Are We Solving the Wrong Problems in the World of IoT

By not looking at connected systems, whether in smart buildings, smart factories, smart public venues, smart cities and smart regions, with an enterprise view, developers of IoT and Industrial IoT technologies are not optimizing the potential return on investment. With coming on two decades of innovation, investment and an overall enthusiasm for instrumenting the physical world for better results – more efficiency, more safety, more convenience – tens of thousands of sensors, platforms, applications and implementation are in place, but are they contributing to their potential?

Now that these technologies and related ecosystems are real, 2020 will be a breakthrough year only when systems are designed to address clear business challenges based on business goals and desired outcomes that can be measured tangibly with a clear line of sight into precisely how the choices made today will impact the top and bottom lines tomorrow.

Over the last few years, innovators in the world of data centers and data transport (connecting those data centers) have disrupted everything we thought we knew about infrastructure through software defined networking and what the Founder and CEO of Apstra, Mansour Karam, coined “Intent-based Networking” and “Intent-based Data Centers” in 2016.

The Intent-based Networking (IBN) concept caught on quickly, as it represented a new approach where software helped IT professionals plan, design, provision, operate and manage networks improving availability and agility. The pivot to Intent-based Data Centers (IBDC) happened quickly, and today advanced IT leaders are building new infrastructure based on specific business applications, requirements, and distributed offices and end-users. This cultural and operational shift forces teams to “start at the end point” and work their way backward from there.

The time is ripe for our community to roll out Intent-based IoT and IIoT, signaling the rise of larger, more distributed, more secure and scalable enterprise systems that leverage contextual datasets generated by sensor-based solutions to continually improve how the physical or “built” world operates, improving not just a single supply chain, but related supply chains, for example.

There are technical definitions of Intent-based networks, data centers and IoT deployments, which for the latter essentially comprises higher level programming approaches rather than on lower-level discrete and “tactical” elements, creating broader end-to-end solutions including those where multiple functions are consolidated into a single view, similar to the Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) for data management which were popular twenty years ago as distributed networking grew as part of the rise of IP networking.

At that time, while there were machine-to-machine solutions in place and as connected automobiles were emerging with applications like OnStar, we were nowhere near the now global infrastructure of networked domains, able to monitor and control the physical world, bridging physical and digital systems. Today we have everything technically speaking that we need to optimize the benefits of faster and more resilient networks, cloud compute, edge compute, and the silicon innovations that deliver instrumentation in increasingly smaller and exponentially powerful form factors. We have virtualized everything, from servers to networks to sensors and actuators, but have we built “The Lamborghini” out of the best parts available?

The Italian Lamborghini Huracan Performante is one of the fastest supercars in the world, but its engine is a Porsche V10 FSI engine, which is also found under the hood of the Audi R8. Like Porsche, Lamborghinis are built from the best of parts, and it is the assemblage that makes the difference including the overall design, engineering and drive experience.

The same can be said for IoT solutions, and given the advances over the last several years in device virtualization, provisioning of virtual sensors and actuators, and providing suitable digital infrastructure for resource-intensive IoT applications, we are in a great position to create and operate enterprise level systems that get businesses to their destination faster and more elegantly than we could have imagined twenty years ago.

Beyond the technical aspects of Intent-based IoT, it is the business approach – and the philosophy and thought process that allows us to build based on specific problems that, when solved, generate enormous value that defines the real and sustainable opportunity we see every day at Rocket Wagon Venture Studios.

Looking at IoT solutions as not only programmable but programmatic is what we are seeing as business cases for investment 10 – 100X greater in IoT are being made and approved by organizations who see very clearly how having their offices connected across HVAC, lighting, physical security and safety, including applications that enable remote access and monitoring can save them millions of dollars a year, while improving employee productivity.

For years I have illustrated the advantage of this way of thinking through the “first receiver” construct, or the notion of leveraging the utility value of data by separating the creation of data from the consumption of data. This is commonly associated with an event-driven, publish-and-subscribe architecture. That same temperature you are getting from the turbine might be helpful to the turbine maker, the turbine user, the turbine users’ supply chain partners and even regulatory agencies like OSHA. It’s still the same piece of data. The key is to get the right data into the right hands in the right way. That’s where the leverage is realized, and this is a perfect example of taking a larger, enterprise view and building with the intention of improving not just one metric, but many.

How do we get there from here – how to we actualize Intent-based end-to-end solutions which power massive enterprise programs solving problems in multiple locations, and with interconnections into multiple third-party ecosystems?

By more thoughtfully designing what to do and how to do it, aligned with potential cost savings, we can solve real world problems in the enterprise. We can create business cases based on economic realities including cost savings and risk management (safety and security for example) as well as upside opportunities that offset expenses (for example rolling out a managed service for monthly recurring revenues that is packaged with a smart factory deployment).

This takes both technical and business thinking, in harmony. Here are a few examples:

  • What are the technical APIs, and what will subscribing to those APIs cost?
  • What are the technical IT policies, and how can automation reduce management of those policies?
  • Where should we technically locate computing resources – cloud or edge or both – and what are the relative benefits (performance vs. cost)?
  • How can we prototype and test technically, and what are the economic considerations when it comes to open source vs. vendor-specific solutions?
  • How will investment improve products and services and customer experience making us more competitive, and how will we technically and commercially roll solutions out to our customer base and prospects?

IoT and IIoT are positioned for continued growth over the next decade, but until we practice “enterprise thinking” and build systems designed to solve problems, systems we can guarantee will solve those problems, we will not optimize the potential and position companies to win the race with the speed to innovate, and the sensibility to commercialize sustainably generating gains we are only now beginning to fully comprehend.