Connecting assets, systems, people and animals is no longer a pipe dream. It is a reality and changing the way consumers live, particularly with the advances in medicine and healthcare. It is also changing how businesses operate, allowing companies to get greater intelligence and beefed up data analytics.
Welcome to the Internet of Things (IoT) – a sector showing staggering growth across several verticals that is still in a state of immaturity. By 2020, 5.4 billion sensors and machine-to-machine devices will be connected to the Internet. Gartner recently found that 40 per cent of organisations expect IoT to have a significant impact in the short term, and more than 60 per cent in the long term.
Integrated services, information security solutions, data analytics, connectivity and the convergence of operational technology and IT will all offer significant possibilities.
A select group of industry thought-leaders gathered to examine this nascent market, its potential, and the areas of opportunity.
This roundtable was sponsored by Symantec, DNA Connect, Splunk and Zebra Technologies
What is IoT and how is it transforming business? For starters, IoT (sometimes dubbed Internet of Everything) is the network of physical objects or ‘things’ embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity.
The ‘things’ in IOT can range from a whole host of devices including heart monitoring implants, biochip transponders on farm animals or field operation devices that assist firefighters with search and rescue.
Splunk A/NZ country manager, Dan Miller, said devices have become more intelligent thanks to the advent of sensors, paving the way for business transformation and machine-to-machine communication that enables actionable change.
“The Internet of Things is the opportunity presented by devices whereby they run and speak to each other and make decisions and create an action based on that communication. We keep hearing about the Internet enabled fridge and washing machines, but those sorts of things, while interesting, are less valuable in a lot of ways. But there are some genuinely valuable things,” he said.
Zebra Technologies general manager, David Arkles, said the Internet of Things has become a buzzword – he prefers to call it enterprise asset intelligence (EAI).
“It’s not a particularly useful statement. We’re actually trying to create a new category. We call it enterprise asset intelligence – and IoT is one very important part of that,” he said, adding there are three major trends that relate to EAI.
“It’s the myriad of sensors and the amount of connectivity between those sensors that are creating and capturing so much data. The second major trend is Cloud, but I’m thinking more about the aggregation of data and most importantly the ability to apply smart analytics to that and then produce actionable data as a result of it. The third major trend is mobility. It’s about getting that data to the right person or the right machine at the right time.
"The Internet of Things sounds good in a headline, but it doesn’t tell us much. Enterprise asset intelligence – which is about using all that sensor and data capture device, bringing it together, being able to aggregate it, analyse it and produce actionable data which you deliver back to the right person, the right data at the right time – that to me is what it’s about.” Arkles said the technology is life changing as it now provides actionable outcomes. “I think 2015 could well go down as perhaps one of the most disruptive years in our industry and how it transpires is of interest to all of us.”
Indeed, there is a new level of sophistication in how devices and networks can communicate with each other, according to Channel Dynamics director, Cam Wayland.
“You’ve got the data cache so the sensors are now becoming imbedded at very, very low costs. You have the communications to get that back from that sensor to do something with it, and then there’s the software platform, it’s either mobile or backend in terms of the analytics to actually do something about it, either automatically, or somebody else doing something with that data that wasn’t possible to do before.”
Enterprise versus consumer
Symantec senior principal systems engineer, security, Nick Savvides, said the consumer versus enterprise discussion is important, and there is overlap in the market between the two.
“IoT really implies a consumer type approach – consumer technologies that are focused at individuals rather than at enterprises,” he said, explaining how the foundation for IoT in the enterprise and business front is with RFID technologies and the industrial market.
“Barcodes is an Internet of Things type device. It’s connected devices; a sensor that’s feeding data into a platform and then analytics perform and actions are taken. But I think Internet of Things implies it is a consumer type technology, the things that are in the home. There’s definitely overlap between enterprise use cases for connected devices and then the Internet of Things where it’s connected – a connected home or a connected individual application where I instrumented in people’s homes or my person in order to get an outcome.,” he said.
Savvides said Cloud is essential in the IoT story. “The biggest thing is the actual Cloud asset of it because IoT is just a bunch of things without the Cloud. The reality is nearly every connected device now is backended and using some sort of Cloud platform because it simply is not scalable for individual enterprises or organisations to collect telemetry from devices. If I’m selling connected thermostats and all of a sudden I sell eight million of those thermostats, I then need to have the backend systems that manage and control those,” he said.
Read more: Telstra opens Gurrowa Innovation Lab
InfoTrust principal consultant, Dane Meah, said IoT is now transforming into a business and productivity tool thanks to its early days as a consumer tool, and now being leveraged on both sides for mutual benefit.
“I’d liken it to the evolution of Cloud services where before it was Cloud it was just called your Hotmail account. Ten years later, Office 365 is available and businesses are buying that service. With the FitBit device or the scanners at home, we’re starting to see applications that are rolled out to staff and to business and they are either attached to people or attached to assets and then that information is being leveraged in a useful way by business internally. The current use case is predominantly the mass collection of data and analysing and making the best use of that data.”
Meah said customers are asking for IoT in order to gain more visibility with the data that’s being collected (particularly in the retail space), but customers need education about the security implications.
“There’s an unprecedented amount of data being collected about everything and everyone. There’s a tipping point where the data is being collected but not necessarily maintained in a responsible and a secure way. Our role is to educate the customer about the ‘what if’s’ of that security breach. What scares me and what businesses should be concerned about is what if that data got into the wrong hands and that data was valuable to malicious organisations that want to harvest the use of that.”
Certainly, customers aren’t clear about the security aspects of the data, and the necessary controls, agreed Symantec’s Savvides.
“Your username, your health information, location, is all being sent up to a Cloud service completely unprotected. That is a big concern when you start to think about the connective Internet and the amount of data that is being collected on individuals. There’s a real rapid innovation in this space, but there are organisations who are delivering features and functionality without the security considerations.”
“The reality is all these things are smart, they’re all exploitable, and they all have rich capabilities that are attractive to malicious actors. The industrial Internet has taken a very long time to come to grips with the learning curve that needs to be applied; those learnings really need to be applied to the consumerisation of this technology.”
And while Rivium CEO, Robert Silver, agreed security is a top concern as IoT includes both consumer data and industrial data, he said the powerful blend of analytics and data is transforming many industries and improving operations.
“There is a convergence of industrial data and the consumer Internet of Things. We’re already seeing it right now with utilities and power generation where they’re getting the analytics around customer use of energy and then they’re also able to then very specifically utilise that in the industrial data environment to control the generation of electricity to meet their demands and their consumer behaviour,” he said.
“It’s the convergence of the analytics of that data that is going to be where we actually see some of the fundamental changes and the shifts in the way that organisations becomes more productive, more profitable because they can use more of adjusting time methodology to actually meet the demands of the consumers that have those devices as well.”
Channel Dynamics’ Wayland said while the consumer uses are the sexier side of IoT, the business use cases will drive market momentum thanks to the newfound knowledge and ability to make informed choices.
“The consumer IoT gets the headlines through the FitBits and the Apple Watch and all those sorts of things like wearables, but it’s actually the industrial or the business applications that will drive uptake because you can really easily map a business case in terms of monitoring, collection of data, predictive machine repair up times, health, agriculture, you name it. The information gives you power to make choices, informed choices,” he said.
“The whole IoT irony is that because of the cost decrease and the improvements in the communications and analytics, you can now make informed choices about some of the industrial applications that you couldn’t have potentially made a number of years ago. But certainly there are many considerations from the security transmission, the proprietary data, and what you’re actually doing there – and that’s a challenge, whether it’s industrial, building automation or through to your consumer FitBit.
But DNA Connect director, Munsoor Khan, said IoT is more than just assets and systems.
“We talk about assets and systems, but things also include people and animals,” he said, adding the technology is a real game-changer. “We can actually make a material difference to people’s lives.”
“Even now, people are putting RFID chips into cattle to monitor their grazing patterns and produce healthier meat. We’re moving to a world where there are many things now, many objects, many people and many animals and their interaction is what is going to drive this next wave of innovation,” he said.
“To me, it’s all about the data. We’re doing all of this to get the data in the right hands, in the right formats to make business decisions. All we’re trying to do is get data in a meaningful fashion to the people that need it.”
Khan said IoT is enabling a powerful new level of data analytics and communication, thereby eliminating the old days of “analysis paralysis” where people looked at their data and had no sense of pattern or visibility.
“We have the opportunity now to understand that a machine in Kalgoorlie is starting to behave differently and is likely to fail in this amount of time. So if I get somebody out there proactively it’s going to reduce down time. This is the most exciting part for me of where we are moving into: The ability to actually make tangible changes to a business, the business’s bottom line and their customer experience with easy to use data. And the added benefit you can also automate a lot of this. And somebody doesn’t have to hit a button anymore, it can all happen seamlessly.”
Indeed, there is a need to improve data intelligence and why companies are looking to technologies like IoT in a bid to improve visibility across the supply chain.
There are many horror stories that abound because a company didn’t have access to timely or pertinent information. Zebra’s Arkles told the unfortunate story of a dog, which became the victim of insufficient data and analysis.
“One of the major transport companies in Australia is looking at a solution to help from a tracking point of view, to not only track the device or track the parcel that they’re moving, but they’re going to track the actual condition of their parcel. What’s given rise to this is they took an animal, a dog, and they were moving the dog from one city to another. When it arrived at the other end the dog, this beloved pet, was frozen solid.
“There’s an example of how they have the tracking mechanisms, but they weren’t tracking the temperature, they weren’t tracking the condition of the article. If you’re tracking the condition of the article, then you would be able to see that.”
BCDS CEO, Ian Jefford, said today’s improved intelligence comes with the convergence of the industrial IoT and the consumer mix, but the foundation technology started with RFID.BCDS is a data capture solutions company that has been focusing on RFID solutions for the last 16 years.
“We’re definitely seeing this consumer side of IoT and the industrial side of IoT; with smartphones and technology today we see more of a convergence. RFID is there – it’s an enabling technology to provide digital signatures and sensors to assets and people and things to provide that intelligence back up through supply chains and across industrial applications for monitoring dogs that are getting too cold, and livestock, cattle and sheep and so on and doing projects with tracking kangaroos as well.”
Jefford said it is a fascinating time for the industry. “To sum it up in a small way: it’s connecting a web to everything all around. It’s a very exciting space. It’s not new, but with this terminology and where the technology is heading with the uptake of more and more Cloud services and software as a service, the expansion is enormous. I think it’s exciting times for a lot of our businesses here and now.”
There’s no doubt IoT is gaining popularity and adoption is accelerating. Symantec’s Savvides said the cost reduction has been a massive market boost.
“The expansion has been driven by the dramatic shift in cost. The industrial Internet is expensive; it has been traditionally expensive. The proliferation of sensors and low-cost high-quality sensors and Cloud computing has driven the cost down for all aspects of it. And that is one of the biggest contributing factors because now the Internet of Things, what was traditionally the domain of corporations and industry in order to improve their manufacturing or improve their supply-chain management, improve their construction processes or whatever they might be working on, is now accessible to the small enterprise because of the sheer reduction in cost. We can underestimate the dramatic shift in cost – and that will spur innovation and new use cases because now those things are attainable.”
So what’s in it for the channel? Analysts tell us partners can tap into integrated services, information security solutions, data analytics, connectivity and the convergence of operational technology and IT. With analytics a huge state of play, Splunk’s Miller said partners with an in-depth knowledge of a company’s data intelligence will be successful.
“A partner who has knowledge and capability in the utility space or whatever industry it might be, the ability for them very quickly to map that knowledge that they have about the things that are important and interesting to an organisation from the bottom line perspective and now get access to the data that will help unlock an insight that they might not have had and the availability of platforms that allow the collection of that data and real-time analysis of that data. This means that partners can now concentrate and differentiate around the things they know and understand about competitive advantage of a business and all of the moving parts underneath it are relatively accessible.”
InfoTrust’s Meah agreed partners have a huge part to play in delivering expertise and guidance to customers, particularly in the age of disruptive technologies and business transformation.
“The opportunity for the channel is knowing the customer’s industry, understanding the capabilities that are out there, the risks that go with the products and educating the customer and providing the consultative level of engagement. We’re not shipping boxes anymore or software – it’s about very bespoke solutions for quite complex requirements in many cases, but deliver it in a way that’s a lot easier and affordable and accessible than previously.”
Rivium’s Silver said there is a huge demand for partners to help companies with data analytics.
“Knowledge is king,” he said. “It comes down to getting the tools and analytics in place because you’re starting to amass so much data that it becomes problematic to actually drill down into that data and actually get real-time intelligence out of what’s actually going on in your environment. That’s where the business case comes in for what you are doing with that data and you need the appropriate tools to actually deal with that. So analytics is a major opportunity.”
Zebra’s Arkles said there are opportunities in not just the data, but the software development space.
“Whether it’s in software and the ability to actually go global, utilise the connectivity and the Cloud and everything else, be able to move out of Australia and offer those solutions around the world, there are those sorts of opportunities,” he said.
“It’s everything from deployment through specifying and having the skill sets to actually survey and create simple designs for new networks that are going to be distributed out there to the software that’s going to help to turn that into something that’s effectively useful through to just the maintenance of a myriad of new products, both hardware and software.
“It really is limitless, but I would certainly be urging all of our software providers to choose something you’re going to be really good at. Either it’s going to be low-cost deployment or it’s going to be specialisation in something.”
Skywire CEO, James Shepherd, agreed there are big opportunities for the service provider, particularly in the mobility market. Skywire designs, deploys and manages and supports mobile solutions based on the Zebra platform.
“We view it more on the mobility side as in mobile devices. Originally data was stored centrally via a server, now we’re seeing connectivity and with the Internet we have remote capabilities – all the devices moving from the traditional applications within four walls are now all becoming browser based.”
Symantec’s Savvides said the security opportunity is all about specialisation.
“A big opportunity for the channel is that security application in this connected environment. It is a slightly different application to a traditional one, what we call enterprise security hygiene where you have your base level of security that you need to apply and security operations.
“When we start talking about these connected devices, connected systems, Internet of Things, I have different security considerations. There is a really big opportunity for partners and the channel to specialise in applying specific security domain knowledge on getting these systems to talk to each other safely, to securing the operations of these systems, the management of these systems, the infrastructure that goes with it and the connectivity to the Cloud,” he said.
DNA Connect’s Khan said partners need to think about the company’s bottom line.
“Everybody’s talking about specialisation, but I just think you would be leaving money on the table if you just focused on the security aspects of someone’s Internet of Things project or the connectivity. The real game changer is to make a tangible difference to that organization’s bottom line, either by helping them increase their revenue or reduce costs. Any partner that can do that in a monetised fashion will be very, very successful with this.”