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Futures: When Are We Going To Get This Internet Of Things Right?

The next cycle of technology and systems development in the smart connected systems arena is supposed to be setting the stage for a multi-year wave of growth based on the convergence of innovations in software architectures; back-room data center operations; wireless and broadband communications; and smaller, more powerful client devices connected to personal, local and wide-area networks. But is it?

Since the beginning of computing there have essentially been three generations of technology and architecture: mainframe computing, personal computing, and network computing.  Each generation of technology has had significant impacts on productivity and efficiencies: mainframes standardized transactions; personal computing placed processing power into the hands of professionals; and, networked systems enabled business process automation.  What is important about this next generation of Smart Systems is the combined impact of these legacy cycles of innovation.  While there is standalone value in each discipline – software, servers, network infrastructure, and client devices – it is the combination of these innovations that will inform smarter systems.

The problem is that very few people are thinking about smart connected systems on that level. Current IT and telecom technologists are operating with outdated models of data, networking and information management that were conceived in the mainframe and client-server eras and cannot serve the needs of a truly connected world.

We are on the precipice of an era that will allow nearly infinite interactions between anyPERSON or anyTHING.  The problem is that before we can recognize this reality, we need to shift our 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 or developing simple incremental improvements in today’s technologies.  The challenge is much more than a simple patch, Band-Aid, or new flavor of what we already do; it is about getting back to basics and looking forward to a unified technology architecture and an engineered “business architecture” that is appropriate for this next level of complexity.

The paradox that we’re currently facing is that what’s driving us is actually slowing us down. Grandiose visions of solving the energy crisis, universal access to clean water and embedded customer intimacy are driving untold amounts of energy into the field.  The problem is that without putting the right forces into play, these investments will hardly be worthwhile.

The good news is that forces are already at work to turn this energy into impact.   It is now our responsibility to support and nurture these forces so they can push the Internet of Things to reach it’s fullest potential.  These forces are:

  • Open IP-Based Connectivity: The rapidly rising requirement for their products to be interoperable with a growing array of applications and systems is really about the ability to create far more universal standards for connectivity than we presently are tangling with; 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.
  • Flexible, scaleable systems:  IT professionals rarely talk these days about the need for ever-evolving information services that can be made available anywhere, anytime, for any kind of information. Instead, they talk about web services, enterprise apps and now cloud computing.  The Web stores information in one of two basic ways: utterly unstructured, or far too rigidly structured. The unstructured way gives us typical static Web pages, blog postings, etc., in which the basic unit of information is large, free-form, and lacking any fundamental identity.  The overly structured way involves the use of relational database tables that impose rigid, pre-ordained schemas on stored information. These schemas, designed by database administrators in advance, are not at all agile or easily extensible. Making even trivial changes to these schemas is a cumbersome, expensive process that affects all the data inside them. Just as importantly, they make deep, inflexible assumptions about the meaning and context of the data they store. Both of these approaches to data-structure enforce severe limitations on the functions you want most in a global, pervasive-era information system: scalability, interoperability and seamless integration of real-time or event-driven data. The client-server model underlying the Web greatly compounds the problem.
  • Automated development:  When telephones first came into existence, all calls were routed through switchboards and had to be connected by a live operator.  It was long ago forecast that if telephone traffic continued to grow in this way, soon everybody in the world would have to be a switchboard operator.  Of course that has not happened, because automation was built into the systems to handle common tasks like connecting calls.  We are quickly approaching analogous circumstances with the proliferation of smart connected devices.  Each new device requires too much customization and maintenance just to perform the same basic tasks.  We must develop software and methods to automate development and facilitate re-use, or risk constraining the growth of this market.
  • A vision for a universal database:  By looking toward the creation of a universal database to which anyone can contribute, and which liberates information by abandoning traditional relational data basing and the client-server computing models that have us so deceptively ”trapped” today, we can allow anyone to easily contribute, mine, and leverage data in a safe, effective manner.
  • Leveraging collective intelligence: For all its sophistication, many of today’s M2M systems are a direct descendent of the traditional cellular telephony model where each device acts in a “hub and spoke” mode. The inability of today’s popular enterprise systems to interoperate and perform well with distributed heterogeneous device environments is a significant obstacle. The many “nodes” of a network may not be very “smart” in themselves, but if they are networked in a way that allows them to connect effortlessly and interoperate seamlessly, they begin to give rise to complex, system-wide behavior. This allows an entirely new order of intelligence to emerge from the system as a whole—an intelligence that could not have been predicted by looking at any of the nodes individually. What’s required is to shift the focus from simple device monitoring to a model where device data is aggregated into new applications and tools to achieve true systems intelligence.

In our years of work on the Internet of Things phenomenon and its real-world effects on business, we have not encountered very many compelling visions about the complete integration of things, people, systems and real-time real-world inputs.  The world today, for the most part, lacks a group of coordinated innovators that understand that the tools we are working with to make products “smart” on networks were not designed to handle the scope and diversity of interactions they are being enabled to accomplish. Even more challenging, is the fact that the relationship between the evolving technologies driving the Internet of Things and the business models that these systems could inform is “disconnected” and problematic at best.

Harbor’s mission is to understand shifts in the way the world works and the effects these shifts will have on our lives at an individual, business, and societal level.  Only when we understand what these shifts are we then prepared to take advantage of them. To perpetuate and disseminate our knowledge of what the worldwide Internet of Things and M2M community is currently and will be soon, Harbor reports on these factors on a continual basis.  We have done extensive original research and synthesized it into one comprehensive report.

Harbor Research is proud to announce the latest volume of its Smart Systems Global Forecast Report. This is more than just a temporal update from the 2010 report, and includes expanded industry and venue coverage, a more detailed view of the global markets, and a unique examination of the myriad implications of Smart Systems and Smart Services applications. Harbor mobilizes over 30 years of experience within the Internet of Things arena to bring a unique perspective to this evolving space. Peruse the content of the Smart Systems Global Forecast Report 2012-2016 in the Report Prospectus.

 

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