Originally published in Feb 2018, at Onica.com/blog
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a new term for an old concept. We’ve been fundamentally connecting devices to the internet for several years. What’s unique now is that Amazon Web Services® (AWS) connectivity makes IoT much more accessible.
IoT describes the network of physical things (devices) that are connected by software, sensors, and other technologies to exchange data over the internet.
An IoT project often involves many different components and disciplines. You have hardware and electronics engineers that are focused on the actual device. Then you have application developers that are building the logic with which the device interacts. So if the device senses something in the environment, the application reacts to that based on the chosen logic.
In an IoT project, the data analysts take the data collected over time and draw insights from it. The application developers focus on how we react in real-time to the sensors, and the data analysts analyze how we react over time to a larger set of data. To support these other teams, you need infrastructure teams that deploy everything to AWS. These teams set up the underlying services that support the ongoing operation, monitor and maintain the environments, and often build and maintain the DevOps pipeline that deploys the application.
Companies adopt IoT initially to monitor the performance of devices in the field. So what are the first use cases we see customers undertake? They want to know how their product is performing in the field. They want to grab the data and then use that data to do preventive maintenance or remove failures from a product’s development to improve the overall product quality. After you build the connectivity, it’s pretty easy to build more applications around it. For example, if you’re building a widget that was deployed out in the middle of the desert, collecting data to prevent failure is step one. Being able to command and control that device remotely for your customer is step two.
So now we’ve enabled our engineering, R&D team and customers to benefit from IoT. The final step is to take the aggregate data that we’re collecting from all of our customers and begin building new market insights. We’ve gone from failure prevention and maintenance to applications that are enabled by connectivity to AWS big data solutions, which can analyze that data across several customers and come up with new business insights.
We designed an IoT solution for Frac-Chem, which develops hydraulic fracking chemicals for use in the oil field. As a part of their innovation strategy, they explored different devices that can help them deliver chemicals in different forms. For example, delivering dry chemicals instead of hydrated chemicals and then hydrate those dry chemicals in the field. This requires pretty significant machinery out in the oil fields that can be in very remote places. So as a result, being able to monitor the performance of these large devices, like water quality coming in, chemical quality going out, temperatures, engine speeds—all these things that can either tell us if a machine is failing or if the chemicals coming out of the machine are going to be sub-par. Our customers’ ability to know about that before their end-user does enables new business models for them. So IoT, in this case, isn’t just enhancing what they’re already doing but giving them entirely new service offerings they built around Chemicals-as-a-Service.
Customers often come to us and ask: How do I start? How do we dip our foot into the IoT ecosystem? We like an approach based on proof of concept. We start by spending a day on-site with a customer, coming up with a vision for the types of IoT solutions that can make a difference in their business. Based on that one-day workshop, we identify the proof of concept that we could build in four to six weeks. We take that back to our lab and build hardware, software, and cloud components that support the use case in a matter of weeks. When we come back and demonstrate what we’ve built, we’ve moved the conversation from a what if or should we to something tangible. We can now touch and see the impact of this device on the customer’s business, and it moves the conversation forward for our customers much more rapidly than any other approach we’ve seen.
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