“Smart Connected Systems” and the Internet of Things really means the future of information, and that means the future of civilization. It will require a remarkably agile global network that could comfortably scale to trillions of nodes—some of them hardware, some software, some purely data, many of them coming into and out of existence or changing location constantly. Obviously, such a network system and information architecture cannot be “designed” in any ordinary sense. Certainly, it cannot be designed “top-down.”
And yet the Internet of Things must be designed in some sense. Such a network will easily be the biggest technical achievement in the history of humanity. Its closest predecessor is the global financial economy—with which, in fact, it will share vital characteristics.
Some basic design principles must be put in place to guide the growth of a vast, distributed technological organism that must remain organized as it evolves according to a logic all its own. It demands that we design not only devices and networks but also information itself in ways not addressed by current IT.
The Internet of Interactions — between and among “Things” and “People” — requires much more than simple incremental improvements in today’s technologies to be fully realized. The challenge is much more than a simple patch, Band-Aid, or new flavor of what we already do.
What’s required is a true shift in thinking about how devices, people and physical systems will be integrated and how they will interact. We need an approach that is not about leveraging aging IT technology into a new application context; its about looking forward to a single, unified architecture for the nearly infinite interactions to which any PERSON or any THING can contribute.
What will this require?
- It’s about the ability to create more universal standards for connectivity and integration; one simple standard, based upon the Internet Protocol itself for networking any information device (even non-electronic ones), rather than the multiplicity of so-called standards we have today.
- A vision that looks toward the creation of more universal means to integrate and manage disparate data, to which anyone can contribute, and which liberates information by abandoning traditional relational databases and the client-server computing models that have us so deceptively ”trapped” today.
These broader requirements are driving several important development trends, including:
- The rapidly rising requirements for smart products to be interoperable with a growing array of applications, systems and people.
- A unified family of software and tools to develop smart connected devices; today’s diverse software offerings and fragmented supplier community will not meet their needs.
- The need for new development protocols to address the growing complexity of new devices and systems.
- Secure IoT architectures that include people, devices, equipment, systems, processes, networks and data.
- The ability to aggregate, fuse and manage structured, unstructured and time series data.
- The maturation of radically new information models and architectures that can more readily integrate classical IT capabilities with real-time, state-based devices and systems.
The IoT market is fragmented and nascent. Market development to date has been inhibited by a lack of understanding of unique IoT requirements, undeveloped standards and incomplete component based offerings.
Taking these initiatives seriously does not mean junking all current IT practice in one fell swoop. The pillars of present-day information technology will not crumble overnight, nor has the great existing investment in them suddenly lost all value. There are reasonable, fiscally sane paths for migrating to the future. But migrate we must.
The assumptions and practices of the mainframe and PC eras are now decades old and not suitable for the pervasive computing era that informs the Internet of Things and People. The nature and behavior of a truly distributed global information system are concerns that have yet to really take center stage—not only in business communities, but in most technology communities, too.
Though their business models are intermingling today, all of the major categories of traditional IT and Telco suppliers have historically operated within well-established assumptions about product scope and business models. No one would characterize the existing players of being technology or business model innovators or disruptive in nature.
Radical new thinking about information technology must begin at the most basic levels, with new conceptions about the interactions of information with people, systems and devices. Smart Systems and the Internet of Things will need a much broader, all-encompassing view of information and networks. Ultimately, this type of smart systems architecture will alter traditional business models and how new applications value is realized.