Every business has, and uses, Assets to be able to create the value by which it competes. The difference between ‘has’ and ‘uses’ reflects how efficiently those Assets can be made to work, which in turn reflects on the extent to which those Assets can be managed. IoT simply connects Assets to provide the data and dynamic management to enable business optimization of operations. But what are these ‘Assets’ that can create new competitive capabilities?
Here are three meaningful descriptions as to what is Asset in respect of Business value; Definition ‘1) An Asset is an economic resource, or something of value’; Definition 2) ‘Some thing possessed by a Business entity from which future economic benefits may be obtained’. Definition 3) Military; ‘A person from whom intelligence is obtained’.
IoT combines all three; Definition; A Device from which is intelligence is obtained, transforming the capabilities of the Device as a Business resource to deliver economic benefits.
Today Enterprises seek more and better data to guide their actions than in turbulent markets then at any time in the past. IoT brings rich new sources and types of data that can be combined through ‘IoT Event Engines’ to create a new generation of valuable ‘insights’. Many Business Managers now ‘understand’ that IoT data delivered through ‘real time’ event processing enables enterprises to exploit events, and operational situations, as they occur. True though this is, it is only part of the fundamental shift IoT brings in capability to manage Business Operations at the level of Asset optimization.
To define IoT Technology as using sensors data to improve ‘real time’ event reaction alone is similar to defining Client-Server Technology merely by the capability for PCs to share common data. The Business Transformation introduced by Client-Server technology resulted in the Enterprise optimized business processes of ERP. IoT brings a similar level of Business Transformation by allowing key fixed processes to be changed dynamically to deploy individual business Assets in optimized response orchestrations, (Agility).
Mention Digital Business models and the term ‘agility’ is usually brought into the discussion to define the requirement for dynamic responsiveness to opportunities. The missing element in such a discussion is how this achieved by the mass connectivity of IoT to extend Business control of critical Assets. Creating Agility requires new Business skills in the use of IoT to extend current online Digital Business model into the ability to compete in the connected Digital Economy.
The twenty plus year history of Business Process Re-Engineering, and ERP, (with its focus on improving costs by reducing variation and fixing responses), now needs to integrate with the dynamics of IoT connected Digital Business. Competitive ‘Read and Respond’ to market place events and opportunities requires a continuous focus on dynamically optimizing deployment of critical Business Assets. But what is meant by ‘Digital’ Assets?
A Digital Asset is anything that is capable of defining itself, its history and current situation through accessible data. IoT connectivity makes this data available to allow direct operational intervention and decision-making at a granular level. A complex asset such as a General Electric Railroad Locomotive has some 15,000 individual data reporting points that allow customization of the engine to its operating circumstances. The Edge Building in Amsterdam uses 28000 individual data points to dynamically adapt the building to weather, power, occupants, etc. Equally a simple Bus stop with data points to monitor Bus movements can assist passengers to plan their journeys. And of course, the best known example of all, Uber tying Taxis to People around their locations and circumstances. In each of these cases the granularity of individual Assets at different levels is combined through IoT Technology into a dynamically competitive Business optimized response.
The IoT revolution is driven by cost reduction in chips with changes in connectivity capabilities. The diversity of types of Digital Assets is matched by increased diversity in networking and data protocols. Though the name IoT suggests everything is connected like IT via the Internet that is not necessarily true as the manner in which IoT and Digital Assets are deployed does not correspond to the use of IT. There are four basic techniques; Wired or Wireless into IP Networks; Telecom Mobility Networks; LoRa, Low Power Long Range Networks and NFC, Near Field Connectivity.
IP and Telecom Mobility Networks are already familiar to IT departments existing IT and Mobility networking activities, but LoRa and NFC are unfamiliar yet introduce extremely necessary capabilities to manage IoT Digital Assets. IoT devices are different in what, and how, they are deployed to the connected services provided by IP and Telecom Mobility networks. Two previous blogs have explored this issue; the first posed the question IoT and Network Connectivity Management, or AoT and Data Flow Management on the Network? And the second explored the integrated operation of The challenge of the ‘Final Mile’, Asset Digitisation and Data Flow Management - Making sure that your Graph Databases and Event Engines have all the data
This blog is a quick introduction to the two ‘new’ networks; LoRa is relatively new and designed specifically for low data rate IoT connectivity whilst Near Field Connectivity for IoT, (as opposed to RFID) has attracted less attention than its practical advantages would suggest it should be receiving.
LoRa was designed specifically for IoT sensor data transmissions where data volumes are low, connectivity to transmit infrequent, and cost is a significant issue. Existing technologies ranging from Bluetooth, through more specialized network types, such as Zigbee, were all developed for local ‘on site’ deployment. Other features needed to be optimized rather than low cost large geographical coverage that IoT Sensing systems in sectors such as Utilities, or Transportation systems, require. The adoption of Cellular Technologies from 4G to 5G offer improved coverage, and relative high data transmission rates, but are both costly and high in power demands.
Started some years ago, before IoT deployment requirements were fully understood, LTE, Long Term Evolution, was seen as the answer to the Telecom Industry requirement for a less expensive localized service with good transmission rates and coverage, but unfortunately LTE also comes with relatively high power demands that make extended battery operation all, but impossible.
Low Power, Long Range, LoRa, provides up to 50 Kbits transmission rates, but with low power demands that allow sensors to run off batteries for several years. The long-range capability reduces cost in transmission towers, and has resulted in full countrywide coverage already being made operational in the Netherlands and South Korea. Further details on LoRa architecture can be found here.
Near Field Connectivity, NFC, is a mature, well developed, technology normally associated with RFID tags, however IoT sensors using the RFID / NFC are already deployed in mainstream systems to connect machine sensors. (As an example SAP ERP Manufacturing). Radio Frequency Identification, RFID, offers many variations from Passive to Active Devices and Readers, but all have the fundamental advantage that each Device/Tag/Sensor chip has a unique ID Serial number.
NFC / RFID architecture enables the ‘Reader’ on detecting a Chip to request its unique Serial number identification in a security challenge to establish connectivity authorization. The unique ID can be used to align with additional information, either on the Chip itself, or by locating a separate data file across the network. NFC / RFID technology does have the benefits of maturity and standards, but unfortunately there is no single standard. Further details on RFID including NFC architecture can be found here and a slide deck on applying NFC to IoT is here.
Using NFC/RFID to identify and connect to Digital Assets brings a whole new range of capabilities to IoT Systems as a number of recent articles have pointed out. In the article ‘Connecting the unconnected in IoT’ there is a useful table showing where the traditional so-called ‘Final Mile’ connectivity shifts to a final 10 meters, (or 30 feet), connectivity benefiting from using NFC/RFID technology.
The automatic assumption that IoT means all Devices will be permanently connected is true where the Device’s value lies in semi continuous dynamic event notifications and/or large data transfers. However many Digital Assets need to impart significant data only at certain times and conditions. Connections, initiated by an engineer using a secure challenge, when physically ‘present’ in the final 10 meters zone over come many security issues.
Additionally it allows data to be carried by a Digital Asset, such as a Truck, that may be serviced in different workshops by different companies. The workshop engineers of a certified and authorized Dealer can gain access to the individual Truck operating history for their service work with a minimum of ‘technology’ and centralized services infrastructure.
‘Presence Connectivity’ opens up a realm of new possibilities for creating and managing IoT devices as Digital Assets, though the concept will be new to many working on IoT solutions. This is an extremely flexible technology with too many options to cover in a blog so what follows is a starting point to learn more.
Tego is one of the most widely known and successful companies in the NFC/RFID market providing a very wide range of solutions. This makes the Tego web site a good source of information for those seeking to know more about the Technology as well as the breadth of capabilities that NFC/RFID technology brings to Digital Asset Management. Other significant players who provide interesting information on RFID use of IOT are; Siemens, Omni-ID, and Smartrac.
Tego provide a thought-provoking summary of the value of NFC/RFID for Digital Asset data; “such as when and how they were made, configuration, authenticity, chain of custody, maintenance history, sensor data on current condition, and usage history. This information can be available at the point of use to authorized users using a simple smartphone reader/writer, and/or uploaded to a centralized analytic and management system. Today this is implemented as a smart tag on the product or component. The metadata about the product then becomes part of the product itself, readily accessible at the point of use. Chips can be designed into products because they are small, inexpensive, long-lived, and operate flawlessly even when exposed to harsh environments”.
An interesting Case Study that brings perspective to how the diversity of IoT Digital Assets and connectivity are combined in a solution, (including LoRa and NFC/RFID connectivity), is the Mercedes Self Driving Bus trials in Amsterdam. In July 2016 on its 20km, or 12 miles, trip across a busy town environment. The Mercedes CityPilot technology links standalone autonomous self driving operation with onboard Digital Asset Management as well as interacting and communicating with IoT devices in its external environment.
There have been several brief outline stories on the July 2016 event when a Mercedes prototype Bus drove a complex route in busy urban conditions using its own onboard capabilities as well as networked interaction with Traffic Lights, Bus Stops and its own transport control center as part of coordinated Smart City transportation.
The Mercedes Bus uses a mixture of IoT technologies; a 3G Telecom link continually reports position and numbers of passengers onboard as the basis for Digital Smart Services Apps used by passengers and city transport operations; LoRa is used to provide a low cost simple, dynamic event reporting service for preventative maintenance monitoring of unplanned events that affect operational readiness such heater failure; NFC provides localized interaction with traffic light, and Intelligent Bus Stops where the physical local presence triggers the connection and interaction. Finally the Bus collects huge amounts of data on every aspect of the trial operations that is accessed by authorized Engineers using NFC/RFID interrogation of the onboard Digital Asset chips when the Bus is off the road in the workshop.
Taking this example to the next level of a fleet of such buses operating in the high traffic urban and city environment of a Smart City. There is a need to combine all transportation elements in a complex integrated operating environment that ultimately will go beyond just the buses. Individual Trains, Buses, Taxis and Cars will need to interact dynamically and continuously as they traverse the crowded, busy city infrastructure.
For these interactions to successfully operate requires immense orchestration. Every transport unit needs to be capable of defining what it is, what it is capable of, together with its role as an IoT Digital Asset. The sheer number of Devices/ Assets in operation at once calls for an architectural approach to deciding when, how, and in what format IoT connectivity is made.
The Services of Digital Business will need to achieve ‘Agility’ through more than the simple availability of more Data! Better data at the right time/place is required, and in the world of IoT that means more than one to one permanent, or semi permanent connectivity, instead the use of different connectivity options adds a further dimension.