The Business Potential of the Internet of Things Data

    Chris Murphy, editor of Information Week, this week asked IT pros to think more about the Internet of Things and how it can be put to work for businesses.

    The Internet of Things is the idea that we can connect non-computer things — like your washing machine or your pool pump — to a wireless network and thus collect data via Internet protocols. It’s not so hard, really. In the same way a sensor can trigger a light to come on, it can trigger, say, an SMS text message to your phone.

    Murphy shares the story of a man who owns a light business. He saw an obvious use for monitoring electrical problems, but he realized there were broader applications when he was showing some guys a device that could trigger a message when a photocell came on.

    They instantly realized this could help with a major business problem: Monitoring swimming pool pumps.

    You don’t have to be GE to see the potential, Murphy points out:

    “Is this the Internet of Things described by GE, with turbines, auto-driving cars, big data with statistical analysis and predictive maintenance? No. But monitoring a VFD with a device that alarms through SMS and an iPad app seems pretty functional, innovative and valuable to these guys.”

    Frankly, I can’t understand why this isn’t already huge, and I really think if more women were in technology, we’d already have a mature Internet of Things. I can think of a ton of uses for this technology, including these situations:

    The washer/dryer cycle ends (this feature is actually already available on Samsung but why we can’t retro-fit all washers and dryers with the simpler function of letting us know the washer or dryer isn’t moving anymore?). I hate ironing only slightly less than I hate that musty smell clothes get when they set too long.

    The toilet paper roll is empty. I’ve got kids: They never replace a roll, which is no big deal unless that was your last roll in the bathroom. I’d rather receive an alert and check before it’s an issue, thank you.

    The milk is two cups away from being empty. My milk sits on a milk drawer. You can’t tell me we can’t put a weight sensor on that thing.

    I could keep going, but you get the idea. I’d also like to see RFID technology deployed on refrigerators and pantries so my kitchen can monitor staple grocery items — but I suspect that’s a long way off.

    But we could have sensors working for us without an Internet of Things. What’s equally promising is what happens when that data is aggregated. In the case of our pool friends, perhaps there are trends they haven’t noticed yet — such as one pool filter always has the same type of problem or tends to break at certain times.

    It’s impossible for me to guess whether that would be meaningful, but it’s not hard to imagine that, say, data showing a pump always breaks after Saturdays, when the pool is open to children’s birthday parties, might mean the pool needs a “no small toys” rule or some type of new filter cover.

    We’ve already heard how Hadoop is used to handle the Big Data sets from smart grids, but there’s a whole world out there, waiting to get smarter.

    So, I’m with Murphy: In 2013, learn more about this technology and talk to employees who aren’t IT’s typical end users. The maintenance team, repair people, the janitor, really anyone who is working on the front line with “things,” might be able to enlighten you about the potential.

    But don’t stop there: Take that information to your business leaders and find out how they might use the data you can gather to learn more about business operations and perhaps find new areas of cost savings or revenue.

    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson is a freelance writer specializing in technology and business issues, including integration, health care IT, cloud and Big Data.

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