Organizations need to plan for the new generation of Internet-enabled devices that may be located anywhere in the world.
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In a little over a decade, the Internet of Things has evolved from academic concept to business reality, albeit one that's still very much a work in progress. Coined at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Auto-ID Lab, the term originally referred to the concept of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tagging of objects in the physical world.
The website of the Cambridge Auto-ID Lab, one of seven global researcher centers studying automatic identification of supply chain objects, offers a particularly cogent explanation of how enterprises might benefit from the Internet of Things (IoT): "Put a tag -- a microchip with an antenna -- on a can of Coke or a car axle, and suddenly a computer can 'see' it. Put tags on every can of Coke and every car axle, and suddenly the world changes. No more inventory counts. No more lost or misdirected shipments. No more guessing how much material is in the supply chain -- or how much product is on the store shelves."
As more devices become Internet-enabled -- everything from field sensors to set-top TV boxes to home thermostats -- the time has come for enterprises to implement IoT principles to gain greater insights into their operations, says Phil Gerskovich, senior VP of new growth strategies for Zebra Technologies, a billion-dollar global company best known for its industrial printers. "The IoT is really about how devices become network-aware, and what you do with them," Gerskovich told InformationWeek in a phone interview.
For instance, a very good reason to put devices on the Internet is to make the data they generate accessible to multiple applications. "It could be the temperature in your house with a Nest thermostat, the temperature in the back of a truck carrying strawberries from the field, or one of our thermal printers, which could be accessible to multiple enterprise applications," Gerskovich explained.
Several emerging factors are making Internet-connected devices more attractive to enterprises, he added, including increased availability and lower costs of network-enabled hardware; rapid growing of wired and wireless Internet access; better tools for remote management of devices; and a broader range of local, remote and cloud-based applications that communicate with Internet-capable hardware.
These developments will have big data implications for enterprises, as commonly used devices such as barcode printers, RFID readers, and temperature-sensing devices join the IoT. "It's going to create an order of magnitude more information that's available to enterprise applications," said Gerskovich. "It will give enterprises much more granular information about where everything is that's important to them."
That's often not the case today. "When you look at a typical commercial enterprise that's buying goods, they frequently have way less information about the status of the goods in their supply chain than they would if they ordered something from an online retailer and shipped it to their house," Gerskovich noted.
By implementing an IoT strategy across its supply chain, he pointed out, a business could get instantaneous information about where its goods are, and know the condition they're in. "Are the strawberries at the right temperature? And if not, when did they go bad? Organizations will get a tremendous return on investment when that happens," said Gerskovich.
In fact, this instant awareness is one of the IoT's more alluring promises. "Whether it's durable goods, heavy machinery, apparel, or even perishables ranging from food to pharma, a decade from now, people will take it for granted that you will be able to know where everything is, at all times," Gerskovich predicted.
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