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The Internet of Things Has the Potential to Open Up New Data-Gathering and Analytics Opportunities for Businesses in Nearly Every Industry

Pat Toole, GM, Internet of Things, IoT
Pat Toole, IBM general manager of the Internet of Things

People have sensors in their pockets, homes, cars—you name it. So why not take advantage of them to make smarter decisions? That’s the idea behind the Internet of Things (IoT), the purpose of which is to tie these sensors together to create a seamless and holistic here-and-now view of the world.

For businesses, this can result in a bottom-line boon, whether they’re cutting down on home-fuel deliveries (see “Heating Up the Internet”), reducing airplane turbulence or improving the experience of highway driving. And as Pat Toole, IBM general manager of the Internet of Things, explains, the potential of the IoT is nearly limitless.

The Weather Company reduced airplane turbulence by 50% last year in the U.S. by analyzing data

Q: What is the IoT and what are the things in the IoT?
That’s a great question. I think it was coined Internet of Things because there’s something like 9 billion devices around the world that are currently connected to the Internet. These include not only the obvious things, like computers and smartphones, but also many things in our houses, our automobiles and jet engines on planes. It’s pretty ubiquitous.

Q: How did it get to be that way?
Back in the ’90s or maybe even a little earlier, we began to design technology that we could attach to different devices so we could monitor their behavior and, in some cases, control their behavior. We would connect them through proprietary networks as part of a self-contained system for the Internet. Then people started designing intelligence into their products. For example, in the late ’90s, automobiles already had something like 25 embedded microprocessors inside. I don’t know what that number is today, but I’m sure it’s much more than that.

So we started adding intelligence into things and then, of course, with the Internet, it was easy to connect them. Around 2008, IBM started championing the Smarter Planet* initiative, and that’s where we really started to see this groundswell of devices becoming intelligent, interconnected and instrumented. Taking advantage of the work done since 2008, we’re now at a place where nearly every industry has devices with connectivity to a network that allows us to get access to data. We’re now able to do deep analysis on the data and then take action based on that insight.

Q: What are some of the issues involved with embedded systems as part of IoT?
One major concern is certainly security. Obviously, companies are highly interested and concerned that if they do have connected products and services that they’re able to ensure complete security of that data and information. As an industry, we all need to work together on this as we move forward.

Second, we’re just beginning to have an emergence of standards. Unlike the Internet or other technologies that have come before, we’re really at the infancy of working together to create open operability, open standards for various devices. Of course, we’re working on this and things are progressing.

Third, there’s the data. One of the issues is that 90 percent of the data created at the edge is really never captured, analyzed or acted upon, and about 60 percent of that data loses its value within milliseconds of being generated. As a result, a lot of data out there isn’t being acted upon. One of the problems with the IoT is that we must be able to capture that data in near real time, develop insight on it and then take action.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.

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