Connections that Matter
Dinesh Malkani, Vice President, Sales, Cisco India and SAARC
Article published in "Outdo" - the Wipro quarterly newsletter
The 21st century has clearly been an era of the "Internet." Vital as air and water to our daily lives, the Internet has helped to connect things, people, and data together. The power of this network of networks is growing exponentially and heading into an era which will be about the value the connections make possible.
As highways, buildings, farms, satellites, solar panels, cars, milk cartons, cows, practically everything connect to the Internet, the connections between people, between people and machines, and between machines themselves will help turn data into actionable information. Referred to as the "Internet of Everything," (IoE) this will result in in richer experiences and unprecedented value for individuals, businesses, communities and countries.
IoE as it happens
Cisco estimates that 99.4 percent of physical objects are still unconnected. This means only about 10 billion of the 1.5 trillion things in the world are connected. Even so, the growth of the Internet has been unprecedented and advances in mobile technology and the "bring your own device" (BYOD) trend, among others, have put us squarely in the age of the Internet of Things (IoT). The next wave of Internet growth will come through the confluence of people, process, data, and things - IoE.
IoE reflects the reality that business value creation has shifted to the power of connections and, more specifically, the ability to create intelligence from those connections. Companies can no longer rely solely on internal core competencies and the knowledge of their employees but need to capture intelligence faster, from many external sources.
Factors driving IoE
- Powerful technology trends - including the dramatic increase in processing power, storage, and bandwidth at ever-lower costs; the rapid growth of cloud, social media, and mobile computing; ability to analyze Big Data and turn it into actionable information; and an improved ability to combine technologies (both hardware and software) in more powerful ways - make it possible to realize more value from connectedness.
- Barriers to connectedness are continuing to drop. IPv6 for example overcomes the IPv4 limit by allowing for more people, processes, data, and things to be connected to the Internet.
- Form factors continue to shrink. Today, a computer the size of a grain of salt includes a solar cell, thin-film battery, memory, pressure sensor, wireless radio and antenna. Cameras the same size have 250x250-pixel resolution. Sensors the sizes of a speck of dust detect and communicate temperature, pressure, and movement.
These developments are important because in the future, things connected to the Internet may be hard for the human eye to see.
Connections that matter
IoE is about bringing together people, process, data, and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before; thereby helping turn information into actions that create new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented economic opportunity for businesses, individuals, and countries. Cisco believes that the IoE offers an USD 18 billion worth of business opportunity in India.
Benefitting from IoE
To derive the most value from IoE, business leaders should embark on a structured discovery process of:
- Identifying the most important business outcomes for their respective businesses at a granular level. For example, in the case of a manufacturing plant or refinery, the 'Top 3' outcomes could be metrics around safety, compliance and worker productivity.
- With business outcomes in focus, the CTO/CIO should work with a cross-functional team to figure out how technology in general and IoE in particular can impact the outcomes positively. In the example of an oil refinery, it might be a combination of pervasive industrial WiFi network, WiFi-tagged smart gas/motion sensors linked to a custom-made data analytics engine, which helps drive business impact.
- A specific and detailed business case needs to be built which lays out the type and quantum of benefit that will be derived from the technology use-case and the cost and risk of deploying such a solution. In the particular example, our experience suggests that with the right plant-wide smart WiFi-based tagging/sensor solution, a refinery can drive 10-15% increase in productivity.
In general, these exercises need a combination of domain and general technology skills to arrive at the optimal solution. Working jointly with ecosystems partners on the operational side as well as on the technology side (e.g., IT Services providers) is the most effective way of building credible use-case.
For solution providers and system integrators, IoE presents an entirely new angle to delivering customer value and deepening their relationship/wallet-share in verticals where traditional IT-centric play is relatively limited. A fresh approach is required to make it happen.
- Building compelling use-cases: Some common themes have universal appeal across verticals. Generally, these have to do with security/safety, compliance and monitoring. Ex: there is a lot of interest in compliance solutions in Oil & Gas, Manufacturing and Utilities; efficiency improvement and loss prevention solutions like Smart Grids and Sub-station Automation in Utilities and Oil & Gas. Solutions which help companies serve their customers better are gaining interest as well. Ex: Mobile Kiosks / Digital Branches seeing increasing interest among leading banks in India. While the high-end solution is being piloted for serving HNIs, there is interest in driving low-end mobile solutions for enabling financial inclusion.
- Getting access to decision makers: The role of CIO is almost non-existent or limited in most IoE opportunities. In general, the key decision maker would be the head of that specific operation/function pertaining to the solution offered. This type of decision-maker doesn't have a lot of mind-share among IT solutions providers. Partnering with traditional operational partners helps to get access and gain credibility. Another way to gain credibility is create and drive discussions with specific and credible RoI /Business case, leveraging subject matter experts from relevant industry verticals. Connecting back to the key business outcomes the decision-maker cares about, and demonstrating how that will get impacted is critical to gain customer traction.
- Pilot/PoC-led Sales process: The decision makers in these sectors tend to be extremely conservative (given the mission-critical nature of their work) and will likely take decisions only after there is a clear demonstration of the efficacy of the solution in a limited-scale Pilot or a Proof-of-Concept. In general, these exercises tend to be long-drawn process at least with the first few installations taking inordinate amounts of time. So executive support and patience are critical in the initial stages of solution deployment in any new industry vertical.
Security and privacy will be areas of continue concern for early adopters of IoE solutions. Establishing standards and compliance will create a way to bring the industry together, enable innovation, manageability and scale. IoE can address issues pertaining to security because devices connecting to the network will take advantage of the inherent security that the network provides. Privacy, on the other hand, will require that companies combine technology with effective processes and policies. To benefit from IoE, firms will need to identify new privacy models that meet company and customer expectations.