5 years ago, 87% of the respondents in a survey by Acquity Group did not know what IoT is. Today >60% of the respondents say they own or plan to buy at least one “Connected Device”. Also most know by now that IoT will continue to connect our world, bring us many advantages, make new business models possible, but has also caused multiple major security incidents already. (see Intelligent world thanks to the Internet of Things) But how many of us know what is technically behind it?
As Benjamin Talin writes in his first article on IoT: “IoT is actually relatively simple in itself. It refers to the concept of connecting offline objects such as coffee machines, refrigerators, lamps, watches and much more to the Internet to make them more intelligent”.
But what do you need to bring these devices into the Internet of Things (IoT)?
In its simplest form, IoT always requires three building blocks:
- A device
- An IoT platform
- An application
1. The device
In IoT, the device is also often called “Edge”, in German “Rand”. The term comes from the telecommunications industry. Here, edge devices are the devices that are responsible for sending data at the network edge. So when we speak of edge computing in IoT, we mean the computing power on the end device, such as a coffee machine or a machine in production. This can be imagined as a mini-computer in the device. This enables the device to process and send data. Other terms such as Edge Analytics describe the data processing and analysis on the device itself, i.e. the analytics and AI algorithms for processing the IoT data run on the small computer. For example, more and more data is being pre-processed on the devices to keep the volume of data transferred to the cloud as low as possible, since every data record that is sent and stored also causes corresponding cloud costs. This means that the coffee machine would not send the bean fill level or brew group temperature every few minutes, but only if the beans are empty or an error with the temperature was found.
The counterpart to this is the cloud or better said the data processing in the cloud (also called cloud computing). Both the IoT platform and the application run in the cloud in most modern IoT solutions.
2. The IoT Platform
The IoT Platform (also known as IoT PaaS) is the heart of an IoT solution. One can imagine the platform as a control center. Here, data is processed and stored centrally, errors are reacted to, rules are set up and the operation is monitored.
The platform therefore usually has three main tasks: Data management, device and user administration and event processing and management.
Data Management: Here all IoT data is centrally collected, structured, normalized and stored. (Why normalization of IoT data is so difficult and important, see IoT Solutions – Structure and Processes explained )
Device and User Management: All devices and users of the applications are managed in this part, e.g. it can be ensured that all devices have the latest software version and the users are notified if this is not the case (similar to a smartphone or Windows Update notification) or it can be determined if one of the devices has problems and e.g. has stopped sending data.
Event processing and management: To manage IoT solutions, events and alarms must also be defined and managed. For example, error messages from the devices can be managed and stored, an automatic reaction can be triggered or the setpoint or threshold value can be changed so that an error message is triggered only if an error lasts longer than 1, 2 or 5 minutes. In advanced applications this can also be solved via AI, which intelligently sets and manages thresholds and error messages. Today most applications are still only partially automated and require a human for final control and implementation.
3. The application
The application is the part of the IoT solution that the end user sees. This can be, for example, as Florian Kunze describes, a mobile service technician application that already knows what is wrong with a device based on the device data and tells the service technician in the morning which spare parts and tools he should pack, or in the simplest case it can be a web page that shows the user condition data of the device or machine such as temperature, pressure and speed.
The complexity and use of IoT applications varies greatly depending on the field of application and the maturity level of the industry but always has the following components:
User Interface: This refers to the environment (e.g. mobile app) in which information is made available. For example, the development of the menu or the logon page/function is part of the user interface (UI) development.
Data processing/Analytics: After the data has been structured and normalized in the platform, analyses can be performed on it. For example, the service technician would like to know if he already has all the necessary tools and spare parts in his car. The application would then compare the inventory data in the wagon with the required parts and provide feedback as to whether everything is available. (To find out how to integrate the inventory data into the IoT solution, see Step 4: Integrate)
Data visualization: The presentation of calculated data falls under data visualization and would include graphs, tables or user notifications of changes. In the case of our machine where we have measured temperature, pressure and speed, this would be the creation of the corresponding graphs to display the data in the user interface. The application would display the temperature over time and the user could select and compare time windows for error analysis.
And now you know the basics of every IoT solution!
You now know what an IoT or Edge device is, what Edge Analytics means and how to manage these devices and their data via an IoT platform. You know the importance of an IoT platform as the control center for global operations, controlling users and devices in real time, and you know that an application can turn IoT data into actionable insights and thus can enable us to achieve significant cost reductions (e.g. reduction of service costs) as well as additional revenues.
More on how to build an IoT solution and the steps necessary to connect (1) IoT devices, manage (2) their data and process them (3) accordingly here.