It’s estimated that by 2020 the Internet of Things (IoT) could include between 30 billion and 75 billion ‘things’ – a connected tangle of everything from smart watches and toys to medical devices and planes. As the IoT revolution takes off, organisations are increasingly moving from experimentation to implementation. How ready are you?

The Internet of Things is set to revolutionise business, creating new opportunities for growth and powering a new standard of customer experience. And while the long term potential of IoT might be easy to realise, for some, bringing that to life in a practical sense can be far more difficult to grasp.

To make it easier to understand, successful IoT architecture can be broken down to four essential building blocks:

1. The business application


There’s no point in connecting ‘things’ to the internet in isolation. When organisations embark on IoT initiatives they need to have a particular business application and objective in mind. For example, they want to initiate proactive maintenance in order to reduce asset downtime and operational costs.

Typically, the business applications of IoT have no notion of sensors or devices, and deal purely with the business processes they support. It’s important to start your IoT thinking here as it frames and answers the toughest question of all for potential IoT initiatives: so what?

2. Edge of network


One of the things people recognise most clearly about IoT is, well, the things themselves. These internet-deployed products and assets are referred to as being at the edge of network. This is because, conceptually, they extend the reach of your corporate systems beyond the traditional limits of your corporate IT infrastructure.

The edge of network does not just concern the sensors and related hardware in functional terms, but also aspects such as service management over the lifecycle of the hardware, environmental factors and physical, as well as technological, security.

3. Internet of Things platform


Then comes the IoT platform, which provides the capability to link the sensors and hardware at the edge of network with the organisation’s core IT systems and infrastructure.

The role of the IoT platform is to translate the typically more primitive data content, structure and format that is native to the edge of network, and prepare it into an enterprise-ready form for integration with business apps and systems.

The IoT platform typically provides the centralised device management mechanisms that support the lifecycle of devices and hardware deployed in the field, such as provisioning, inventory and monitoring.

4. Internet of Things engagement engine


The IoT platform is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t deal with the business context that’s relevant to the flow of data from the edge of network. This means there needs to be another piece of the puzzle to bridge that gap.

The IoT engagement engine takes the stream of data produced by the IoT platform and combines it with contextual business data. For example, this could be using the service history of an appliance to help identify when a significant business situation has occurred, and then telling the business apps to do something about it, such as raise a customer service case.

The engagement engine is the final link between the IoT data and the business application, and importantly marks the shift in emphasis from IT back to the business process.

Getting started with IoT


Now that you’re clear on the four components needed for the successful application of IoT, it’s time to start scoping your initiatives. Here’s some probing questions to get you thinking:

  1. Business applications – what aspect of my business do we most want to transform and why?

  2. Edge of network – what existing instrumentation could I feasibly exploit, or add to the products and assets that would act as a source of events?

  3. IoT platform – what is the most practical way to connect to and manage the products and assets once they are deployed?

  4. IoT engagement engine – what are the most valuable moments of truth for a given product or asset, and what events would indicate when one is likely to happen?

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