by Minda Zetlin, August 2014
The outlook for the black rhinoceros in Kenya is grim. In 1969 there were about 20,000 of them; now there are only around 540. Those remaining few are under serious threat from poachers due to the global demand for rhinoceros horn, which is thought to increase sexual potency and cure cancer, among other purported benefits.
In a project named Instant Wild, the London Zoological Society has placed sturdy, inexpensive cameras with extremely long battery life at strategic locations in some of Kenya’s most inaccessible places. These motion-activated cameras take a photo of passing creatures, adding an LED flash at night. Those images are automatically uploaded via satellite to the cloud, where anyone who wants to can view them via a website or smartphone app. The images provide both a deterrent and legal evidence against poachers.
It’s a perfect use of the Internet of Things (IoT), the growing interaction between the online and physical worlds made possible by such technologies as sensors, IPv6, GPS, RFID, telematics, mobile, satellite, Wi-Fi networks, machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, and wearable computing devices.
The culmination of these technologies has transformative economic potential, says Andy Piper, CIO at Push Technology, headquartered in London, England. “I think the Internet of Things will give rise to new business models,” he says. “There’s a kind of strategy play where CIOs and CEOs need to think about how their businesses will be affected by this technological wave, particularly by new entrants who are able to do things better using this technology.”
Despite the huge business opportunity the IoT represents, it comes with a lot of hesitation for CIOs and IT departments. In a 2013 Forrester Research survey, more than half the responding IT executives said their companies had no plans to implement the IoT, and only 8 percent already had such projects up and running.
The reason is not that IT leaders find the IoT unimportant for their organizations. Rather, implementing the IoT presents challenges, both to infrastructure and to data analysis—challenges these leaders know they’ll need to overcome soon.
The game-changing potential of the IoT is hard to ignore. But finding use cases where the IoT can be justified with immediate ROI requires careful analysis, IoT experts admit. “It’s caught the imagination of consumers,” says Gaurav Palta, partner, high tech and manufacturing, at Infosys Consulting. “When you actually start selling it to enterprises, finding an area where you derive real value is a little more challenging. You need to have teams that can think it through from both a domain and a technical perspective for a solution that makes financial sense.” In particular, whenever data is needed in real time, the IoT offers clear-cut ROI benefits, he adds.
The ‘experts’ who ignore the IoT better watch out, because suddenly a new entrant might eat their lunch!
Enterprise technologists may be in a unique position to identify use cases and leverage the IoT. The office of the CIO is familiar with the effort required to analyze business processes and find opportunities for automation. This is at the heart of the IoT. And with IT budgets shifting away from big-bang, on-premises IT projects, the IoT represents an opportunity for the office of the CIO to add new value to the business.
David Parsons, vice president of strategic initiatives for the Oracle practice at Hitachi Consulting, believes that CIOs are ready to do that work. “They’re tired of reducing cost, and much of the IT mandate is reducing cost,” he says. “Overall, we see a broader opportunity for the CIO to participate in how their organizations go to market. We think the Internet of Things is one way to do that.”
How can CIOs start building their strategic plans? One way is to keep an eye on where the market is going. Researchers at Cisco predict that by 2020 there will be 50 billion devices connected to the internet. This networked connection of people, process, data, and things is what Cisco and others call the Internet of Everything, of which the IoT is a part. Joseph Bradley, managing director of Cisco Consulting Services’ Internet of Everything practice, believes three forces are driving adoption of these technologies.
“The first is economics,” he says. “If you think about the price/performance ratios for sensors, actuators, and storage, it’s improving at a dramatic rate.” The same goes for cameras and rugged outdoor modems.
The second driver, Bradley says, is the rapid spread of mobile networks and Wi-Fi, providing connectivity to an ever-larger swath of the globe. Even if it doesn’t reach the remote Kenyan bush—yet—the Iridium satellite network enables phone calls from literally anyplace on earth. Without it, the Instant Wild conservation project wouldn’t have been possible.
The third driver is the growth of collaboration and crowdsourcing. “Data scientists are sharing expertise,” he says. “We’re in a collaborative world where people from business customers to IT professionals are collaborating on issues of importance to them.
“In this digital renaissance period, insight—not the data itself—is the currency of the twenty-first century. Insight happens when people of diverse backgrounds are able to connect with each other and collaborate to analyze and act on information for a shared purpose,” Bradley adds.
That’s precisely how it’s working in Kenya. Instant Wild users who view the photos on their computers or smartphones are asked to match those images against a guide, thus helping with the work of reviewing thousands of photos. It’s working. Users have already identified at least one species previously thought to be extinct.
Indeed, there are plenty of situations where real-time data can have a serious and immediate impact on the bottom line. Oracle customer Tridium provides software to control automated heating, cooling, and lighting systems, often at large offices or factories. These systems use sensors to track both temperatures and activity levels, and tune heating, cooling, and lighting in response.
Number of devices predicted to be connected to the internet by 2020 (Source: Cisco)
“It’s able to look at events together, so that if a situation changes, the environment changes accordingly,” says Simon Nicholson, senior director, Java product management, at Oracle. “If a room tracks that someone isn’t in it, maybe you can turn down heating or lighting. If someone is moving across a car park, it can move the lighting up, and if no one is there, turn the lighting down.”
Not only does the rapid response to changing conditions make employees more comfortable; Tridium is also able to reduce customers’ energy costs by as much as 20 percent on weekdays and 50 percent on weekends.
Push Technology’s Piper heard recently about a company that hooked up sensors to mousetraps and sent data to a centralized controller that could tell a user when the mousetrap had gone off—and if it had gone off at all. “This is quite powerful in a large building where you don’t want to have to check them all,” he says.
Attaching sensor devices to mousetraps is not a new idea, and pest control companies have been offering this service, Piper says. “The point is that with the IoT anyone can do it. Suddenly the barrier to entry to this type of business model is dramatically lowered because sensors are cheap and easy to hook up, and there are readily available software solutions to deal with their output. So the ‘experts’ who ignore the IoT better watch out, because suddenly a new entrant might eat their lunch!”
It’s easy to envision a scenario where a pest control company that offered this service would have a competitive edge over others that didn’t, he adds. Smart IT leaders will identify those threats and opportunities, and prepare for them.
The key to getting the most leverage from the IoT is to look beyond an immediate pain point, adds Kent Sanders, lead partner, enterprise applications, at Tata Consultancy Services’ Transformation Practice. “I worked with a construction company that was the world’s largest customer for Caterpillar. They were equipping their machines with GPS and telematic devices. This company wanted to use GPS to identify where pieces of equipment were so that, if someone left a bulldozer on a work site, the people who drove in tankers for refueling could find the equipment without driving around.”
That was a good idea, Sanders says, but it didn’t go far enough. “Take it to the next step. We know where the bulldozer is, but maybe we can also tell what its fuel level is because maybe the ’dozer has three-quarters of a tank of fuel and the fuel truck doesn’t have to refill it at all. And if you can combine that information with the work plans for that ’dozer for the following day, you might be able to tell that even half a tank of gas will be enough because it’s not going to be used that much.”
As benefits like these become clear, the IoT will become so ubiquitous that the term itself may disappear.
Not only that, he says, but the IoT could also provide information on oil levels, water levels, and many other items. There are safety checks and maintenance checks that equipment operators have to do every day, he continues. Telematics could do the maintenance checks automatically. It might only save each operator five minutes a day, but multiply that over thousands of pieces of equipment and hundreds of job sites, and you’ve saved a significant number of employee hours.
As benefits like these become clear, the IoT will become so ubiquitous that the term itself may disappear, according to Tim Murdoch, director, digital services, at Cambridge Consultants, which created the cameras and modems for Instant Wild in Kenya.
“The internet is becoming very physical,” he says. “We’ll very quickly move beyond the Internet of Things as a concept and simply accept that the internet includes a bunch of things. It will simply be the internet.”
Minda Zetlin is coauthor, with Bill Pfleging, of The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don’t Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive (Prometheus Books, 2006).
Read the Sidebar: Are You Ready for the IoT?