The Three Legs of the IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) sits atop a 3-legged stool. Each leg is as important as the next. If any are missing it all falls down. What are these all-important legs you ask? Strategy, Connected Things, and Platform. All of the buzz and hype, all of the conversations I’ve had with manufacturing and product development clients, can be grouped into one of those categories. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have those three ‘legs’ supporting any IoT initiative. The hard part is keeping a balanced approach so each leg of the stool is supporting its fair share of the load. This is especially hard when you consider the ‘non-traditional’ product development players the IoT brings to the table. It’s shifting the value of products and transforming companies altogether. Sometimes this transformation causes such a stir that people and companies tend to ignore the groundwork and adopt a more ad-hoc approach. That’s unfortunate because now, more than ever, business strategists, engineers, and IT need to come together to support a new breed of products.

Let’s build a (theoretical) stool. In the next few paragraphs I’ll explain EAC Connect Services’ 3-Legged Stool analogy.

First, consider Strategy — the ‘why’ leg of the stool. There needs to be a clear connection between any IoT efforts and the value they bring to core business strategy. Since the IoT is clearly shifting product value by adding more information about status, usage, location, efficiency, etc, there can be pretty clear connections made between corporate initiatives and enhanced products with sensors, connectivity and analytics. What’s challenging is bridging the gap created by the language used in different groups. We often see people rattle off business initiatives such as Grow Revenue, Improve Service, Increase Customer Engagement, and Reduce Scrap. Rarely does anyone jump up and say ‘IoT is the Answer.’ Interestingly, the IoT can directly impact each of those goals. The IoT can create new revenue streams based on data acquisition or alternatives to existing service models. It could even change the way products are sold — think ‘Product As A Service’ versus high capital expenditures. How could you be more engaged with customers than through an on-going subscription and monitoring program? And as for scrap, things like machine learning, predictive failure and real-time operational efficiency are just the tip of the iceberg.

Second, let’s consider Connected Things — the ‘what’ leg of the stool. Take a moment and look around the room…seriously, look around the room in which you currently reside. How many connected devices do you see? Now think about the connected devices and systems that you don’t see. I call this ‘pervasive connectivity.’ It’s the notion that connected things are rapidly outnumbering us. Analysts expect there will be about 7 connected and addressable things per person by 2020. These things may connect via bluetooth, WiFi, ethernet, long-range radio, cellular, and satellite signals amongst others. Couple this with ever-shrinking energy-efficient sensors piggybacking on existing products or embedded directly within new ones and we’re ready to analyze streams of data. This could happen real-time, locally or post-facto in the cloud. These connected and enabled things provide data junkies with more data than they know what to do with. And one cool twist is that the back-end systems are learning to mine and manage data on their own. In short, the ‘how’ of smart and connected products comes in layers — base product infrastructure, sensor systems and connectivity form the foundation. Then depending on the objective, analytics may occur real-time, be short-term local or happen ‘in the cloud.’

Third is Platform — the ‘how’ leg of the stool. Consider for a moment the possibilities of a truly scalable cloud IoT purpose-built platform. One where security, connectivity and flexibility are a part of the DNA and easy connection to other enterprise systems like PLM, CRM, MES and the like are not just a notion, but a reality. Picture a platform where these converging streams of data can be analyzed by a learning system that determines what ‘normal’ looks like and autonomously notifies other systems with the right information based on the audience or system. At this point, integrating service information through augmented reality seems like a natural extension and provides the next step in connected product development and the over-the-top service we’re all pursuing. And for some icing on our proverbial cake, how about the ability for ‘non-developers’ to quickly build role-specific dashboards and mashups without needing to write piles of code? While new platforms are springing up, ThingWorx is already in place and providing a central hub for the connected enterprise to meet and even exceed its business objectives.

While all three elements — Strategy, Connected Things, and true IoT platforms — seem somewhat elemental, balancing these will be central to the success of any IoT enabled business initiative. This is the approach we take at EAC through our Connect Services. Whether you’d like help in one, two or all three of these areas, we’d love to partner with you and see your next IoT project flourish.