The Internet of Things (IoT) is not just about connectivity. In fact, the core of the concept is more about the data that can be harvested from the millions of devices that are being connected to the web. The data is the reason IoT is generating a lot of interest from enterprises and consumers; the connectivity is just a tool for generating and securing the data. Connectivity raises a lot of questions, though. For example, what happens to the data IoT devices collect; how long should they be kept; who should be able to access them; how should they be used and; who has the rights to it?
These questions are being pondered across the economy and leading companies are injecting themselves into the fray, hoping to provide serious and usable answers as well as lead the evolution of the IoT market. It’s not surprising that technology companies are in the vanguard of these discussions with companies like Cisco Systems Inc., Intel Corp. and others staking a claim. Big Blue is only the latest in a long line of companies to announce it will invest a ton of money into helping companies resolve the questions raised above, especially the core issue of what to do with IoT data.
This week, IBM Corp. announced it is setting up a new IoT division and will spend $3 billion over the next four years on helping companies “build IoT solutions.” That’s the straightforward news. A closer review of IBM’s statement announcing the investment shows how the company plans to spend the money and why manufacturers in general need to pay closer attention to the nexus between data generation and the other processes (design and supply chains) that bring products to market successfully.
Until now most analyses of IoT investments have focused on how companies can generate data from connected devices without necessarily identifying why the information generated is critical to product design, evolution and production. IBM made that connection clearer. The company noted that current connected devices are already producing huge amount of data but a big portion of the information generated is never analyzed or used. In fact, as much as “90 percent of all data generated by devices such as smartphones, tablets [and] connected vehicles is never analyzed or acted on,” IBM said in the statement. Furthermore, “as much as 60 percent of this data begins to lose value within milliseconds of being generated,” the company added.
That’s a huge waste. While many companies continue to focus on IoT and its potentials, the reality is that the economy is not currently primed to take advantage of the information being currently generated by its various segments. IoT devices will only add to the information overload. In the electronics manufacturing industry, for example, companies harvest bushels of information from all segments of their operations but fail to move the process to the next level.
Let’s start with the manufacturing floor. Information provided by technicians often fail to move up to supervisors and, even when they do, getting the director of manufacturing to swiftly process this and act upon the intelligence can be difficult. This isn’t because these key executives don’t know what to do. It’s just that the system is not efficiently programmed to facilitate the execution of their strategic actions. Outsourcing, for instance, has cut out OEMs from the manufacturing process and many are often alerted late to systemic failures as happened with Apple Inc. when labor activists and human right organizations began documenting violations at facilities owned by Foxconn Inc., one of its key contractors.
If problems on the production floor take so long to migrate to key executives what are the chances that the information generated from all current and future connected devices will be used to advance the enterprise and the economy? Information generation isn’t enough obviously. Being well positioned to access, analyze and use it is even more important.
“Our knowledge of the world grows with every connected sensor and device, but too often we are not acting on it, even when we know we can ensure a better result,” said Bob Picciano, senior vice president, IBM Analytics. “IBM will enable clients and industry partners apply IoT data to build solutions based on an open platform. This is a major focus of investment for IBM because it’s a rich and broad-based opportunity where innovation matters.”
The electronics design and supply chain can benefit from this mindset. Investing in IoT at all levels of the product design and manufacturing supply chain is good; being able to use the data productively is an even better goal.
Bolaji Ojo is editor-in-chief and publisher of Electronics Purchasing Strategies. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author alone who promises to base his sometimes biased, possibly ignorant, occasionally irrelevant but absolutely stimulating thoughts on the subjective interpretation of verifiable facts alone. Any comments should be sent to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.