Aug 1, 2013

'Place' as an IoT Strategy

As with the case of ‘cloud computing services’ and ‘big-data’, Internet of Things (IoT) applications [1] have been propelled into the business mainstream as companies have jumped on the latest wave of business-press marketing.

For companies that actually want and need to develop an IoT strategy, however, the lack of clarity in distinguishing between IoT services (based on mash-ups of data from multiple and often un-related sources) and traditional M2M services (which involve connected devices within a narrow and well defined industry vertical) constitutes a source of long term business risk.

A connected refrigerator, for example, should be considered as a consumer M2M application (if the owner is provided with an application to monitor the refrigerator's contents or the operational status of its compressor or ice-maker).

If data from the refrigerator (e.g. how frequently it is used) is combined with data from other connected devices in a home (weight scales, connected toothbrush, motion sensors etc.) to provide an assisted living application then this use of connected devices data, within a secondary application, illustrates an example IoT service.

Companies that re-badge M2M applications as IoT are likely to waste at least one product development cycle because they are not focused on the longer term potential inherent to their devices. This is akin to Google providing a search engine and failing to analyse search queries to deliver targeted advertising.

The challenge for many companies is to look beyond the primary use of their connected devices. One way out of this impasse is to think about IoT strategy using the notion of ‘place’ as a key factor. The refrigerator example above can be extended into the IoT realm once the refrigerator manufacturer considers a user’s home as the place where cross application opportunities can arise.

Another example of this is to think about transport hubs – airports, train stations, bus termini etc. In each of these ‘places’ there will be vertical M2M applications in segments such as digital display advertising, retail, security, transport information management etc. This territory is ripe for IoT applications that truly leverage data across different verticals.

Retail outlets in an airport concourse, for example, could link their operations to digital advertising panels to launch promotional offers. If security cameras are added to the mix then it becomes possible to monitor for a build-up of queues or crowding in one location and to use this information to prompt travelers to go to other, less crowded, food outlets.

Practically speaking, this could be achieved if all connected devices in a ‘place’ make use of a common data exchange network or platform. Alternatively, devices could exist on different connectivity platforms but employ a standard that allows data to be exchanged across information silos through means such as application programming interfaces (APIs), standardized data models etc.

The ultimate scenario for such a ‘place’ based strategy is the smart city. However, the challenges of coordinating many different agencies and private sector owners of connected devices will take time, especially where old infrastructure has to become ‘connected’ and integrated.

Over the shorter term, transport hubs, public meeting spaces and homes are three examples of ‘places’ where the boundaries are far more manageable and therefore strategically promising for enterprises that need to deliver quick results to their shareholders.

Facilities-management companies and communications service providers that operate in the types of places described above are in an excellent position to orchestrate IoT service opportunities and add value to their existing businesses. In order to succeed, however, they need to be thinking ‘IoT’ and not just ‘M2M’.

[1] For ease of readability, the term ‘IoT’ is used generally through this post to encompass Internet of Things, Internet of Everything and Internet of People types of label. If a distinction needs to be drawn then ‘M2M’ is the label that applies to industrial and enterprise applications; ‘Connected Devices’ captures consumer applications; and, ‘IoT’ applies to applications where devices and data from different verticals are combined to enable new applications. 

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