The initial challenge for the Internet of Things (IoT) was how to provide physical connectivity of small and often remote devices to the Internet. This issue has basically been solved with the plethora of wireless connectivity solutions. The real challenge for IoT is data organization, sharing and search on an unprecedented scale.
Most discussions about IoT usually point out in passing that today’s machine data is concentrated in vertical, or isolated, data silos. However, they rarely explain why this is a problem. More important, they do not give a roadmap of how to solve this problem going forward. I will try to provide some insight on both points.
Let’s parse the data silo issue with a practical example based on the transport industry. It may come as a surprise to you, but you have actually been living in quite a few pre-IoT (I prefer to differentiate them as M2M) silos for most of your life. This is most evident in how our transport industries work around the world.
The transport industry is of course the industry that builds and manages the roads and rails that we all ride as part of our daily business. What is not so obvious is the massive amount of information and communications technology (ICT) that underpins and supports the functioning of all this infrastructure. This comes in the form of vast deployments of “things” such as Bluetooth traffic flow sensors, parking sensors, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras and CCTV systems, to name only a few.
These “things” produce large amounts of data. The problem with this data is that the only place it goes is back to a command and control system to be used for important, but very limited, purposes. Now compound this with the reality that transport systems in any country are typically independently managed under regional transport authorities. For example, in the U.K. there are over 100 of these! The result is not so much a silo problem but a silo of silos problem.
In this context the problem is clear. The data generated is vastly underutilized and is closed to the outside world, stifling further innovation. More than that, because each regional authority does things just a little bit differently, they are unable to easily share data between themselves never mind another vertical industry.
In my opinion, it is in this next level of data sharing and data fusion that we are likely to see some of our greatest leaps forward. Stated more tangibly: Perhaps it is quite common today for a regional transport authority to commission development of user applications. The problem with these apps is they work only in one specific region. This is all the more ridiculous when you realize regions may only be separated by the width of road or a backyard in most instances.
The good news is that we have a clear path for solving the IoT data silo issue by extending the current web services approach from the internet.
Web services, of course, refers to using standardized protocols such as HTTP to communicate between computers on the internet to perform a useful service.