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IoT Platform Solutions: Giving Business a Digital Voice

The use of passive sensors, including RFID tags, will play a critical role as companies transition to the digital business era, but adopters are faced with a range of choices.
By Dr. Ramin Sadr
Jun 26, 2016

Enterprises small and large currently face the fundamental challenge of digitizing their business and integrating business processes with their physical footprint and virtual presence on the web. Accessing and analyzing sensor network data provides real-time visibility of an enterprise's capital and human assets. Digitizing workflow and processes propagates the chain of value creation down to all levels of an enterprise, including sales, marketing, operation, customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM), information technology, and research and development—uplifting an enterprise's revenue and margin with a typical payback, in most cases, of less than a year.

Smartphones: Driving the Internet of Things
At present, the Internet of Things (IoT) is primarily powered by crowdsourcing data from smartphones owned and operated by a company's personnel or customers. Smartphones are the most ubiquitous remote sensing hardware platforms, offering more than a dozen types of sensors tightly integrated with a mobile device's operating system. Once a smartphone is paired with a new generation of wearable sensors, a rich dataset can be used to locate, monitor and control a vast range of indicators for businesses.

The number of connected IoT devices is forecasted to surpass 25 billion in 2020. Real-time sensor data, in conjunction with open-collaboration software platforms, has already been transformational in key niche markets.

In enterprise markets, wireless sensor networks (WSNs) are already a critical component in high-value use cases. Location-aware sensing can enable an enterprise to digitize business processes over space and time to match demand and supply at each step in the production or delivery of services. In sectors such as automotive, aerospace, logistics, precision farming, transportation and health care, sensor networks have an established track record of providing a high return on these investments. It's noteworthy that so-called "unicorn" companies like Uber or Lyft are hosted sensing services for customers and drivers leveraging their smartphones. The IoT is a key driver pushing innovation toward a fully autonomous car. This transformation made in transportation is now catalyzing other crowdsourced business models and new ways of doing business with sensor data.

Sensor Technology: Growth and Innovation
Buyers are faced with bewildering choices: IoT hardware for sensing, an edge appliance for collecting sensor data at a local site, and software to process, store and analyze the data. Unleashing business value with actionable insight from IoT data is highly dependent on seamless integration of all three components to effectively consume sensor data and provide an end user with the correct information at the proper time. With the broad array of sensor types being offered, these choices have created a great deal of confusion on the part of buyers to purchase the right "thing" for their IoT deployments.

There is also a mismatch in supplier and customer expectations in terms of cost, installation, capability, support and services for deploying and maintaining large wireless sensor networks. Enterprises with mission-critical data cannot afford any downtime. The engineering and deployment of large wireless networks requires an expert chain of support to assure full coverage and 24-7 fault-tolerant operation. In order to assure success, buyers must require their suppliers to have solid customer support and services throughout the lifecycle of their IoT investment.

Hardware is proliferating for multi-modal sensors with GPS, gyro, accelerometer, temperature, camera and a variety of other modalities. Given the array of options to design and deploy wireless sensor networks, an end user's first decision is the choice of sensor device to deploy. The right hardware selection begins by understanding the technology's underlying capabilities versus expected metrics to fulfill a user's particular business needs. The chosen hardware should always be based on industry-wide standards, with availability from multiple suppliers. End users should avoid proprietary single-sourced devices.

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