Pins connecting with colored thread strewn across a board, representing data - blockchain ,AI, IoT-concept
PHOTO: Shutterstock

The Internet of Things (IoT) is set to spread into every area of the enterprise over the next year, in order for that to happen it will need to start employing some of the newer, emerging technologies. This will be particularly true of Industrial IoT (IIoT) as more and more organizations start using the opportunities it offers to achieve business goals.

Frank Vella, COO of Information Builders, points out that with the emergence of smart cities and new manufacturing processes, for example, there is a growing need for large pools of data. This data will be used to build more efficient, broader ecosystems that provide proactive insights in verticals like manufacturing, health and safety. “AI [artificial intelligence], predictive analytics, IoT and blockchain are all technologies that require strong data capture and use. Consequently, the way data is accessed will change to enable broader visibility and create cohesive ecosystems that support a convergence of data access and provides better operational and predictive capabilities,” Vella said.

AI’s Key Role

AI has been gaining traction in the enterprise for the past three years, and now with the spread of IoT in the enterprsie, Derick Jose, co-founder of Flutura Decision Sciences and Analytics, said IoT–driven organizations will start using AI to solve IoT-based problems. “At Flutura, we see vertical AI problem solving, such as purpose built apps [designed] to solve a specific business problem really taking a foothold,” he said. “These are not generic AI algorithms; these are deeply specialized apps created to solve high impact problems.”

He said this has become so widespread in the enterprise that the company expects to see the first industrial marketplace completely powered by IIoT sensor fabric and deep learning algorithms emerge soon. This will also facilitate a new class of deep learning algorithms that can detect actions. These algorithms will detect a person plus the action the person is taking.

This “neural network” will just not identify a person in a video frame, it will also tag the person with an action such as, “person is falling down.” This kind of application can heighten situational awareness of adverse safety events in real-time when a human misses it.

This new kind of sensor will be a key driver behind IIoT and digital transformation in manufacturing. Sensors with wireless connectivity, RFID tags and smart beacons are already gaining substantial traction and will continue to spread, according to Michel Hepp, VP of global sales at Behr Technologies. These devices are game changing, she said, and will disrupt every part of the production process from development to supply chain management. Manufacturers will be able to prevent delays, improve production performance, reduce equipment downtime and manage inventory.

Wireless connectivity of remote sensors, along with aggregation and communication of groups of sensors will grow exponentially as a result. “Wireless connectivity that was either too expensive or not technically feasible is now possible and will connect these previous ‘islands of data’ to the enterprise,” she said.

The delineation between different wireless technologies is also starting to be clearer and "bigger picture" solutions focused on the entire data connectivity value chain from "the last mile" to cloud/enterprise connectivity will begin to emerge, in fact, they are already starting to emerge.

Related Article: 7 Big Problems with the Internet of Things

The Role of Blockchain

Over the past few months we have seen enterprises adapting blockchain to many different situations to protect or collaborate on data, one of the more unexpected use cases — until now at least — is blockchain working with IoT. Stylianos Kampakis, data scientist and CEO of Tesseract Academy, points out that enterprises are starting to integrate IoT systems with distributed ledger technology.

While IOTA, a distributed ledger designed to record and execute transactions between machines in the IoT ecosystem, has proven to be below expectations on many fronts, the use of distributed ledgers for storing data from IoT devices is already starting to happen, Kampakis said. An additional incentive is the extra security these distributed ledgers provide.

The need for this kind of integration is particularly urgent now that algorithms used to extract insights from smart home devices to offer personalized experiences are a reality. “The market is still exploring how everything should come together. The product offerings are not as good as they could be. Amazon's Alexa is a major step forward, but it is very likely we'll be seeing more ideas in other areas, such as energy efficiency,” he added.

Mark Morley, director of strategic product marketing at OpenText, said technology will enable an autonomous supply chain and that many companies are already exploring blockchain related use cases or implementing AI and IoT based environments across their business operations.

While independently these technologies can bring great value to a company, greater business value can be obtained by combining these technologies together to effectively enable the "autonomous supply chain." The future will also see greater convergence of these technologies, which will allow companies to then use deep performance insights to refine business processes, improve traceability of goods, and record and secure an archive of all digital interactions between companies and trading partners. However, in order for a company to maximize the benefits from an autonomous supply chain, it must have an end-to-end digital supply chain, a supply chain where every business transaction is exchanged electronically and not via paper.

Vince Ball, VP of product innovation at Nytec, said all this will be enabled in the medium term by industry consolidation and technology integration. Small vendors, selling specific slivers of the broader set of connected IoT systems, will fall by the wayside as large companies — that have been sitting back and learning from these small vendors — will build these features into their platforms as offerings. In fact, new solutions that will enable organizations to more easily integrate data across disparate systems are already starting to emerge and will lead to the creation of new services and changes in processes that save money and drive operational excellence.

With the introduction of the long-promised 5G infrastructure, the IoT is finally ready for prime time. Home electronics will no longer need to be connected to the complexity of wi-fi setup and networks, the internal infrastructure provides its own network and that will enable more devices to be connected to the cloud.

5G sensors will reduce the cost of deployment and enable better connectivity and operational efficiency, in both enterprises and industry, where connectivity had once been difficult or impossible.

Blockchain Skills Gap

Blockchain talent will be in high demand, the industry will experience a skills gap as demand for talented engineers and developers in blockchain will surge, just as it did with AI. Organizations will be ill-equipped to handle the supply-demand gap. To bridge the gap in skills and experience, it is likely there will be substantial investments from academic institutions and large enterprises in training courses and additional resources.