Your Enterprise has had amazing productivity improvements in its manufacturing operations for a low investment by adding Sensing to critical points in the flow process.  The sensors are spread across the entire internal material and process flow from warehouse to inspection in an Intranet of Things. Logically the next move is to use the Internet of Things externally to add the same capabilities to the flow of materials from its suppliers. But how do you scale up for this, and does it affect your existing IoT investment?

Research report now available: The Foundational Elements for the Internet of Things (IoT)

If you have been following this series of Blogs On IoT then you will have realized that this is not quite a straightforward issue of doing the same thing on a larger scale. You will also recognize that the underlining of Intranet of Things versus Internet of Things is a very deliberate way of drawing attention to the difference. See blog; ‘From the Intranet of Things to the Internet of Everything – Introducing the required solution architecture’ which describes the Network centric infrastructure of ‘Fog Computing’ required to connect and support a whole world of Internet connected sensor technology.

The Challenge of making connections to the ‘right’ sensors probably with multiple ‘owners’; that can supply the ‘right’ data; at the ‘right’ time; to the ‘right’ receiving Service; which in turn can evoke the ‘right’ responses to the data is indeed complex! To solve this the technology companies are introducing new, radical products with capabilities that build upon the experience of Cloud, Mobility, etc. as well as the experiences gained with global scale Internet based Web Services.

The previous blog, defining ‘Intranet v Internet’ networked Devices, showed how Networking is extending to provide new capabilities supporting activities moving to a huge number of small devices connected around the ‘edge’. As opposed to traditional networking where traffic flows move to centralized points such as Data Centers. In this blog the topic is how the ‘flow’ of data is created and managed through Network Integration of groups of sensors and responding services into virtual networks complete with virtual firewalls. As with many complex architectural solutions a very simple Use Case will help in clarifying the issues to address and the resulting solution.

The diagram below illustrates a manufacturing enterprise with a representation of an external ecosystem of suppliers, logistics and the road network. Initially the enterprise applied Sensors to various aspects of its internal manufacturing operations increasing the amount of live real time data available to make optimized dynamic operational decisions in the light of much increased information. The improvements possible for this first phase of IoT deployment are usually considerable, (see blog on Harley Davidson success story using the Intranet of Things internally).

Naturally such excellent returns from small investments encourage extension externally to add data from the longer gestation periods and operational complications for suppliers and logistics. In other words a move from internal Intranet connected Sensors to external Internet connected Sensors relying on Networking to provide the connectivity and functionality required.

There are many more factors externally that can affect an optimized plan for a manufacturing operation than the more limited numbers of internal factors more directly under the enterprise control. Ultimately all Digital Business comes down to the ability to sense and respond in an optimal manner to external factors. Successful engagement with, and use of, the data from the Internet of Things is a prerequisite of a successful Digital Business!

In the diagram sensors are positioned on every element, some such as the road traffic reporting sensors are clearly publically accessed, whilst others such as those on an individual truck belonging to the Logistics Company are private. ‘Network Integration’ is required to identify, and integrate, a group of sensing Devices into a virtual network to communicate the consolidation of data to one, or more, selected authorized receiving point(s). The receiving point(s) are then responsible for the choice, and orchestration, of Services, or transactional Applications, that will provide a Business valuable response.

Though all Internet of Things devices share a common physical connection the network has to provide an advanced set of Services, which identify, and integrate, the required Devices into a series of secure virtual networks. Each virtual network contains the sensors that together provide the complete data set relating to a particular activity. In turn the Network Integrated Group must also included one, or more, designated receiving points.

Network Integration Groups will be a mixture of predetermined, fixed groupings, and dynamic on demand groupings responding to a authenticated data request from a designated receiving point. In IoT, the Fog Computing technology model requires Networking to play a substantial and active role, even more so than in the Cloud Computing technology model.

A simple use case based on the diagram above helps to explain; At the top right is Acme Manufacturing who are operating a dynamic production plan as part of their flexibility to respond agilely to Digital Business market opportunities. Starting from the bottom right is a flow of suppliers including Beta Components; and Road Runners one of several Logistics operators that together make up the extended value chain that Acme Manufacturing is dependent upon. Clearly the unmonitored external operational conditions exceed the number of internal operational points that IoT is now monitoring so successfully.

Acme Manufacturing has an outline production plan for the day based on an online call off for certain parts to Beta Components together with a time for delivery. Road Runners Logistics also gets a copy of the online documentation to use with public road sensors and traffic reporting in making their decision as to the best route/journey time. This enables them to inform Beta Components of their collection time and Acme Manufacturing of the planned deliver fulfillment details.

This online electronic call off interaction between the three companies provides the details of each company’s private sensors that will be monitoring the entire fulfillment together with the authentication to for access. Acme Manufacturing can now requests the Network Integration Group Services function to integrate the identified sensors into a virtual group that will collate and report all the data relevant to the Call Off to the Acme Manufacturing receiving point.

Each call off, on each and every Supplier, will result in defining a new and different Network Integration Group requirement to create a unique group of ioT Devices. And, of course there will, in time, for any given Enterprise, operating as a connected dynamic Digital Business hundreds, even thousands of these virtual Network Integration Groups live at once, each connected to fulfill a specific business actions requirements.

Together the IoT Devices in a given Network Integration Group will be able to supply a cohesive and complete data set as a full information flow required to invoke dynamic Business responses to changing conditions being monitored. In the Use Case of Acme Manufacturing the dynamic reporting of how the delivery of the critical parts to match planned production is progressing. At the same time that Acme Manufacturing are managing their call offs and aligned IoT data flows, so will Beta Components being doing the same with their suppliers, as will many other Enterprises.

The delivery of the finished retail product from Acme will be tracked in much the same way by citizen customers who may want to use other Sensing sources to decide on when and where they might take delivery. This in turn introduces the term the Internet of Everything as at a mass Smart City level devices such as Wearable Watches may participate in Network Integration Groups.

Enterprises are coming to terms with using a mix of Public and Private, even Hybrid, Cloud Computing to support their internal IT transactional systems. Externally supporting massive numbers of shared Devices in the dynamic interactional Internet of Things by Fog Computing lifts the level of understanding and use of capabilities to a new level!

Fog Computing could be said to be the next stage in the Technology Industry long path towards the term ‘The Network is the Computer’, first expressed by Sun in respect of its TCP/IP based Unix Workstations in the mid eighties. The term has been resurrected with each new wave of Technology ever since, whether Client-Server enterprise applications, or Internet based web servers! It is clear is that the network infrastructure, or ‘Fabric’, and Networking as a set of services, are again required to take a further range of critical of tasks. A series of recent announcements from Cisco, both in terms of strategic direction, and of products sets, relate to the introduction such capabilities.

This blog has outlined the role of ‘Network Integration’ in the Internet of Things with its enabling architecture of Fog Computing. For most adopters of IoT sensing this is not an immediate issue, as excellent financial returns, indeed usually better by a significant factor than the returns on most IT projects today, can be delivered over the existing enterprise closed Networks. However, too many promising technology pilots and initial schemes fail to deliver long term success due to a lack of understanding of the development direction the industry is taking so it is important to recognize the direction of IOT.

Understanding exactly what the Internet of Things does makes it clear that the successful use of IoT and IoE are critical success factors for Enterprises in Digital Business models.

The next blog in this series on the Internet of Things, IoT, will move to describe Data flows, Industrial to Information Technology data models and their integration, leading to invoking of Services Orchestration. It is also recommended to read the Digital Business series of Blogs published on alternative weeks to the IoT blogs on the Constellation Research web site to understand core business functions in a true Digital Business together with the technology requirements, deployments and alignments required.

Research report now available: The Foundational Elements for the Internet of Things (IoT)