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IT's New Role In The Connected World

There are already examples of connected world technologies (aka Internet of things) that are changing how companies serve customers.

A technology revolution is brewing that uses sensors, networks, and analytics software to connect physical objects and infrastructure to computing systems over Internet-styled networks.

It's called the connected world, and it's one that will dramatically broaden the reach and impact of IT systems, impacting economic activities, applications, and use cases that CIOs and IT groups have not experienced before.

[ How can your company get a piece of the Internet Of Things? Read The Internet Of Things Gold Rush. ]

Companies will implement connected world products to achieve three types of business benefits:

Make the most of physical and financial assets. Remote monitoring and control improves the efficiency and lengthens the life of equipment, capital, and natural resources.

Differentiate products and services. Monitoring product usage and location gives more visibility into customer behavior and will result in higher customer satisfaction, as well as improved market position.

Improve customer engagement. Adding smart technology and connectivity allows product manufacturers to create ongoing relationships with customers, and a better understanding of their usage and experiences.

While it's still in early days, consider these examples of diverse industries taking action with connected world systems.

The Wired Farm: Connected world tools can automate agriculture. Farmers use data from soil monitors, remote irrigation equipment, smart tractors, and micro-weather forecasts to determine what to plant, when to plant, when to irrigate, when to fertilize, and when to harvest. Tom Farms, which covers 16,000 acres across 30 square miles and six Indiana counties, uses connected world systems like these to determine which types and density of seeds to plant according to soil composition and weather conditions. By adapting traditional farming practices to automated data input and analysis, farmers can improve short-term crop yield and long-term use of cropland, workers, and machinery.

The Automated Factory FloorManufacturers use connected world products to improve the automotive production process and reduce manufacturing hours. Keller und Knappich Augsburg (KUKA) Robotics manufactures industrial robots and factory automation tools with 25 subsidiaries worldwide, including a plant in Toledo, Ohio, that produces more than 800 Jeep Wrangler bodies per day.

Factory workers and managers, on-site and remote, get real-time inputs from sensors, cables, laser readings, and pressure switches to monitor every step of production and ensure that each body meets its specs. Manufacturing personnel access a portal site to identify voltage, amperage, and temperature from robots on the assembly line. And managers at KUKA headquarters in Germany can link to the shop floor in Toledo to view real-time production data and feedback.

The Monitored Healthcare Delivery System: Monitoring "cold chain" delivery for suppliers of perishable goods or bio/medical samples is fast becoming a keystone connected world application.

Products allow courier services and healthcare logistics providers like McKesson to monitor the condition of temperature-sensitive samples in real time. With regulators tightening their scrutiny of cold chain quality, alerts that help prevent ruined samples and provide end-to-end reporting of sample handling become more important to hospitals and suppliers. Sensor-enabled cold chain monitoring is transforming the delivery of blood tests and other lab samples.

The Software-Controlled Water System: Large government infrastructure systems like water and sewage are also coming under the gaze of software monitoring and control systems.

The Parker, Colo., water and sanitation district has wired up its wells, pumping stations, and pipelines, allowing remote monitoring of mechanical, human and natural resources. Using its network of thousands of sensors, the district monitors flow, pressure, chemical levels, and leaks throughout its system that serves 55,000 customers. It's able to control the operation of its entire system of pumps by modulating speeds and reducing start/stops to save tens of thousands of dollars in energy costs each year. More importantly, these automated operations help sustain the operation of the well field, and increase the lifespan of the machinery and water sources.

Applications and services that are context-aware and location-based can change how companies serve their customers. As such, CIOs must seize the opportunities presented by the connected world as their companies strike a balance between what's possible with connected world technology and what's meaningful to the business. 

Emerging software tools now make analytics feasible -- and cost-effective -- for most companies. Also in the Brave The Big Data Wave issue of InformationWeek: Have doubts about NoSQL consistency? Meet Kyle Kingsbury's Call Me Maybe project. (Free registration required.)