IT pros need to start conversations about how networked devices might change their businesses, no matter how unlikely the application might be.
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Technology pros need to help their companies figure out how to cash in on the Internet of things. I got a letter from a reader today that shows how these discussions -- and letting people know what's possible -- can spark practical ideas in this area.
The reader, Rick Regan, owns a lighting business. He sees big potential for networked lights that can collect and send data about their condition, report on activity around them and allow for remote control. But he wrote to relay a chat with an electric service company that repairs wiring, installs fixtures and the like. Writes Regan:
"I was there one day and showing off a small device (a Moxa Cellular RTU) that has some digital I/O, some relay outputs and a cellular modem. I demonstrated a photocell coming on, which turned on a LED light bulb -- and sent an SMS message to my phone that it had come on. While not rocket science, this was pretty advanced for these guys, not ever having any PLC or automation training. They immediately said, 'Swimming pool monitoring!' Uh, what?
"They said that a big problem for one of their customers is monitoring swimming pool pumps. They said that a tech would go out to a pool at a hotel or gym, check on the pumps and filters and leave. But invariably there would be a problem that would pop up 10 minutes after the guy has left the parking lot. But nobody knows until the pump fails and people start complaining about the pool. Now everybody is mad. The boss is getting a lot of heat. The tech gets yelled at and goes blasting back to fix the problem. They said if they could install a device like this that would just send a text message when the pump stops (or a contact closes, or whatever), then the guy can turn right around and fix it before all hell breaks loose."
Regan half apologizes to me for sharing a simple-sounding use, but to me that's what makes it so interesting: Is this the Internet of Things described by GE, with turbines, auto-driving cars, big data with statistical analysis and predictive maintenance? No. But monitoring a VFD with a device that alarms through SMS and an iPad app seems pretty functional, innovative and valuable to these guys.
Functional and valuable are exactly the point. We need to ask questions now to anticipate how the Internet of things will change our businesses. What if I knew something sooner? Is there a missing piece of knowledge that, if I had sooner, would let me save money and time, provide better service, sell more?
Not all those vital data points are gettable today, and we'll spend a lot of time in the coming year looking at the limits of the Internet of things, where the shortcomings are and what emerging technology is needed to drive this trend. But it's time to have the discussions about what data is needed and what might be possible.
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