Internet of Things (IoT) is not new but several factors are coming together to make it a reality for many businesses:
- Major investment is taking place by telecoms to provide ubiquitous connectivity at low cost for data sensors. They are doing this by deploying Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) such as the ones provided by SIGFOX and the LoRa alliance. For example, the Dutch Telecom company KPN recently covered the whole of the Netherlands with a LoRa network and Comcast recently launched machineQ, a LoRa trial aimed at businesses in Philadelphia and San Francisco.
- The low cost and simplicity of new low power connectivity hardware and software means that any company can afford to equip itself in IoT technology even if no carrier coverage is available.
- The Digital transformation triggered by everyone carrying a always-connected super-computer in their pocket is now well accepted and whilst many businesses have not yet adapted to it, most leaders understand the threat to business as usual posed by new digital-fuelled business models (think Uber vs. the traditional taxis).
- Businesses under pressure to cut costs and identify new revenue sources are realizing that having real-time data on their assets and being able to monitor “things” more consistently, more regularly and for a low investment is the best and most cost-effective solution.
What is IoT for?
IoT is presenting us with the opportunity to measure in real-time and with no human effort most events affecting physical objects around us. You may have heard of or used smart electricity meters which automatically send a meter reading every 30 minutes to the electricity company? That’s an IoT application.
Now just imagine if you could apply the same concepts to your business: for example knowing when something is open or closed, or when certain temperature is reached or certain gas concentration is present? Possibilities to utilize that information and to proactively react to it presents huge opportunities for costs avoidance and new revenues, from preventive maintenance, to optimized logistics or damage prevention, not forgetting user experience.
Not convinced? Think about knowing how many (or how few) steps you’ve taken by 4pm can encourage you to get up and take a walk in late afternoon: having the data at hand gives you a chance to act upon it.
What do I need?
There are four major distinct components you need in place to create an IoT-enabled solution:
Sensors measure and emit data from a device. A network transmits that data wirelessly in real-time. The information from the sensors is stored and analyzed using Big Data techniques and cloud storage, whilst Applications and Apps allow humans to visualize and action that data.
Sensors (also called “Nodes” in IoT literature) are devices which can measure anything from where an asset is (location), what the temperature is, how heavy something is, etc. There are literally hundreds of types of sensors available and new ones are coming out everyday. We work with a number of sensor manufacturers to provide our clients with exactly what they need.
The cost of these sensors is also rapidly declining as adoption increases and you can expect most of them to cost only a few dollars in volume.
The third element is power consumption: Anyone who has seen his/her smartphone battery drained by using a GPS-enabled Application knows how much certain sensors can deplete power. Most sensors for IoT are designed to be very power-efficient and use the same battery for 10 or even 20 years, eliminating the cost of wiring them to a power source or having to replace the battery regularly.
There are many competing standards for connectivity between data-emitting sensors and data-gathering servers. The options are varied from short range covering just a few meters (e.g BLE/Bluetooth Low Energy, ZigBee) to long range covering up to 6mi/10km with a single antenna (LPWAN/Low Power Wide Area Network), either using unlicensed radio bands or leveraging the LTE investments. Each usage scenario commands the appropriate network.
- If you’re a runner out and about, looking to upload your latest performance data from your smartwatch to your own dashboard , you will most likely be using a combination of bluetooth (from the watch to your smartphone) and 3G/4G wireless data (from the smartphone to the cloud server with your data).
- A smart thermostat such as Google’s Nest or British Gas’ Hive installed in your home utilizes your home WiFi network to connect to the wider internet over your broadband connection and give you real-time information and control on your heating or cooling.
- A bus company looking to track its buses across its network can leverage GPS-tracking sensors connecting to a wide area network such as LoRa and an App to visualize on a map where every bus is and leverage that information to improve passenger experience and efficiency.
One of the amazing developments in IoT network over the last year or so is the real possibility for anyone to create your own network at low cost. A Building manager can install a Low Power WAN Gateway, able to receive data from all these sensors, covering an area of up to 6mi/10km for for a few hundred dollars. This gateway can use unlicensed radio spectrum so there is no need for authority (e.g. FCC) approval prior to installation.
These are particularly attractive in use cases such as Property Management as the company can use a mix of public network wherever one is available (for example in the center of a city) and deploy its own infrastructure in more rural, less covered areas. Both of these solutions can co-exist and use the same sensors and the same Apps to drive cost efficiencies.
We expect billions of connected devices to be installed and used over the next few years (Intel published a great infographic on Internet of Things and expects the number to be up to 200 Billion by 2020). These sensors are going to generate a lot of data which traditional SQL relational databases would be ill-equipped to handle and the cost to run these internally would be prohibitive. We have therefore developed expertise and tools to leverage modern cloud-based NoSQL databases which are designed to handle billions of pieces of information at a time. Our Point.io IoT platform provides your project with a turnkey solution which you can easily use with Apps we develop, your own Apps or integrate into your wider Big Data efforts.
Last but not least, IoT needs a front-end User Interface to collect, analyze, present and act upon the data. This is where Apps come in and where we most help our clients get what they need rapidly with our App Composer Platform.
A lot of IoT roots lie in the manufacturing world and a lot of IoT User Interfaces are “dashboards”: representations of the data generated by the sensors, which users can interpret to act upon.
At Point.io we believe that data visualization is only the beginning of the story and that to be truly useful in the business world, IoT apps need to incorporate the specific business processes each company has. This is where our robotic process automation comes into its own: our apps combine the data from IoT devices, make sense of it and act upon it, whether through a notification, an approval or an escalation. We can uniquely combine the data gathered by the sensors with the intelligence and steps taken by the staff, partners and customers with full traceability.
As we have spent a lot of time helping property management companies move to the digital age with our Portal solutions, IoT is a natural evolution to create smart buildings, smart offices and smart residences.
Intrigued? Why don’t you contact us and let’s speak about how we can help your business leap ahead of your competition with IoT!