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5/5/2014
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Internet Of Things: What's Holding Us Back

The likes of Union Pacific, GE Power & Water, and ConocoPhillips are turning IoT hype into reality, but they want to do more. Here's what's still getting in the way.

GE is using isn't as timely, complete, or accurate as it wants (timeliness is the biggest challenge). So Fowler has taken two main steps to improve data quality.

One, a year ago he assembled a data science team that includes a data quality group, which is looking for ways to automate areas where employees collect critical data manually. Two, he created a data quality portal that shows the top 10 problems the group is trying to improve. The unit's CEO sees a report monthly.

As CIO, Fowler thinks he should "own every piece of data in our environment" but that business unit leaders must see and understand the data-collection problems that cause bad data, so they can have a hand in fixing those quality problems.

Some data just isn't available. While we hear a lot about early implementations of "smart meters" or Nest-type home automation thermostats that provide real-time insight into power use, there still isn't a lot of energy demand data coming into power generators. This winter was brutally cold, and some power plants saw surges -- and resulting outages -- unlike any they've seen before. If the plants had had accurate data on that rising demand, they could have run at higher capacity. "That linkage is one of the next big areas to look at," Fowler says.

Networks aren't ubiquitous.
Cellular networks cover a lot more ground than they did even a few years ago, and 4G networks are expanding, but once you move beyond big metropolitan areas, you still can't count on cellular.

ConocoPhillips spread its own radio towers across parts of Texas to transmit sensor data in order to optimize gas and oil well production. But newer techniques and sensors could generate 100 times more data than those wells gather and transmit today -- more than the network can handle for real-time analysis. "Wired pipe," for example, lets a driller put fiber optic cable miles down the well to collect sound, pressure, and seismic data in a constant stream. "Then you're talking about gigabytes of data flowing off this all the time," says Richard Barclay, ConocoPhillips' manager of infrastructure and operations.

Does the company need to pipe all that data back to some command center for analysis? If so, how quickly? Or can it crunch some of that data at the wellhead to guide urgent decisions about drill pressure and speed, and send less-urgent data back for historical analysis? Barclay says his team is examining what amount of data, measured at which intervals, people really need to make a decision.

The future Internet of Things model often will combine on-machine processing for urgent needs and batch-data uploads for less timely analysis. Bill Ruh, VP of GE Software, describes this as "real-time, big data processing at the machine. We don't have anything like that today."

For companies tying the Internet of Things into their products, the concern is less that there isn't a network available. Instead, the worry is that the network becomes key to the customer experience, yet it's something the product maker doesn't control. "You're dealing with almost a massive outsourcing of your brand, in terms of the eyes of the customer," says Alex Brisbourne, president of Kore, a company that provides wireless machine-to-machine connectivity.

Integration is tougher than analysis.
Connected devices and machine-to-machine communication no doubt generate a lot of data. But analyzing that data to get useful insight is not, surprisingly, among the top barriers to the Internet of Things. "Analytics is the least of our problems," says Union Pacific's Tennison.

Data analysis does take expertise -- data-savvy people who understand the business problems their companies are trying to solve and the opportunities they're trying to seize. Companies often must change their business processes to let employees respond to and use the insights the data analyses present.

But the hard part isn't crunching the data; it's connecting all the systems needed to paint a complete data picture, says Richard Soley, executive director of the Industrial Internet Consortium. A group of big-name companies -- led by AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM, and Intel -- created the Industrial Internet Consortium to spur the kind of integration, authentication, and security

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Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and leader of its Strategic CIO community. He has been covering technology leadership and strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in Hungary; ... View Full Bio

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tjgoodmanson
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tjgoodmanson,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/13/2014 | 2:34:24 PM
Directional Analytics = Speed
We all know the amount of data we collect continues to expand at unprecedented rates, and I agree one of the main barriers to this data is the ability to analyze it efficiently. Data analysis does take expertise, but I believe the onus to employ data scientists should be on the software and analytics vendors — not the end users. 

If we make software that provides directional analytics from all of these things, creating an "if this, then that scenario," more people will be able to benefit from that data and act on it sooner: rather than waiting days, weeks or months for direction from an analyst. 

And when we're looking at examples of railroad switches, oil wells and even household appliances: time is money. 

The beauty of big data is we have access to historical data — from single devices to entire infrastructures — as well as real-time live data. And if information from a sensor had triggered a certain event or scenario in the past, the software measuring that sensor can rely on that historic data to recreate (or prevent) that scenario again. 

 

Tom Goodmanson

www.calabrio.com

 
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
5/11/2014 | 1:26:31 PM
Re: FedEx for Data
Interesting article. I don't think that many of us are thinking about the cost of resources for IoT. This includes the cost of bandwidth and power as well as implementation. Right now, based on the quality of data that is coming out of many devices, it's simply not worth all of the initial and operating costs. 

We've been hearing about the Internet of Things for years. But it seems as if this is going to take much longer to be a reality than many prognosticators have believed. 
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
5/11/2014 | 4:42:33 AM
Re: Delivering the data
I remember reading something about a bill that would protect a lot of transformers and other vital parts of the nation's infrastructure...but it hasn't passed.

Ridiculousness.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
5/10/2014 | 2:37:08 PM
Re: Delivering the data
It'll be much worse this time. 19th Century telegraphs were able to go back to work after the event was over. 21st century CMOS will be PERMANENTLY RUINED. The machines that will be needed to build replacements will be PERMANENTLY RUINED. Much of the specs, stored in semiconductor or magnetic media will be permanently lost, as will be any electronic equipment built after the late 1960's.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
5/10/2014 | 6:42:32 AM
Re: Delivering the data
And then there's the matter of encasing the stuff in lead/protecting it against solar flares, seeing as how we're rather a bit due for another Carrington Event.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
5/10/2014 | 6:39:38 AM
Getting Off Track
I love how this much technological planning has to go into trains -- which FOLLOW A TRACK -- yet Google and others keep pushing the idea that the consumer market is totally ready for self-driving cars.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
5/9/2014 | 4:08:07 PM
Who Gets the Data?
An interesting idea that I didn't explore, that I heard in a follow-up chat this week with the folks at M2Mi (thanks Manu), was about who gets access to the Internet of things data. Jim Fowler, quoted in the article, talked about this at the IW Conference -- aobut how GE only gets access to power plant data if the customer continues to see the value in sharing it. But the M2Mi folks brought up other parties who will want access -- for example, the lender who owns a piece of equipment you're leasing, to make sure you're doing the maintenance so it'll have the expected residual value at lease end. A lot to think abot there in terms of who gets access to the data beyond the simple Maker-Owner.  
DanC364
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DanC364,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/7/2014 | 4:28:16 PM
Re: IoT software vs. hardware
At Packet Dynamics we realized that the 'dark territory' or areas not covered by cellular M2M services exist not only in the U.S but also globally. Infrastructure players whether rail, pipeline, electrical transmission, etc. all need to communicate to end nodes that might never be covered by GSM/LTE. The Cloud can't just exist in the colored areas on AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint's coverage maps. 

We provide beyond-line-of-sight communications for M2M and cloud applications using High Frequency radio links.  We went back to HF, an old school spectrum that still works, and added the latest in radio technology (waveforms, error correction, etc) to solve real world industrial problems. It's not the glamorous side of the Cloud, but for companies with equipment scattered across the fly-over states or in third world countries it does solve a major problem.

Dan Conner

www.Packet-Dynamics.com
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
5/7/2014 | 7:32:40 AM
Re: IoT software vs. hardware
The really large IoT solutions will need the cloud to be truly effective but right now those solutions are few and far between.  I can't think of many companies that cover the area that Union Pacific covers with the need to monitor many points along the way.  Even companies like UPS or Fedex don't need to see the condition of every mile of road that they travel.  I think some government projects could become this big but if you're looking to track trucks for a medium sized company via GPS then moving to the cloud isn't going to be as critical for success.  
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
5/6/2014 | 2:53:51 PM
Re: IoT software vs. hardware
Insightful article, Chris. Unless you've been out to the remote areas where these pipelines and railines have been built, it's easy to underestimate just how far-flung and distant this infrastructure is -- and what it will take to develop sensors that would stay powered and in touch. But I sense the integration of data question may be equally challenging, and another reason why the IoT will work in some fields, and take much longer in others.
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