I’ve been in IT a long time, and I can say unequivocally that in all those years I’ve never seen a more exciting array of new technology with so many opportunities to integrate and benefit. The Internet of Things (IoT)—sensors, intelligent gateways and edge processing, cloud and big data analytics, real-time synergy between disparate systems—the possibilities are almost dizzying. Smart factories. Smart data centers. Smart buildings. Smart parking garages and stadiums. Smart cities.
But how do we get from where we are—a tantalizing vision—to reality? How do we merge so many points of view into a cohesive whole that is practical to implement? In other words, how do we bring the Internet of Things to life? In my role as product development chief of staff for Intel IT, I’ve started at the ground floor of the IoT and have had an excellent opportunity to observe and experience both its benefits and its growth pains.
I propose that interoperability is the key to making the IoT mainstream. For the IoT to really work, “things” need to talk to each other. Facility things need to talk to IT things. IT things need to talk to manufacturing things and vice versa. And if we want interoperability, we need data standards. At Intel, we are working to “break the barriers” between IoT and IT. This work includes projects with our own IT and facilities teams, and with the industry as a whole, to help establish IoT data standards. You can read about some of our early work in our recent white paper, IoT Data Standards Provide the Foundation for Smart Buildings.
And it isn’t just things that need to talk to other things. People, too, need to change how they communicate. There can no longer be “the facility team” and “the IT team” and the “corporate services team.” For the IoT to reach its potential, these historically separate knowledge domains need to collaborate.
Here at Intel, we are making great strides in these areas. For example, we’re investing in a gateway service network and are closing gaps in wireless connectivity—important preparatory work before our factories and buildings can take full advantage of the IoT. In many ways, this early work is like clearing land for a construction project—we’re planning, removing obstacles, and clearing the path so all of Intel has the necessary tools and infrastructure.
Let me tell you about some of the projects at Intel that are building on this work.
- In our factories, we are conducting proactive vibration analysis—sensors gather vibration data and analysts use that data to make sure silicon wafers aren’t damaged in processing. If the sensors determine that vibrations are outside an acceptable range, an alert is sent to the line manager. This prevents damaged wafers and saves Intel money.
- In some conference rooms, we have installed sensors that know when someone enters the room and can automatically boot up the Mini PC running the Intel® Unite™ solution (a wireless collaboration tool), turn up the heat, and turn on the lights. These sensors are also connected to an online tool that employees can use to find an unoccupied conference room—boosting productivity and user experience. In the future, we hope to combine the IoT with our “know me/sense me/free me” initiative, so that users can set their personal preferences for heat and light settings, and when they enter a room, these settings are automatically configured.
Intel IT is working closely with Intel’s Corporate Services group—which is responsible for setting design standards for smart buildings. They have asked Intel IT to write the IoT dashboards for their projects, and are working with us to implement data standards. In this way, we can emulate Intel’s factories, which use a Copy Exactly methodology—each factory adheres to a strict, well-defined set of standards, which result in cost savings and high reliability.
In another example, the Intel Smart Building and Venue Experience Center was built on the Intel® IoT Platform and recently implemented in Chandler, Arizona, and is a showcase for the IoT. This center standardized more than a dozen smart stadium capabilities to increase operational efficiency, enhance the fan experience, and provide better security. The center has helped us create a blueprint of the necessary IoT technologies.
So far, we’ve brought about 42 groups through the center (just a few examples are representatives from Arizona State University, Michigan State University, and SAS Institute). When the facility teams saw the IoT in action and how data standards could integrate HVAC, lighting, digital signage—even towel dispensers in the bathrooms—it was like a lightbulb going off over their heads. Their next question is always: So how do we make this happen in our world?
Recipe for IoT Success
In my opinion, the following ingredients are pivotal to implementing IoT solutions on any kind of scale. We are implementing all of these at Intel, even as I write this.
- Go slow to go fast. If you just start implementing changes rapidly without appropriate planning, you will end up with many legacy systems, some in the cloud, some not, some that will talk to each other, and some that won’t. It’s critical to first consider all implications so that you don’t just create a technological mess. Take the necessary time to plan properly and lay out the proper architecture and infrastructure to support current and future states. Starting with a common set of standards and desired end states can yield results much faster than randomly implementing solutions. The goal is to focus on common use cases, achieve the benefits of data reuse, and remove the majority of interoperability issues with systems that need to talk to each other. Plan the future, then build a foundation for that.
- Build the right platform. You need a reusable, extensible platform to build on. Start it now. Ask yourself, as you choose projects—“Am I thinking for the future or am I just putting in more things that I will just have to pull out in three years?” For the IoT to be real, solutions need to be as Plug and Play as the ubiquitous USB devices are today. The foundation you build will keep operational expenses under control and will help ensure privacy, security, and manageability. It will support many uses cases and not just the occasional one-off project you’re currently working on.
- Choose the right projects. Identify the high-priority personas or uses that will make your organization more efficient and that can integrate later with new use cases.
- Make sure the network is ready. Think of the network as a sensor that can support analytics and manageability.
- Address the culture challenges. IT departments are used to being autonomous. So are operations teams. But for the IoT to work well, you need to establish a culture of collaboration. We’re using cross-team meetings and other collaboration exercises to bring everyone together to reach a common goal.
Here at Intel, we’re starting with data and aligning that with our enterprise strategic goals. I’m envisioning the future state and goal, then working backwards to figure out how to create a single interoperable system that can make it real.
What Are You Doing to Make It Real?
The IoT can be intimidating. Data standards are still evolving. There’s a lot to be done. But at Intel, we’re already using the IoT to drive efficiency and support business growth. We believe there’s significant value to be gained by using the power of the IoT.
I’d be interested in hearing what other IT professionals are working on in the area of the IoT—what have been your challenges? Share your successes! I encourage you to join the conversation by leaving a comment below.