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The IoT is a Game of Inches

May 30, 2019

For businesses that need to bridge the “inches” between siloed systems, here’s how the right platform can get their IoT devices working as a team.

In the game of football, one single solitary inch can mean the difference between winning and losing. That’s the idea expressed so memorably in Al Pacino’s immortal halftime pep-talk from Any Given Sunday, where he strives to inspire his team to reach just a little bit further, both inside themselves and on the field. That speech resonates today for enterprises implementing internet of things (IoT) solutions, for whom the inch between gathering data and using that data can feel insurmountable.

In this talk, the famed fictional coach yells: “The inches we need are everywhere around us!” At this moment, he’s partially expressing his frustration that these inches seem just out of their grasp. Indeed, it doesn’t seem right that one API could make the difference between siloed, limited data and usable, connected data. And yet, the fragmented state of the IoT market, along with the existence of legacy systems, does mean that enterprises are increasingly dealing with systems that don’t speak the same language.

But with this line, Pacino is also saying something else. He’s highlighting the fact that opportunities for success are everywhere — once his team figures out how to reach for them. The same is true for enterprises: the inches they need are everywhere. The data is there. The services are there. The infrastructure is there. Solutions do exist — they just need to be brought together. For today’s IoT-savvy enterprise, winning means achieving the kind of interoperability and data actionability that the IoT was always supposed to (and can still) deliver.

 

IoT-interoperability

 

IoT’s Interoperability Problem

It’s no secret that the IoT has an interoperability problem. It’s bad enough for home users, who are likely to be frustrated when their smart doorbell and security system aren’t capable of “talking” to each other. The consumer who is excited to buy and use their fancy new gadget may soon end up asking themselves, “Why can’t it just do this?” and “Why doesn’t this integrate with that?” It doesn’t help that much out-of-the-box software for IoT devices is limited or may even open up security flaws. The internet of things was supposed to make everything more streamlined, but it seems to fall short all too often.

In the home market, this lack of interoperability is an inconvenience. But for enterprises and industries that are starting to invest in IoT systems, this “inch” between systems and solutions has sobering implications. Only the right application layer can turn data into ‘value,’ and if the data streams can’t be united and streamlined, this can negate much of the overall investment. In fact, McKinsey estimates that 40% of the total value that can be “unlocked” with the IoT requires that disparate systems work together. Despite the competitive advantages IoT implementations promise, this choice becomes less appealing in the face of fragmentation. A Penton Media survey showed that for businesses, the top IoT adoption inhibitors included things like “lack of standards” and “interoperability concerns.”

In practice, the metaphorical “inches” between discrete systems and silos of information can have real-life effects. In some cases, this introduces an operational lag or blind spot. For instance, a ski resort may have an RFID tracking system, but if that system can’t immediately deliver the location and status of a wounded skier to the nearest ski patrol, what’s the use? Gunshot sensors may collect data and send it to the cloud, but if the police can’t immediately respond to that data, it’s only useful for noting historical trends — it’s life-saving potential will remain unfulfilled. There’s a crucial inch between “just ok” IoT implementation and actually successful, even game-changing deployment.

 

Connecting The Dots to Capture Latent Capabilities

The interoperability problem isn’t going away on its own. Companies up and down the IoT production chain aren’t particularly invested in making their products function with those of their competitors. Besides, use cases and markets are too different for one paradigm to ever completely dominate. It’s true that a number of standards have arisen around hardware and protocols, especially to help with security and connectivity. But it isn’t realistic to imagine that companies will be able to rely on out-of-the-box IoT device software to unite disparate sensors and capture their latent potential.

That leaves companies with “inches” between their IoT investments and the capabilities they signed up for. What’s the answer? Typical enterprise software may in some cases be able to incorporate IoT data, but that’s not what it is designed to do — and it will likely be limited in how it can interface with network protocols and device operating systems. Meanwhile, software built for specific IoT devices is often insufficient for the needs of major enterprises, and only interoperable within specific ecosystems.

The solution is choosing a true “IoT platform” that can extend what’s already in place and bridge that gap. What we’re talking about here are full-scale platforms that interface with a wide variety of protocols of standards, are scalable across many devices, can handle big data sets, and are designed to help businesses target solutions at critical objectives. The right platform will be agnostic — with devices and data able to integrate with all manner of protocols, libraries, APIs, and gateways. This platform should be capable of incorporating data from existing IT and ERP systems, as well. It should have hardware integration that suits the specific deployment, the right backend design for the use case, and a front end interface for full usability from the top of the organization to the bottom.

 

IoT Adoption

 

Fulfilling the Promise of the IoT

Companies shouldn’t be afraid to invest in IoT devices. Nor should they start ripping out legacy systems, throwing away existing hardware, or redesigning their digital infrastructure. With extensible data and software solutions, that “inch” between any given IoT device and another can be bridged. It doesn’t have to feel like it’s there at all.

For organizations with operational needs, an effective IoT platform can unite IoT devices — for instance, a stadium may install security cameras, biometric scanners, emergency call boxes, thermal cameras, and more. These disparate systems are useful when used discretely, but their protective power becomes exponentially greater when combined. With a unified view of security, threats have nowhere to hide.

Similarly, trucking companies following industry buzz know that RFID trackers, GPS devices, trailer sensors, and geofencing technologies are just some of the newest must-have solutions for competitive fleets. But any one of these systems isn’t necessarily a game-changer, especially if the data is just sent to storage rather than directly into a manager’s hands. And current ERP software wasn’t designed for the kind of operational insights that could help managers stay on top of all this data. Only bridging the inches between systems can create the efficiency gains that companies need. Any given IoT device becomes infinitely more useful in combination with the other members of the IoT “team.”