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Thursday 16 July 2020
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IoT in 2020: It’s all Coming Together

Technology commentators are predicting that 2020 is going to see an acceleration of new tech entering the market including 5G wireless connectivity, blockchain technology (beyond cryptocurrency) and AI/ML. While each of these technologies has its own applications, what’s more, interesting is how they can work together, especially with IoT already moving out of the hype cycle and entering a phase of rapid growth. Here is IoT in 2020 and how it’s all coming together.

How are the new technologies going to impact on the IoT? We may not have a crystal clear picture yet but we are in a position where we can start making some confident sketches.

From acquisition to analytics: the role of the IoT platform.

One of the issues that have undoubtedly held back the evolution of the IoT has been the siloed development of its component parts. With different vendors working on sensor devices, operating systems, and analytics processing, it has been like trying to make a recognizable picture by fitting together several different jigsaw puzzles.

The puzzle is now changing due to the foresight of companies that are developing full-stack IoT platforms. These platforms can integrate with multiple different vendors, perform data analysis and then output to the cloud or wherever backend processes are to be applied. The technology is bringing into reality the edge computing concept that will be vital for self-driving cars and smart surveillance systems which need to perform real-time data processing near to the source.

With WiFi 6 and 5G technology set to land in 2020, massively improving connectivity, another piece of the puzzle fits into place. IoT platforms will also drastically reduce time to market as IoT developers won’t be reinventing the wheel every time they have an innovative concept. They can just plug into a platform and start testing and iterating.

Does this mean that IoTaaS is an imminent possibility whereby businesses could run an entire IoT deployment through an IT services provider? After all, as Daniel Newman, writing in Forbes says, there is a clear trend towards an ‘everything-as-a-service’ model. He may be right but with 2020 almost upon us, there are still complex challenges in offering end-to-end ITaaS deployments as managed IT services.

As Karen Ravindranath, Director of Zoho’s WebNMS division said in a recent interview, “IoTaaS adoption is still slow due to the inherent challenges in connecting the hitherto unconnected and the diverse set of devices and varied requirements.”

Having said that, Ravindranath also revealed that ITaaS would be possible in some verticals where the entire supply chain was managed by an OEM, for example in the automotive industry.

AI, RPA and the Internet of evolving things.

The IoT is exciting enough given its ability to collect and analyze vast amounts of data from a network of integrated sensors but it is what the systems are going to start doing with that data that makes things even more fascinating. After all, an IoT that can only tell you where something is and what state it’s in is not very useful unless it can do something about it.

I am talking, of course, about AI and ML, technologies which are also now maturing as we hit the almost prophetic 2020. We have recently seen how AI can learn how to use sophisticated strategies to win a game of hiding and seek. Just think what it could do when given access to the various sources of disparate data collected from, say, a smart city. The potential is not just that AI will implement the solutions we would choose had we the ability to process big data. It is that AI could come up with solutions humans would never have thought of in the first place.

And the evolving, AI-powered IoS is not just limited to cyber-cerebral processing. In certain areas, robotic process automation could be used to automatically run digital and even physical processes without human intervention. After decades of following pre-coded instructions in the assembly rooms of car manufacturers, RPA is set to get a reboot as the executive arm of a rapidly evolving AI.

To take the analogy of a human body, if the IoT is the eyes and ears and AI is the mind, then RPA is the arms and legs. Only this human wouldn’t need to sleep, could make calculations and decisions at lightning speed and act with tireless efficiency. The sum is a lot bigger than the parts.

Adding value with AR and VR.

So we’ve looked at the power of combining the IoT with AI and RPA but where might AR and VR fit into the picture.

Augmented reality and virtual reality are all about creating experiences and adding rich sensory information to computer processes. One example of its application is EDGE, Kroger’s smart shelf product. EDGE uses IoT sensors on the shelves which interact with an app on a shopper’s cell phone. When the shopper scans items on the shelf, they receive an AR overlay of information on their device screen.

The application might include nutritional information, cross-sell suggestions and availability information. The benefit to both customers and marketers is clear to see and with AI entering the picture, consumer apps could hyper-personalized offerings based on past patterns of shopping behavior.

With its ability to link and exchange information between sensors.

You could have a situation where your printer runs out of ink and sends an alert to your app. The app in turn interfaces with in-store IoT sensors and informs you that there is ink in stock and directs you, via an AR overlay, to the relevant shelf. Another IoT and AR use case is with HUDs in cars. Cameras and sensors mounted to the vehicle pick up and analyze data from the surroundings; these are then processed to generate driver info which can be projected on to a transparent HUD overlaying the windshield.

As the concept of the smart city becomes a reality, this information is likely to be supplemented by data from the external environment. In a hypothetical scenario, gas station billboards could alert drivers to make a pit stop when their gas is running low.

The blockchain returns.

Blockchain technology is most strongly connected with cryptocurrencies, in particular, BitCoin, but the technology has long been recognized as having far wider applications. In fact, blockchains could revolutionize how we do business and some commentators claim it will be bigger than the internet itself.

Blockchain’s strength is its ability to store a record of transactions – of any kind – on a decentralized ledger that can be queried at any time. Once an entry has been made, whether that is a payment, an exchange of contracts in a real estate transaction, an insurance contract or something else, it become impossible to alter that information without altering the entire blockchain.

The integration of blockchain technology with the IoT in supply chains could dramatically decrease fraud while at the same time protecting consumer rights. As a distributed technology itself, IoT sensors could be mapped on to the blockchain. Now take a damaged goods claim. By checking the ledger, an investigator could pinpoint precisely what was damaged and at what stage in the process it happened. With everything from payment details and SLAs also recorded on the blockchain, it would take seconds for the relevant checks to be made and the claim either upheld or denied.

In addition, the root cause analysis of any issue would be much simpler leading to an immediate change in process (or supplier) if needed.

IBM has been working on integrating the IoT with AI and blockchain for several years already so these kinds of solutions are probably not too far off being enterprise-ready.

Are you ready for the challenge?

From a purely technological angle, these developments are fascinating but they can also be a source of concern for business owners. How will they be able to adapt to the changes ahead? Will they be able to afford the technologies they need? Can they keep their customers’ private data secure? Will they have to lay off staff because robots are more efficient?

The best advice for businesses, whatever their size, is to remain alert to what is happening in their industry and to be ready to adapt to the inevitable changes. Companies with entrenched legacy hardware should seriously consider migrating to the cloud or at least setting up a hybrid network because whatever changes are afoot are likely to be partly or wholly resident in the cloud.

As preparation for that, a full data audit will be necessary so that all data into, through and out of the company is tracked.

Rather than thinking about laying off staff, a better strategy might be to train IT engineers in these emergent technologies and in cutting edge processes such as agile development and DevOps.

The worst thing a business owner can do is to assume that the changes won’t have anything to do with them and go back to business as usual because, as CEO of Los Angeles IT consulting firm DCG Inc. Brent Whitfield put it in a recent blog article, ‘The buzz around what has been dubbed the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ is not merely hype.’”




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