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4 things to do now to get ready for the Internet of Things

Robert L. Mitchell | April 22, 2014
As CIO at Boeing, Ted Colbert is no stranger to the Internet of Things. For more than a decade, the aerospace giant has deployed thousands of communications-enabled smart devices to sense, control and exchange data across the factory floor, on the battlefield, and within the company's 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

Right now, though, the underlying infrastructure to support it all is inadequate, says McKenna-Doyle. "These days, CIOs have to be the integrators of all of these specialty devices and capabilities," she says.

Fortunately, IT is very good at dealing with these types of issues. At Boeing, Colbert says, the IT organization has "locked arms" with the factory technical teams. But Curran says that level of upfront participation is the exception rather than the norm. "The tendency is for the product people to just build the product and then come to IT," he says.

CIOs can't afford to get involved after the fact, but that's an all too common state of affairs, says Forrester's Pelino. "The back-end stuff? The marketers don't think about that. This is something you have to be proactive about," she says.

And IT's involvement shouldn't stop there. Many projects create data silos, so IT can also add value by integrating data in back-end systems and performing analytics, Pelino says.

Rapid prototyping

Saving time and money with IoT technologies

Users of Hitachi Medical's MRI equipment didn't always notice the light indicating a cooling system failure. In some cases, by the time technicians discovered that a machine was overheating the magnets had melted, resulting in a $75,000 part failure. Rather than wait for an embedded sensor, a Hitachi engineer wired in a Twine sensor and breakout box kit from Supermechanical. In a failure, the Wi-Fi-enabled device sends an alert to Supermechanical's free cloud-based service, which forwards a text message to the field technician. Total cost: $149.

Integrating a Wi-Fi-enabled chip such as Electric Imp or Intel's Edison into every product might cost $20 to $30 per unit — an expensive investment, says Gartner analyst Hung LeHong. "But for $150 you can build a business case," he says. The Twine kit, with its point-and-click Web service and sensor options, allows rapid experimentation. "It really is easy for even nontechnical people to prototype interactions," says Supermechanical co-founder John Kestner.

Meanwhile, cloud ecosystem providers such as ThingWorx and SmartThings are providing developer environments and APIs for device makers. And the trend is for each machine to include its own APIs, so people can build the mobile apps they need, says LeHong. The question, he says, is this: "Will IT build that — or not?"

-- Robert L. Mitchell

There's no reason IT can't take the lead in leveraging the Internet of Things for business benefit, says Don Fike, vice president and technical architect at FedEx Corporate Services. "A good place to start is to take a look at your business processes and how they might be impacted by some of the sensor technologies and real-time capabilities," he says. "Step back and say, 'How can this change my business process?'"

 

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