Are Enterprises Ready for Billions of Devices to Join the Internet?

There are currently more devices connected to the Internet than there are people in the world. The Internet now connects a staggering 10 billion devices today. And this number will continue to grow, as more devices gain the ability to directly interface with the Internet or become physical representations of data accessible via Internet systems. This trend toward interactive device independence is collectively described as the Internet of Things (IoT).

To put the IoT’s explosive growth into perspective, Gartner estimates the IoT market at 26B devices by 2020. Cisco says IoT will add over $14 trillion dollars in economic value add by 2020. McKinsey predicts IoT will add $310B in incremental revenue to companies that embrace it. The numbers are huge with good reason: IoT embodies a revolution in the way enterprises are interacting with customers and how customers experience the enterprise world.

As with previous global technology trends, such as widespread mobile adoption and datacenter consolidation, the changing operating environment associated with the Internet of Things represents considerable impact to the management of a complex network of Internet-connected systems. The increase in Internet-connected systems and the accompanying, non-linear increase in devices can represent both a business opportunity and service management, remediation and automation challenges in the enterprise.

A recent foundational technology for IoT is a good proxy to illustrate the enormity of the most significant market disruption since the dawn of the Internet – IPv6. With IPv6, everything can have a unique number or IP address, making it easier and quicker for devices and data to find their way around the Internet. In comparison to IPv4’s 4.3 billion IP addresses, IPv6 can assign about 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses and corresponding devices. That is a big number. In comparison there are 100 billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy and with scientific estimates of 100 billion Galaxies in the Universe we can assign each star in the Universe its own unique IPV6 network address.

IoT can seem like a nebulous abstraction with no link to daily life or business so one has to think in terms of “vertical industry applications” or “smart solutions” of vertically integrated networks for this to make sense. IoT ushers in a different sort of economics when devices and users start to communicate in these Enterprise “Smart Solution” networks. It’s called the network effect when adding more users and devices to that network increases the value that network. Let’s explore this notion of a “Smart Solution Network” to illustrate how IoT works in daily life. IoT is closer than you think.

The average new car has 60 microprocessors in it, according to the Center for Automotive Research. These microprocessors or computers are communicating with one another over your car’s “network” to control everything from braking, electricity vs gas usage in hybrids, RFID “keyless” operations, maps and directions, instrumentation, entertainment and more. There are also Bluetooth, LTE (Cellular), Satellite, and GPS network capabilities in cars today that allow connectivity to personal devices such as tablets and smartphones, satellite radio, and real time traffic reports. Also, these “networks” provide the basis for the SOS button; data collection of car status, and direct connectivity to manufacturers’ service centers. This is an “application specific network” of an Internet of Things for driving a car providing the best driver experience possible.

Think about the importance of “Service Management” in the above example. There is real time data collection of the car’s status and control systems. The current state of the automobile is broadcast on the local IoT network displayed on the car’s instrumentation and is sending status to the automotive manufacturer’s service center as well. Proactive service alerts are sent to the customer for maintenance appointments, real time malfunction issues, and the customer can instantly communicate with the service center inside the car with the SOS button for any roadside or automobile service issues.

Service Management and the automation of maintaining the automobile’s systems and functions provide a great customer driving experience. It ensures happy and loyal customers that will continue to provide business long after an initial purchase. The more automobiles, smart devices, applications, and customers participate in the automotive Smart Solution IoT network, the higher the value of the manufacturer’s network.

Now let’s take an example from the enterprise. Healthcare is an industry where IoT “Smart Solutions” systems are changing the landscape of patient care. Healthcare providers have long been undergoing a tsunami of change with recent technology disruptions such as electronic healthcare records/electronic medical records (EHR / EMR). With increasing frequency in today’s healthcare environment, wearable and embeddable devices are routinely used to can monitor, record, and transmit information to healthcare providers, physicians and outpatient clinics. And this is giving rise to new remote diagnostic procedures.

These Smart Solution Healthcare “networks” comprised of servers, desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets, applications and smart objects require a service management lifecycle approach to ensure greater healthcare compliance and efficiency for in-patient and outpatient services.

The impact of the IoT on healthcare is already significant.  This includes everything from patient check-in using a “virtual” electronic medical record such as a tablet to tracking hospital medical equipment, teaching surgery procedures remotely using Google Glass or outpatient self help and care.  It also touches automated health insurance EHR submissions, responding to staff requests for solution changes, deployment and provisioning of Smart Solution components, and responding to incidents and problems for staff and patients.  Supporting this wide range of applications and use cases requires a service management strategy and platform that can scale to service the networks of users and devices ubiquitously deployed in a highly connected healthcare ecosystem.

Having a coherent service management strategy and plan for a Healthcare Smart Solution Network results in more time spent on patient care per week, reductions in documentation time, more efficient and flexible access to patient records anywhere and anytime and more.

An important point here is that enterprise IoT or “smart solutions” represent an evolution in M2M (machine to machine) communications.  An examination of industry-specific networks of machines, meters, and controls found in manufacturing, public utilities, transportation, building automation, retail, and healthcare bears this out.  M2M networks were originally built around proprietary or industry specific protocols then “bridged” over to Enterprise IP networks and applications via purpose built network gateways.  IoT-enabled networks on the other hand make it easier to build these industry-specific “smart solutions” on standard network protocols and platforms for simpler, easier and more cost-effective deployment.  The following table lists examples of industry specific IoT growth areas.

Solution Areas Applies the hover color to a particular row or cell
Energy and Utilities Smart Meters, SmartGrids
Building Automation Demand Response, HVAC, Lighting, Surveillance, Security
Transportation Connected Cars, Public Transportation, Freight & Containers, Logistics &Tracking
Retail Vending Machine, POS, Scanners, Kiosks
Healthcare Medical Equipment, Remote Monitors, EHR access, eOutpatient Care, Assisted Living, eHospital
Manufacturing Industrial Process Control, PLC, Diagnostics, Energy use management

Forward-thinking organizations have already built and are managing smart solutions today and have employed service management strategies and planning to accommodate change, deployment, and management requirements for these intricately connected systems. This includes cross industry enterprises deploying everything from transportation networks of automated ticketing machines to GPS tracking of buses, POS and scanner retail systems, and EHR healthcare networks. IoT is no longer an abstraction; it’s a reality today.

Ultimately businesses that can harness data collected from the Internet of Things will be able to provide better services and make more informed decisions, based on real-time data collection and analysis. In addition to automating repetitive tasks for increased efficiency, and predicting repairs and maintenance before a key component breakdown, companies in a wide variety of industries – from transportation to energy, heavy equipment, consumer goods, healthcare, hospitality and insurance — are getting measurable results by analyzing data collected from all manner of machines, equipment, devices, appliances, and other networked “things”.

David Puglia is CMO of FrontRange.

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