Tomorrow’s world is a connected one. Almost all objects will be intelligent and will communicate through the Internet of Things (IoT). Of course, we need high-performance and reliable infrastructure and platforms to collect data and to run the solutions that process it. In all this, we cannot deny the importance of interoperability between these elements. In the IoT world, integration is a key success factor.
The possibilities are gigantic
According to market research by Bain & Company (‘Unlocking Opportunities in the Internet of Things’), the overall IoT market – including hardware, software, integration and telecom – will be worth 520 billion dollars by 2021. That is twice the size of the market in 2017. Researchers at McKinsey even value the IoT market at 11.000 billion dollars by 2025.
The numbers prove that there is a lot of demand in the market. 60% of companies have plans to start IoT projects. Two years ago, that number was only 40%. But there is a downside to the increase in demand as well. The new plans are mainly for smaller projects.
According to Gartner, B2B drives the IoT market’s current value, but the big volumes can be found in B2C. In 2017, the general public’s objects – including cars, TV sets and home automation – represented some 63% of the market. On the other hand, companies are responsible for the main share of IoT investments: 964 billion dollars, compared to 725 billion in the consumer market. In the professional market, all industries will be impacted by IoT, even when today’s applications – often described as ‘smart’ – primarily focus on cities, health care, production and logistics, home automation, transportation and buildings.
Several factors explain the current craze for IoT. The production cost of the new generation of sensors has dropped considerably, as a result of the increase in mass production. At the same time, the devices are gradually becoming more energy efficient. In addition, the underlying infrastructure is in full development, be it the cloud, essential to collect and process these gigantic data volumes, or broadband networks such as 2G, 3G and 4G. Of course, we also need to mention the rise of WiFi and Bluetooth networks, as well as more dedicated networks like LoRa or Sigfox, and fixed infrastructure that is compatible with IoT. An enabling element is also the fact that the cloud has become more elastic and is perfectly scalable to fit a company’s needs, both in functionality and in cost.
Lower hardware costs, both in terms of storage and information processing, offer another accelerator of change. The internet is becoming more and more important in the industrial world, as is demonstrated by the growing number of Industry 4.0 projects.
As a result, an increasing number of vendors is providing specific platforms for the development of custom IoT solutions, for the use of existing applications, as well as for the integration of IoT with internal company processes.
Basically, an IoT project combines three elements: the data, captured by sensors; the process (automated or not) to collect the data, analyze it and initiate an action; and the user who interacts with the sensor and the process to track information in real time and control it remotely.
As a result, there are three major lines of development. First of all, the deployment and (remote) management of sensors. Secondly, connectivity management to allow the visualization of the sensors and their status using a synoptic dashboard. Finally, the development of applications that generate actions and integrate the collected data in a process to create new business models or improve existing services. The value of an IoT project is created either by transforming and optimizing an existing business process, or by promoting the creation of innovative businesses, products or services, McKinsey confirmed.
But the major challenge of IoT is probably interoperability, said McKinsey, which is needed to fully unlock the potential value of a solution. It is clear that the current generation of solutions is rather vertical, built for specific markets such as automotive, utilities (smart meters, for example) or health care. So far, there is too little sharing of data, either internally within the organization, or externally with service providers who could exploit the data further and monetize it.
Whoever says ‘interoperability’, also has to say ‘integration’, in the broad sense of the term. Obviously, we talk about network connectivity here, and about the ability to transmit data (often very small data, but in extremely large volumes) in real time. As a result, a solution can’t exist without maximum availability of both sensors and transmission, with latency as low as possible.
In addition, it is also a question of integrating the various hardware elements (sensors, gateways, and more) not only into the backbone that is responsible for collecting and processing the data, but also into the overall (legacy) infrastructure. Similarly, it will be necessary to ensure compatibility between various components and firmware. At this infrastructure level, standardization is still in its infancy, particularly when it concerns M2M protocols.
Security is one of the obvious challenges as well, knowing that the internet is particularly vulnerable to hacking and other cyber-attacks. And here too, integration with security tools will be paramount.
With the shortage of IT skills in mind, it is clear that the success of an IoT project depends on an ecosystem of partners, including a service provider that is able to understand the various IoT technologies, but also to align the project with a business strategy that can bring added value.
Specializing in digital transformation solutions, Aprico Consultants solves the problems that customers encounter today by applying the technologies of tomorrow. The Internet of Things, especially, offers an approach that is likely to answer many business problems or open perspectives that have remained unexplored until now.
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