One look at the number of people sporting fitness trackers today gives us fair idea about how the Internet of Things (IoT) has made an impact on the everyday modern life.
Fitness trackers and IoT, we hear you say? Despite sounding completely unrelated, they are in fact highly connected. To demonstrate, let’s begin with defining exactly what IoT is.
The Internet of Things, simply known as IoT, refers to the network of ‘things’, or physical objects, that communicate with other internet enabled devices, systems or processors. These objects perform three distinct actions, which differentiate them from other ‘things’ that do not communicate with other devices, systems and processors. IoT enabled objects are able to:
- Collect; and
And what do they sense, collect and transmit? Data!
These objects have embedded sensors, processors and communication hardware that enable them to register and sense any changes to their surroundings, gather these changes, and send the data to another system or device.
Let’s use the example above to simplify the process. The fitness tracker senses changes in a person’s heart rate, gathers these changes in the heart rate over a period of time and sends the data to the user’s phone or to a central server maintained by the phone maker. (Heart rate data being collected by Apple or Google = data privacy alert! However, that is a topic for another day.)
Global businesses are fast using IoT to create both networks of products and services, as well as establish new business opportunities and models. Billions of dollars are being poured into research, analysing how things can be hooked and enabled to a system to gather as much data as possible. The data is being regarded as a treasure trove of information – such is the hype!
However, tapping into IoT is only part of the story. To appreciate the complete picture, one has to fully understand the complete value chain of IoT. Invariably, it consists of the following actions:
Businesses tend to focus on the first three steps in the value chain, in which there is no debate on how important these steps are. The fourth step, storing the transmitted data, is an essential enabler for any further use of it.
However, what many businesses fail to realise is the importance of the final two stages in the overall IoT value chain. In other words, this is the raison d’être for utilising IoT as a complete cycle.
The data that is collected and stored must be analysed in order to drive insights on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. The ability to not only detect patterns within the data, but to also learn from these patterns, is imperative for any IoT endeavour to succeed. Analytics helps achieve one or more of the below three functions:
- Predict: answers the question of ‘what will happen’, based on what has happened
- Prescribe: determines what should be done, in order to achieve a desired outcome
- Adapt: modifies the action of a system or object (in most cases, this relates to the object or ‘thing’ which sensed and collected the data in the first place)
Once the data has been analysed and patterns are detected, a feedback loop should be established in order to regulate the actions of the object. This ensures that it acts in a way that is desired by us.
Autonomous cars are a classic example of why these last two steps are crucial. In this case, the car is the object or ‘thing’ that is hooked up to a system. Sensors within the car pick up data on how the car is behaving in various conditions; for example, changes in speed, stopping distance, acceleration, deceleration, etc.
Now, suppose this data is analysed and a pattern is recognised which shows that the distance to stop is 30% higher on wet road conditions, compared to that of dry road conditions. The feedback to the car could be to decrease its top speed by a certain percentage when wet road conditions are encountered. Alternatively, it could initiate a human intervention alert if the speed goes above a certain threshold on wet road conditions.
To achieve its full potential, IoT needs to be combined with powerful analysis and feedback mechanisms. This feedback and the subsequent action, is the real value from IoT. Without it, IoT would simply be a data collection exercise.