You may have heard the question, “Is data the new oil?” It even made its way into Forbes nearly two years ago. Well, is it? In the context of creating new business value from the Internet of Things (IoT), the answer today is both yes and no.
Yes, data contains huge potential value and, of course, it is much more plentiful and accessible than oil (and about to become much, much more plentiful). However, it is simply raw material that needs to be delivered to the right place at the right time and “refined” there (by applications) to create new business value, e.g., additional revenue streams (services as well as products), resource optimization (for both capital and human assets) and environmental benefits (waste reduction, energy efficiency, etc.).
There is little new about “islands of automation.” Data has been “refined” for decades to produce operational (OT) and corporate (IT) value at the tactical level. However, the IoT offers the potential for completely new levels of business value by providing a corporate data-connectivity backbone to deliver the right data to the right place at the right time, enterprise-wide and inter-enterprise.
The IoT can thus be applied to:
- Liberate valuable data from legacy and new sub-systems (via gateways)
- Directly or indirectly add new connected edge devices and machines (new Things as data sources)
- Provide global-scale connectivity at reasonable cost (via the Internet)
- Support new application deployment and analytics anywhere in the system (e.g., on devices, gateways, enterprise systems, cloud services, mobile)
- Generate new insights and business and societal value from these distributed and instantly accessible applications and analyses
Data connectivity for under-explored valuable data
Tactical OT and IT systems obviously add value to enterprises and have provided good solutions in areas from process control to SCADA to ERP to corporate payroll since at least the 1970s. These self-contained applications provide a good ROI and solve real operational problems, but they also tend to be domain specific, often utilize proprietary technologies and lock their data into “vertical stovepipes.”
As such, they do a good job but in a limited way. They do not fully exploit the potential of the data they generate since they do not liberate that data for sharing and analysis wherever in the enterprise new insights and value can be generated. For example, they do not support distributed analytics, cross-domain integration or global-scale data access.
And as enterprises deploy literally billions of new connected Things during the next few years, this problem (of underexploited valuable data) will become dramatically worse unless a new data-connectivity approach is taken.
New data-connectivity approach
The first problem to address is data delivery. The essential value-add of the IoT (over traditional OT and IT systems) is about enabling widespread data access and the new insights that can be gained from that ubiquitous real-time data availability, anywhere in the system.
As such, a key part of any enterprise IoT software infrastructure is a real-time pub/sub data-connectivity platform (see PrismTech’s Vortex IoT platform for an example). This platform delivers the right data to the right place at the right time, in real-time – Twitter for Things on steroids, if you will.
Other key components of an enterprise IoT infrastructure will include support for application development (IDEs), edge device management, analytics engines, gateways, etc. But without the underlying data delivery infrastructure integrating these generic capabilities (the enterprise platform) and new applications (to “refine” the data), it becomes more complex, more costly and more difficult to maintain and evolve.
So, generating and delivering valuable data is essential, but it’s still only the raw material. New value and insights are only gained from the inter-operability, control, optimization and new services enabled by refining that data into business value, but real-time data availability is the first step.
We read much about new Things (intelligent, connected edge devices) and much about cloud services. But the real key to unlocking the value of the IoT is on-demand data-delivery system-wide to applications where they can be best utilized to generate new insights and thus opportunities for enhanced control, process optimization and asset productivity. In turn, that will result in new services, lower costs and less waste. So, data generation (Things) … to data delivery (IoT platforms) … to data analysis and visualization (applications) … to business value (top-line, bottom-line and societal value).
If data is the new oil, then IoT platforms are the new pipelines and tankers. Before long, we’ll regard siloed enterprise data the way we regard a signal-less cell phone or stand-alone PC today.
Steve Jennis is SVP corporate development at PrismTech and was recently featured in the Top 10 List of the Most Influential Internet of Things Executives. With over 20 years of experience in high-technology management, Steve has achieved success in both large corporate and startup environments and is widely recognized as a leading business strategist for infrastructure and platform software. Steve blogs regularly on IoT topics and contributes to a number of IoT industry initiatives. Follow him on Twitter or email firstname.lastname@example.org.