This paper first published to Slideshare, November 2015
Beyond the Noise: A Simplified Overview of the IoT Data Ecosystem for the Business Executive
A Service Provider Perspective
By Sal Yazbeck
This article illustrates a simplified business-focused framework for the Internet of Things (IoT) as a snapshot in time, and referred to here as a Data Value-Chain Ecosystem. Written for the business executive and presented from the point of view of the service provider, this ecosystem highlights briefly the IoT as a composition of three interconnecting domain pillars, together representing an ecosystem of technology and operational processes. A brief overview of each pillar is explored with a focus on gaining rapid clarity and insight on a technology, business, and market level. Concluding thoughts are then presented.
To better grasp the significance of what the Internet of Things (IoT) represents, taking a look backwards for a moment may help. During the 1990's, a great potential developed to bring the Internet to the masses via creation of the web browser, as well as new deployment activity in submarine fiber cables to add communications capacity across the globe. The 2000's spurred developments in the mobile internet space which facilitated Internet connectivity on the go for businesses and consumers alike.
Added further is the use of sensor-based Machine to Machine (M2M) communications in the industrial sector for machine automation, the concept of which is said to date back to its analog roots in 1885 in thermostat use1.
In this decade and beyond, there is great potential for the IoT to build on that history and create a new industry connecting all forms of trivial objects to the cloud, on a global level. If this possibility eventually plays out as it should, it presents a significant development on many fronts, particularly since it could have a disruptive economic impact on a global scale2.
However, a main complexity in grasping IoT as a concept is its reliance on many industries to enable a data delivery ecosystem. For the business executive considering an IoT startup, innovating existing services, or considering funding options, a fundamental understanding of how this ecosystem interconnects is key to identifying where in the value-chain they operate.
In this article, a few questions are explored to help bring focus in this respect:
- Might there be a more intuitive business approach to gain perspective on an end-to-end IoT service delivery process?
- What reference framework might quickly present the gist of it? And,
- What meaning might be extracted from it all on a technology, business, and market level?
Presented from a service provider's point of view, this article attempts to address these areas briefly through illustration of a simplified data value-chain ecosystem.
IoT: A DATA ECOSYSTEM
While definitions abound, IoT may be viewed as a vision of future services which depend on an interconnected data ecosystem. It is so since IoT's implementation and operability depend on a host of technologies and processes which together represent a data value-chain. The term data is prominent since IoT is primarily about the sensor-collection of data, which are then sent via networks to the cloud for analysis. Thereafter IoT becomes about the actionable knowledge that data may produce, for instance, to provide a service, improve operations, and generate revenues. So, in its basic form, an IoT service has the potential to monitor and control any object on the planet, no matter how exciting or mundane it may seem, and to develop knowledge on various levels, including how it is used, where it is used, and what performance it is delivering. Such capabilities potentially present great opportunities for creation of innovative products and services for many markets on a global scale.
Another key item for consideration is that IoT is about automation. Meaning, sensors are primarily connected to the Internet to feed data to cloud services without user intervention. For the purposes of this article, the focus excludes sensors designed mainly for user data-entry via touch screen or standard networked keyboard and mouse.
DATA ECOSYSTEM:THREE PILLARS
To illustrate this data value-chain a bit, it helps to divide its components into three domain pillars:
- The Enablers;
- The Support System; and
- The Business Drivers.
These three areas are born out of a basic "collect → analyze → strategize" data lifecycle thought, which serves to illustrate a transformation of collected data into information, and then to knowledge.
Taking a service provider focus, each pillar is presented in a simplified IoT Data Value-Chain Diagram (see page 1), and high level summary, next.
1. The Enablers
This section reflects on how the data first enter the value-chain, and how then the end-user may interact with the resulting information.
a) Sensors (the data point of entry): The data meant to be collected must enter the ecosystem in some fashion, before they can be analyzed and the information accessed. As a starting point in data collection, this is where sensors play a specific role, whether they are attached to a consumer good (wrist band, shirt, door), or embedded in an industrial product (utility meter, street lights, conveyor belt).
They autonomously collect a specific type of data, which are then fed directly to the cloud without user input. Connection to a short-range network, such as Wi-Fi, is assumed here to enable data movement at the network edge. In some cases, direct connection to a wide area network (cellular, satellite) may be configured, based on a variety of factors.
b) Computing Devices (devices with web-enabled apps): After sensor-collected data are sent to the cloud and analytics performed on them, the option then may exist (depending on industry and application) for the end-user of the sensor product or their representative to interact with that data in a meaningful way. For instance, one may think of their auto mechanic as sort of their representative at service time when the car diagnostic information is accessed from the cloud on an auto shop tablet. Or alternately, when field service engineers use their mobile device to interact with collected machine health data to provide efficient service during a customer call.
2. The Support System
At its core, IoT depends on network connectivity to feed IP-based data to cloud services. This section highlights a couple of relevant thoughts.
a) Network Infrastructure: The Internet, as an information superhighway, is made possible through the passing of data over the converged global telecom infrastructure, so-called the wide area network (WAN). Representing connections as submarine cables, satellites, and cellular networks, WANs are typically interconnected with a mix of short-range edge networks such as Wi-Fi, which, together, help put seamless content in the hands of end-users. Continued innovation in many of these areas today, including novel new initiatives, is what helps make the IoT a workable concept moving forward.
b) The Cloud: Cloud computing, or simply, "the cloud", may undoubtedly be considered as the heartbeat of the IoT world. It is that online place (ie, data center) where collected sensor data are stored in databases, analyzed via algorithms, meaningful information is produced, and monitoring and control of remote sensor products are enabled, among others. The resulting information generated in the cloud can then be accessed, for instance, by the end user of the sensor product as well as by the service provider who has a direct stake in the service and profitability of their business. For instance, a utility provider may remotely monitor and control water usage in the home and agricultural markets as part of its business operations.
3. The Business Drivers
This section addresses several business/market thought areas, and is presented here in a business strategy and decisions context. This focus could help an IoT service provider, for instance:
- Address questions, such as what business am I in? And,
- Review its business model, use cases, and value offerings.
As such, fundamental areas for consideration include:
a) Operations/Service Improvements: This area potentially offers a service provider opportunities to leverage data and cloud capabilities to improve its service processes, design better products, or strive for better customer service. The IoT concept fits well here as the data value-chain provides a vehicle which empowers such possibilities.
b) Data Monetization: This area addresses the service provider's business model and questions, for instance, whether or not the data collected, or the information generated, may or may not be saleable.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
This article presents a service provider oriented IoT data ecosystem as a snapshot in time. It highlights, briefly, the IoT as a composition of three interconnecting pillars representing a landscape of technology and operational processes referred to in this article as a data value-chain ecosystem. The mechanics of this data value-chain, however, are quickly evolving as early industry use case results are evaluated and the related ecosystem evolves. Over time, the basic data lifecycle thought of "collect → analyze → strategize" could well serve as a simple common denominator principle to fall back on for clarity and focus. Though, it may also require constant reevaluation as IoT is set to move industries globally in an unprecedented direction.
Aside from a vision of connecting practically every object on the planet, the success factors of this new industry will depend on a host of market challenges. While apart and beyond the scope of this article, these include some obvious and other developing factors as catering to an increasingly security-aware marketplace, ease-of-use levels of products and services, affordable pricing, agreement on common communications standards, product interoperability, embedding analytics at the network edge, global migration towards IPv6, a young regulatory environment, as well as generating a positive perception with customers which translates into actual purchases. Likely, these and other challenges will take some time to overcome.
1. Quoting from blog article on NimbeLink’s blog page, M2M “…was an analog sensor, a bimetal strip bending as temperature changed until it closed a contact and became, for that instant, digital. Changing its state from zero to one, it sent a signal down a wire. That signal turned on the furnace or boiler, where a second thermostat waited to tell the fan or pump when it was time to start circulating heated air or water.” Published September 06, 2014. Accessed November 14, 2015 at: https://www.nimbelink.com/m2m-history-begins-in-1885/
2. McKinsey report: Unlocking the potential of the Internet of Things. Notes that "Our bottom-up analysis for the applications we size estimates that the IoT has a total potential economic impact of $3.9 trillion to $11.1 trillion a year by 2025." Published June 2015. Accessed on November 14, 2015 at: http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/business_technology/the_internet_of_things_the_value_of_digitizing_the_physical_world
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About this Article
This document is for informational purposes only. The contents are personal views of its author, may contain inaccuracies, and do not represent advice of any kind. Always consult with a qualified professional for proper assessment and advice on your particular business needs.