It is not a new technology however and many companies have been working in this area for over 15 years without it actually being defined as something different or exciting.
It is in the last two years that consumer demands, advances in technology and market trends have converged to create a truly ‘new’ opportunity to connect every aspect of our lives, this has in turn come to be defined as IoT.
Even within the electronics manufacturing sector there appears to be confusion between IoT and connectivity. One of the main misconceptions within the industry is that the IoT is a new market. It is not. In fact, IoT is simply an enabling technology that helps to define new ways to add value to existing markets. It is the advances that have been made in that technology, and specifically in software, that has enabled the real-time decision-making and data analytics which have provided the basis for today’s IoT.
By connecting a product to the internet you are not creating an IoT element. However, if that connection is being used to reduce operational costs and/or create new revenue streams, or allow new services to be delivered, then it does genuinely become an IoT product.
A key question that any design engineer needs to ask is whether the customer is simply talking about connectivity for the end product. Or is the plan to use that connection to either make actionable decisions or to change its business model? If the product’s development is not being looked at in this light then why is the additional investment being made?
The next step is to ascertain what the design needs to accommodate, beyond connectivity, to ensure that operational benefits can be fully realised by the customer’s business.
When looked at closely the IoT ecosystem is in fact quite simple at its core, consisting of four basic elements – the product, the connectivity layer, the application layer, and the Cloud.
- The most basic level is the product, which fundamentally delivers the user experience and intended function. Sometimes this will not change dramatically but typically its development will require significant changes when the full implications are thought through.
- Next is the connectivity layer, the purpose of which is to create communication between the product, any applications and / or the Cloud. The growing concerns and awareness of the vulnerability of the data, particularly where personal information is involved, makes understanding all the options here very important.
- Third is the application layer. Here the IoT has evolved significantly with hundreds of companies in application development using it to gather data, perform data analytics and make operation-improving decisions. Keeping an open mind, whilst remembering what the product is actually intended to provide, are important elements to balance.
- The final layer is the Cloud which can be public or private. This layer has finally, subject to connectivity, become ubiquitous and delivers the ability to share information seamlessly and globally.
One market that has started to embrace the move to a clearly defined IoT pattern of product development is Life Sciences. The proliferation of medical and fitness devices available is making full use of connectivity to communicate data back to software applications, frequently via smart-phones to the Cloud. This data, if medical, will then be interpreted to assist in determining the actions required to be taken for the patient’s on going healthcare. Simple fitness tracker data is frequently being used to determine and influence the user’s whole lifestyle.
In the Industrial/Commercial sector savings are being made through the reduction of downtimes by the employment of IoT technology to track and monitor equipment. It is being used in areas such as remote data delivery and in-field updates, synchronisation and collaboration; asset tracking and facility management; and advances in preventative maintenance. IoT products have now become an essential part of geolocation and presence detection too. However, the information security requirements in these markets mean that such designs have to balance effectiveness against data breaches when using IoT technology.
Overall the IoT is proving an attractive proposition for those looking to innovate in their service models, or to offer a new service model, such as making the move from a capital equipment supplier to a pay-for-performance one. The ability to monitor usage in real time can be a game-changer for some, especially where insurance, liability or rental are involved. The key to success here is that the design engineer must have the full picture of the customer’s IoT requirements before working on the transition of the product from one model to the next.
Misunderstandings of the definition aside, the IoT is here to stay in its many and varied forms. It is now up to product designer engineers and producers to ensure that they are getting the maximum benefit from this enabling technology for clients. They need to take a holistic view so that clients realise the cost savings and the changes in business models that the true Internet of Things can deliver.