into a city and statewide grid to help improve energy efficiency, monitoring and emergency services allocations.

Local Networks and Devices

Internet of Things is a series of connected systems. It might be electronic prices on store shelves that change on demand, or city buses that commuters can track on their smartphone.

In the world of business, a company needs to decide which technology they should use. A large facility like a factory requires both actuators and sensors. In that case, a wireless network is probably the best choice because it can cover a large area.

Wireless sensor networks are low-cost and low-power and run on batteries. The edge node of the sensor network is the gateway, which might also have storage and a user interface.

Connectivity Solutions

Wi-Fi is common for connecting with devices, but it needs a tremendous amount of power. New technologies exist that are inexpensive and low-power. Researchers are developing many ideas including the following:

  • Low-power batteries that can last for many months

  • Energy harvesting as a power source

  • Mesh-networking that does not need attention from operators

  • Cutting-edge protocols for operating autonomously

For example, IEEE 802.14.5 is a protocol for personal wireless networks that has a low data rate and only uses 50 percent of the power of previous generations. Experts expect that they can cut the power needs by another 50 percent in the next few years.

Any individual protocol that transports IP packets has many advantages, but no single tech solution can cover every use case. There are too many variables to find one answer with a specific amount of power, efficiency, and range — all at a low cost. For that reason, every Internet protocol (UDP, TCP, SSL, HTTP and others) should be used as much as possible.

Embedded Systems

Embedded systems mean the software to run a device is on board the device itself. Examples include video cameras, microwaves, thermostats, and systems within cars.

Today’s microprocessor chips have several processors, also known as cores, and a lot of cache memory. On the other hand, a microcontroller is substantially different. It is a single-chip and contains a processor, ROM memory, RAM memory, and I/O control unit and a clock. It is sometimes called, “a computer on a chip.” These microcontrollers are embedded in thousands of products including appliances, automobiles, and toys. A car, for example, has more than 70 microcontrollers handling different functions.

Most microcontrollers handle one task. Microcontrollers are used a lot in the industry because they can be programmed to handle simple instructions and operations. They can open and close a gate, or turn a switch on and off. This simplicity makes it inexpensive to create machines with much functionality. Microcontrollers come in different sizes and power, and their processors range from 4-bit to 32-bit.

Deeply Embedded Devices

An extension of embedded systems is deeply embedded devices. Once the program has been burned into the memory, the system is not programmable and requires no interaction from a user.

Deeply embedded devices are usually single-purpose devices that monitor something, perform some processing, and perform a task. They usually have wireless capability, and often are seen in network situations where many sensors are spread over a large space, for instance in a factory or on a farm.

Modern Network Protocols

In the Internet of Things, embedded devices transfer information with each other. They do not have the equivalent of what people use: browsers and social media. The Internet of Things has different protocols than the current Internet.

The “human” Internet is based on the TCP/IP Internet protocol suite. It has the following:

  • Physical layer that includes physical devices

  • Data link layer

  • Network layer, which is where the Internet is located

  • The transport layer, which includes TCP and UDP, the two transport protocols

TCP is used for most interaction on the Internet. However, TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) can be “too much” for an embedded system. UDP (User Datagram Protocol) is a better answer for sensors and remote control of devices.

The next three layers above the transport layer are the application layer, presentation layer, and session layer. These include FTP (File Transfer Protocol), HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), and DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol). You can make embedded devices with these protocols, but they might not be as efficient as newer protocols.

On the other hand, CoAP (Constrained Application Protocol) was specially made for embedded devices and the Internet of Things. It has many advantages:

  • Uses UDP

  • Low overhead

  • Synchronous and asynchronous communication

Another popular new protocol is MQTT (M2 Telemetry Transport). It is very lightweight, bandwidth efficient, and great for constrained networks.

Current web protocols like HTTP, XML and TCP, have a lot of data overhead. Robust newer protocols like CoAP, UDP and Web Objects are more efficient. They are optimized for constrained devices and have much lower data overhead — only tens of bytes rather than hundreds or even thousands of bytes.

Challenges

Along with the advantages, The Internet of Things presents several challenges. First, because everything is connected, hackers can figure out how to penetrate the systems. In April of 2014, for example, a hacker took control of a security camera in a home in Ohio. Although the manufacturer had upgraded the firmware to prevent access by outsiders, the family had not thought to upgrade the device.

This story indicates another problem: loss of privacy. If hackers can take control of devices in a home, couldn’t the government, do the same thing? How much access should outside entities have to information about your health, credit rating, and other aspects of your private life? Moreover, when millions of devices are interconnected, wouldn’t national security be compromised?

Summary

The Internet of Things holds a tremendous amount of promise for creating a better life for millions of people. Sensors and simple devices can make us more efficient and effective. They help use precious resources better and have the capability of solving significant problems from urban centers to rural areas. Researchers are racing to develop low-cost, low-power technology to keep up with the urgent demand for a better-connected world.

Internet of Things (IoT): Changing how we live and take care of business

Harvard Business Review published a blog about the Internet of Things (IoT) and markets where IoT has grown strong. Blog author, Simona Jankowski, wrote, “IoT is expected to connect 28 billion “things” to the internet by 2020, ranging from wearable devices such as smartwatches to automobiles, appliances, and industrial equipment.” That kind of development is enough to spur an evolution in how we live on a daily basis.

As of today, we are already quite connected. You can go for a run wearing your fitness tracker to record your endurance, heart rate, and overall activity. When you get home, your house leverages historical data combined with your preset preferences, to automatically adjust the temperature and get the shower going for you. Your shower shuts off, notifying your coffee maker to start brewing and you’re almost ready for your day – all thanks to recent innovations in IoT, but it doesn’t stop there. You drive to work, and your IoT-enabled dashboard in your car notifies you of some bad traffic up ahead, and directs you through an alternative route.

Enjoying how effortless some of life’s menial tasks have become, enables you to move faster in your day-to-day activities and focus on other tasks at your job. The best part is that these devices don’t require you to do much of anything at all. In fact, you may become so dependent on these, that you forget your old ways of doing things. Now, you’re more aware of your health, you live more comfortably, and you get to work a little bit sooner than you used to.

The real value of living with IoT comes from what you can share with others. Data sharing has expanded the possibilities of ways to connect with people. Not only do you get data on how much energy you save with your smart home, but you can also compare how much you save to your friends and neighbors. For businesses, data sharing opens the door to even more ways to monetize the Internet of Things.

Big Data is a buzzword thrown around a lot over the past few years. With the billions of devices that have been predicted to become connected, Big Data is about to get really, really big. “According to computer giant IBM,” as reported by the BCC, “2.5 exabytes – that’s 2.5 billion gigabytes – of data was generated every day in 2012.” For enterprise businesses, this could mean identifying ways to optimize services, cut costs, or even create new services. Take the idea of the Smart City as an example. Existing IoT companies focused on data analytics, hardware, and software are partnering to address this idea, working together to create smarter cities. Imagine if your city could give you status updates on traffic patterns, pollution, parking spaces, water, power, and light – all in real time. Access to that data could improve the economic and environmental health of the city for its entire community. Making connections, and making sense of data generated from those connections, will continue to drive these ideas not just for smart cities, but also for the utilities industry, fleet and automotive, remote monitoring for industrial plants, and so much more.

Most developers, either independent or for an enterprise business, know that monitoring these devices is crucial to ensure optimal performance of your application. With IoT specifically, leveraging third-party APIs will add to the complexity of your environment, making end-to-end visibility extremely vital. Take some advice from experienced developer, Ian Murphy. Murphy writes about the top 5 questions you should ask before using a third-party API. Among these questions, he answers on topics you must think about such as latency and uptime, as well as longevity of support for that API. There are a few other undesirable outcomes from using third party APIs, including poor user experience. Be sure to be thoughtful and thorough to make the most of your connected devices.

The Harvard Business Review concludes that those who “make the connections possible and to process the vast amounts of data” will be the real winners of IoT. However, the real winners of IoT are everyday users and adopters. The more the Internet of Things becomes more accessible to consumers, or the average Joe, the bigger its value will become. The interconnectedness of all ‘things’ will increase the complexity of application environments and introduce terabits on terabits of new data.

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