As with any new concept the reality and importance of the Internet of Things tends to be obscured by hyperbole, but according to Accenture Australia’s strategy lead, David Mann, its impact on business and industry will be greater than that of the Internet. The big question is: how rapidly this will occur.
“The Internet of Things is going to shake a lot of things up in a very different way than the Internet did, which was about information and the ability use information,” he told IoTAustralia. “The Internet was important, but it did not tap into the real fabric of how businesses work and operate in the same way that the Internet of Things will. The speed with which that happens will be a telling point.”
Accenture has a strong involvement in IoT. In cooperation with the World Economic Forum it has just published an extensive report Industrial Internet of Things: Unleashing the Potential of Connected Products and Services (reviewed here) and has published numerous other studies on IoT. One of the most oft-cited examples of IoT – the collection of gigabytes of data from jet engines to aid in maintenance – is the work of an Accenture/GE joint venture, Taleris, formed in 2012.
Mann says that much needs to be done in Australia: to raise awareness of the impact of IoT, to lay the groundwork for its successful implementation, and that all sectors—government, industry, academia and the media—have a part to play.
“General acceptance of what the opportunities are is not great. That needs to become more part of the debate and that debate needs to engage with government,” he says. “I have not seen a huge amount of movement in a direct sense from government. … I think there is a role for government to play in pushing the agenda and getting people more involved … creating the right playing field so that Australian companies can take the right steps is very important. For academia, students coming to universities and even school students are going to need to start thinking in different ways about how they use these technologies.”
He says the media also has an important role to play. “If we can get the media motivated and understanding why [IoT] is a good thing and also understanding some of the risks involved and the things we have to avoid, that will spike a lot more interest. There is a lack of information out there at the moment, and that needs to be covered off.”
Cross industry impacts of IoT
One major impact of IoT, Mann argues, will be that it will call for a much greater level of collaboration between industry players. “You need to be able to create a network and most organisations are constructed to work in isolation: They have supplies and providers and customers but they are very much still in that mode. They have layers between what they do and what somebody else does and to be successful in this area you have to make those layers more permeable so that people can interact and work together.”
He cites as an example what automobile manufacturers did some years ago. “They worked out that if they could co-locate some of their suppliers and punch holes through their factory walls it would be far more efficient. The providers could see what was going on in the factory and change what they were doing accordingly.
“The same thing needs to happen in the virtual world. But this creates issues of trust: people can walk in any time they want and walk out any time they want. When you start to punch multiple holes you have to make sure you get it right: who do I bring in and who don’t I bring in? What’s their extended family? Am I happy with that? These are all things that companies have not had to deal with.”
Accenture is, he says, helping to progress this level of interaction in the airline industry through Taleris, and he sees progress being made in the health industry, but he sees a need in Australia for some kind of industry forum, not to regulate—because that would stifle innovation—but to raise awareness of what is available, to exchange ideas and to avoid people re-inventing the wheel
Call for Australian IoT Forum
“I would like to see a forum that is able to help bring together ideas and try and coordinate, but I’m not advocating it having the teeth to prevent people from doing things or telling people what to do I think that would be a step too far and stifle what innovation is currently happening. That sort of forum would add a huge amount of value and could be a virtual forum; it does not have to be a physical forum.
“If I want to build a particular thing with Lego I don’t have to reinvent Lego. I just have to reach into the box and pull out the different blocks. I think that’s what we need, a catalogue of building blocks.”
Meanwhile, he says, organisations are struggling with how to integrate the Internet of Things, and the industrial Internet, with traditional technologies in a marketplace that is changing rapidly. “If you don’t connect all those things you create complexity, you create cost and you can break things along the way.”
“Everybody is standing there looking at the Internet of Things and wanting to do something, but they are not sure what to do or how to go about it. That is scaring people. Who wants to be first through the door?”
However, he adds: “The rewards for being first to the door can be very significant, if you get it right, but you have to be very careful how you step.”