Microsoft today released a report commissioned from Australian research firm Telsyte Cut through: how the Internet of Things is sharpening Australia’s competitive edge. Microsoft also released what was billed as an IoT case study headed Dental Corporation making progress on Internet of Things journey. It related how Dental Corporation, part of Bupa, was “enjoying improved efficiency as a result of the Internet of Things.”
Interesting and impressive as this saga might have been it fell outside what I and several other journalists present at Microsoft’s press lunch would regard as an IoT deployment. It seemed largely to be a fairly standard IT efficiency increasing initiative. As the case study put it: “Historically, the process of reporting for monthly P&Ls was a laborious task. It was a 75-step process. However, by thinking about how we could automate our processes and connect our practices in new ways we were able to cut this down to a five-step system. Now our reporting cycle basically consists of our finance team clicking a button, reviewing that data and automatically generating a P&L.”
The debate on whether this was or was not an IoT implementation then broadened to exactly what IoT meant and what was meant by the Internet of Everything.
Telsyte had a definition of IoT used for its study that seems reasonable but which would exclude the Bupa example. Here it is.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical devices (such as machinery, cars, lighting, manufacturing equipment and sensors) that interact with each other and with business software systems. The IoT collects and collates data from those connected devices — data that can be used to improve customer service, increase revenue or reduce costs. Technologies like Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), mobile machine-to-machine (M2M) and other networked industrial control systems are also defined as part of the IoT in this report.
That’s OK but it falls well short of embracing the full landscape, what Cisco calls the Internet of Everything. And some clarity on that is important: the definition of IoT above tells us nothing about what we do with this system, or with the data we get from it. The Internet of Everything does. So here, in the interests of progressing the debate is something I wrote on my blog last November to cry and clarify the distinction.
In search of the Internet of Everything
The Guardian’s web site last November carried a lengthy article that sought to arrive at a clear definition of the ‘Internet of Things’. While it explored the topic it did not do much to clarify the definition.
“You could be forgiven for believing that the Internet of things (IoT) is a well-defined term and that everyone is on the same page,” it said. “But you would be mistaken to say the least, given the huge variety of intelligent connected devices that this term refers to.”
That doesn’t make much sense: the term surely is meant to be all-embracing, to include every kind of connected ‘things’. The Guardian then confused the issue even further by equating the term to the Internet of Everything (IoE). “In fact, the thing about the IoT is that it could mean almost anything. In some ways it is better to think of it as the Internet of everything.”
I’m not sure whether it was Cisco that coined the term Internet of Everything, but Cisco has largely been responsible for it gaining currency. (According to Wikipedia, Cisco launched its first global re-branding in six years in 2013 with its ‘Tomorrow starts here’ and ‘Internet of Everything’ advertising campaigns). In so doing Cisco managed to muddy the waters as to the distinction between IoT and IoE.
And if you look at some of Cisco’s IoE statements, there really seems to be little distinction. Cisco defines Cisco defines the Internet of Everything as “The bringing together of people, process, data and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before, turning information into actions that create new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented economic opportunity for businesses, individuals, and countries.”
That does go beyond simply a network of connected things, but I don’t think it makes the distinction clear enough. It’s expressed much better in this blog from Cisco’s chief futurist, Dave Evans, in the Huffington Post, devoted to elucidating the distinctions between IoT and IoE.
He reveals that IoT now has an ‘official’ definition from one of the highest authorities on the English language, the Oxford Dictionary: “a proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.” Good try, and it brings in another dimension: changes to the Internet itself, rather than simply connected devices that exploit it.
It is almost certain that changes to the Internet will be needed to cope with the billions of things expected to be connected to it. The IEEE has set up a new IoT working group, P2413, on the Internet of Things and I quoted here one of its members saying that new Internet standards were urgently needed because “with 50 billion connected devices by 2020. The Internet as we know it today is not ready for that.”
Changes to the Internet aside, Evans argues that IoT is just one of the four dimensions – people, process, data and things – that constitute IoE. “If we take a closer look at each of these dimensions, and how they work together, we’ll begin to see the transformative value of IoE,” he says.
His blog is well worth a read, but he nicely sums up the distinction in his concluding paragraph. IoE is not about those four dimensions in isolation from each other. “Each amplifies the capabilities of the other three. It is in the intersection of all of these elements that the true power of IoE is realised.”
In other words, big data (aka data analytics) to make sense of the masses of data that the ‘things’ will generate will be just as much a part of IoE as the devices that produce data and the networks that interconnect them, as will the applications and innovations that emerge to exploit billions of connected devices of all kinds.