Upping the ante in the Internet of Things

Established vendors also make a play in IoT

internet of things control touch user

In my last blog on the Internet of Things (IoT), I profiled two startups with solutions for IoT analytics. But with IT research firms such as IDC predicting that IoT will be a $7.1 trillion market by 2020, I knew it wouldn’t take long for big players such as Microsoft and IBM to jump on the IoT bandwagon. Other smaller vendors are rolling out solutions as well.

This time around let's take a look at IBM’s recent formation of an IoT division as well as the company's partnership with the University of South Carolina and Fluor Corp., Microsoft’s new capabilities for the Azure platform and Plex Systems' cloud delivery model and strength in machine-to-machine communications.

One of the primary applications for IoT is asset management, and each of these vendors is leveraging its strength in that area to provide a targeted IoT offering, then using that as a springboard to develop IoT solutions for other applications and industries.

IBM's IoT division

At IBM Interconnect last month, the company announced an Internet of Things division that is meant to align the capabilities of its Rational, Maximo, Watson, Bluemix and facilities management solutions with IBM’s strength in analytics and asset management, with a targeted focus on IoT and new customer use cases. IoT is a natural fit for asset management, where static “things” are interconnected to dynamic “things” and they speak to each other. With its new IoT division, IBM intends to focus on combining these capabilities with the company's vast experience to enable new use cases for customers. IBM presented numerous examples of customers using IoT analytics today to gain value — proof that somewhere behind all that hype, IoT is real. [Disclosure: IBM is a client of Clabby Analytics.]

One of my favorite examples that IoT is real is from outside the realm of asset management and comes from Silverhook Powerboats, a company that uses IoT in its racing boats to improve performance. It is developing a system that will collect data from the boat (speed, direction, course, etc.), environment (water conditions, weather, etc.) and the driver (heart rate, body temperature, etc.) to detect issues in real time so that any necessary corrections can be made for optimal race performance.

Meanwhile, the University of South Carolina has entered into a partnership with IBM and Fluor to form the Center for Applied Innovation in Columbia, S.C. As part of the initiative, the organizations will collaborate on tailored IT curricula and advanced analytic techniques for personalized learning. Students will be trained in the areas of IoT, asset management, predictive and condition-based maintenance, supply chain optimization and analytics, and will work with both local businesses and public- and private-sector organizations across North America.

The Azure IoT Suite

Naturally, Microsoft has also got its eye on the IoT marketplace. A couple of weeks ago, Microsoft announced the Azure IoT Suite (available in preview later this year). It called the suite an integrated offering using Azure’s capabilities to connect devices and other assets, collect the data generated by those devices, and integrate manage, analyze and present that data to provide better decision-making and more automated operations. According to Microsoft, the Azure IoT Suite is particularly applicable to three workload types — asset management, remote monitoring and preventive maintenance — and will be available in a simple as-a-service pricing model. [Disclosure: Microsoft is a client of Clabby Analytics.]

The Azure IoT Suite is an extension of Microsoft’s Azure Intelligent Systems Service, which connects, manages and captures machine-generated data from sensors and devices and was released about a year ago. According to Microsoft, one component of the suite, Stream Analytics (currently in preview and generally available next month) will enable customers to process massive amounts of IoT data in real time to help predict trends and automate services or responses.

Rockwell Automation is using Microsoft Azure to develop cloud-based solutions, using software, sensors and devices to predict equipment failures along the oil supply chain, track its performance in real time, and provide feedback to prevent future failures.

The Internet of Making Things

If you still don't think that the IoT is for real or even useful, consider this use case from cloud ERP provider Plex Systems. The company has its roots in the automotive manufacturing sector, so the implementation of IoT on the factory floor is of interest.

For example, a torque wrench that's connected to ERP systems. When it is used to assemble a complex part, the sensor on the part sends data to the cloud; the cloud then identifies the specifications for the part, and tells the wrench to automatically apply the correct level of torque, eliminating any manual errors. The cloud can also capture and track all data affecting product quality. In the case of the torque wrench, it has data on the torque applied to a specific part, the specific wrench and when it was calibrated, as well as the employee that used it. If the wrench is found faulty, every part affected can be identified for an easy and targeted recall.

Plex is also doing work in the area of new wearable and mobile devices that have the potential to improve accuracy, speed and safety within plants.

Summary observations

After researching IoT and speaking with a number of vendors, I have discovered that, like many technology trends, IoT isn’t really something new. Rather, it is the natural evolution and convergence of several technologies including cloud, smart devices, big data and analytics. It is a natural fit for asset management and manufacturing, which is where many vendors will make their initial push. Beyond that, there is a wealth of other interesting applications from the driverless car to the “connected oven,” that determines proper cooking time of a cut of meat, to the Silverhook application that monitors not only the status of the racing boat and surrounding conditions, but also the physical well-being of the driver.

With established vendors both large and small starting to focus on developing new applications and new use cases for IoT across a wide range of industries, it will certainly be a disruptive technology, changing the way we do things at work, at home and in our leisure time.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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