Jan 21, 2018During the past few years, Internet of Things (IoT) technologies have made some impressive advancements, while simultaneously becoming more accessible for a wider range of industrial organizations. As a result, the IoT has given countless businesses the power to channel unruly oceans of device data to realize operational benefits, like enhanced device health and lower operating expenses. To achieve these goals, companies have advanced to various levels of maturity in their IoT deployment. But for the overwhelming majority, these solutions remain underdeveloped, leaving extensive unrealized potential on the table.
That being said, as IoT awareness and understanding continue to rise, organizations are preparing to bridge this shortfall to optimize their return on investment (ROI). In fact, a recent study found that 73 percent of businesses plan to increase their IoT investment throughout the next year. As this shift continues, here are a few ways I foresee the IoT landscape evolving in 2018:
1. IoT deployments will place greater emphasis on applications.
Up until now, IoT platforms have received the lion's share of the spotlight. But while they come in many shapes and sizes, all IoT platforms suffer from the same shortcoming: they're incomplete solutions. This means that to realize any business value, companies must build on top of them. This has greatly held back enterprises and industrial companies from deploying the IoT on a larger scale. During the year ahead, the transition away from platforms, toward business-focused IoT applications that can deliver business value from day one, will take center stage.
2. Composite digital twins will gain momentum.
Digital twins are among the great concepts to emerge from the IoT. People define them in several different ways, from the anatomy of a device to a true behavioral understanding. But in almost all cases, the digital twin conversation has mainly focused on a single asset view. For many industries (like manufacturing and oil and gas), businesses are more concerned with understanding how a collection of assets fit together, not just a single asset. This desire to achieve that holistic level of insight will drive a shift to more composite digital twins that represent multiple pieces of equipment.
3. Edge computing will emerge.
The value of embedded software and edge computing is long-established. Yet, this area of the IoT has a history of chronic underutilization. Expect that to change in the year ahead, if for no other reason than scalability. As businesses expand beyond small IoT deployments to much larger deployments at scale, they'll discover the importance of distributing that intelligence. There are many factors—such as data-transfer costs or real-time response rates—that can limit the effectiveness of clouds or data centers in an IoT deployment. In 2018, edge computing will emerge as a smart way to augment growing IoT solutions.
4. Centers of Excellence will unite IT and OT.
As IoT evolves and becomes more accessible, the stakeholders driving IoT initiatives within a business change accordingly. Historically, the operations side has controlled these projects in industrial organizations—generally due to greater business needs and budgets. But as IoT initiatives become more strategic in nature, IT is becoming more involved. To bridge the gap between these two disparate organizations, more companies will look into creating "Centers of Excellence" to facilitate IoT adoption, or digital transformation as a larger concept. Expect to see new roles, such as chief digital officer, emerge to act as an overlay to unite these groups, cultivate initiatives across an organization and incorporate the IoT into core business strategies.
5. Data ownership and privacy will remain a challenge.
Questions surrounding data security, who legally owns what data and how it can be used are still relatively unresolved. The topic represents new territory, and very little precedent exists to help guide the debate. As such, companies—whether they are end users of IoT technology or developing products that utilize the IoT—must consider the implications of who owns data, how to protect data ownership and how to find healthy ways to share data within their ecosystem. While there's still a long way to go before we reach a definitive resolution, I'm optimistic we'll see some forward progress in the discussion this year.
Dave McCarthy is a leading authority on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). As the senior director of products at Bsquare Corp., he advises Fortune 1000 customers on how to integrate device and sensor data with their enterprise systems to improve business outcomes. Dave regularly speaks at technology conferences around the globe and recently delivered the keynote presentation at Internet of Things North America. He is also a frequent contributor to IT publications, including IoT Evolution and TechTarget. Dave earned an MBA degree with honors from Northeastern University.