The IoT is so much bigger than your thing!
Updated: Aug 1, 2018
I am about to explain what exactly I mean by the “IoT is so much bigger than your thing.” It’s a realization that has firmly shaken off my stereotypical perspective of the internet of things (IoT).
Making our “things” smarter
But, before I begin, let me first explain that the IoT is not a technology; rather, it’s a concept used to characterize the many interconnected “smart objects” or things and their unique ability to collate and, in turn, share information about their world. In other words, we empower our “things” in various contexts to ultimately gather data, which is specific to their environment. Often, I read or hear people refer to IoT as a technology and that’s certainly not the case.
You see, from the onset, I was guilty of focusing too much on the “thing.” This was largely due to my many, many years inadvertently enabling such things with their ability to harvest information about stuff. Whilst I wasn’t fully aware of affording these things with an ability to connect and communicate to the connected world, I seemingly bestowed a modicum of intelligence, of sorts – I made these things smarter. More specifically, I’m referring to my background in software engineering with a consistent theme of wireless technologies, which the books I have authored are testimony to!
These things know about their world
Naturally, for me to move into the IoT domain was quite an innate shift, since wireless technology is fundamental to enabling “things.” Now, with that said, I am a firm advocate that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all technology, as it may take multiple technologies to deliver your unique platform, service or application. As such, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, SigFox and LoRaWAN are just a few of the technologies that may enable your thing. Nonetheless, to complete your IoT ecosystem, you will need to consider your infrastructure and enterprise.
As such, I have come to understand that the IoT is bigger than the “thing.” You see, the “thing” forms the smallest part of the IoT topology and yet it relinquishes a colossal amount of information about its “world.”
No purpose or journey forward
So, I want to explain my very own personal and professional realization of what constitutes a “thing” and what comprises an IoT ecosystem – you know, that “thing” to the gateway; the gateway to the cloud, and then from the cloud to the enterprise. This realization organically crystallised itself within me over the several years or so I worked with the concept. In fact, my understanding continues to evolve and adapt, since I started to develop numerous end-to-end architectures with a view to delivering the entire IoT lifecycle and its ecosystem. Yep, it’s a moving window, as I have to adapt and evolve on a regular basis with technology changes and indeterminate business expectations and requirements. Even at this stage of the IoT lifecycle, businesses are not sure what they want from the IoT, let alone what they expect from the data.
In the throes of the fever-pitched light-bulb moments of excitement that come with the realization that you may indeed have a “thing” to IoT-ize, it’s easy to overlook the real-deal in terms of IoT delivery, which comes in the less exciting, but far more crucial areas of infrastructure, gateway performance and, ultimately, data usage. There’s nothing more disappointing to a technology futurist than a thing that just produces with no real purpose or journey forward. It’s a bit like baking a delicious chocolate cake without the ability to eat it!
Avoiding traffic jams and bottlenecks
Let’s focus on the gateway or edge performance factor. Well, with the potential of hundreds, thousands or hundreds of thousands of things connected all aiming to deliver their data, some pre-processing of data and certainly identification management should be coordinated at this stage.
Primarily, I don’t want to overwhelm my thing’s first point of contact with the cloud. In my original IoT platform as a service (PaaS) architecture, I placed sole responsibility on the cloud to pre-process and identify ‘things’. However, I later realised that placing some of the responsibility at the gateway would not only alleviate congestion and volume, but would additionally sanctify what was actually relaying the data and confirm whether it was authorised to do so. I accomplished reduced traffic overhead at the first point of contact and, in turn, I could avoid potential bottlenecks.
We weren’t expecting the Spanish inquisition
I mentioned infrastructure, well, more specifically, I’m referring to the choice of cloud – I’m not here to advise you of which one is best, but bear in mind that such a platform must remain scalable and certainly flexible enough to satisfy your current and mid- to long-term expectations.
And lastly, there’s the “big data” saga. In my experience thus far, no-one knows what to do with it. Yet, it remains the most powerful asset you’ll gain from implementing your IoT strategy. Remember, data is the new currency! Let’s not get too wrapped up in what technology to use to empower your thing and, instead, take a step back from your thing and ask, “What is your primary responsibility?”, “What type of analytics will I perform?”; moreover, “What am I achieving?” and “What are my expectations?” These are just a few of my favourite questions that I use to challenge businesses and often I receive the response, “Oh, we didn’t think about that.”
Until next time …
In short, your IoT strategy must include, first and foremost, rudimentary data analytics with a clear objective; you could extend your strategy to include an accompanying roadmap scoping predictive analytics for product performance, along with diagnostics and manufacturing, as well as production maintenance for assured quality and product longevity, for example. So, whether you're looking to IoT-ize your consumer product and want to gather data that’s specific to how your consumer use your product, or whether you’re looking to implement a solution across your factory, you must have a clear objective as to what you wish to achieve.
Big data is, in my opinion, the fundamental facet behind my supposition and, ultimately, is why the IoT is so much bigger than your thing!
So, this is where an unorthodox Dr. G signs off.
Originally published in Technically Speaking.