Maximising  IoT value with the Intelligent Edge

Operational technology (OT) is coming together with IT to drive more efficient, effective processes
Intelligent Edge is more than a collection of hardware gadgets with software capabilities, Vasco says.
Intelligent Edge is more than a collection of hardware gadgets with software capabilities, Vasco says.

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By Jose Vasco, regional director, MEMA at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company

As businesses increasingly embrace IoT for mainstream operations, Gartner estimates some 5.5 million new “things” connected to networks every day over the past year, totaling an estimated 21 billion connected devices by 2020. While that’s a lot of “things,” it’s only part of today’s enterprise IoT story.

Concurrently, we’re seeing a significant shift away from the old workplace paradigm, with its simplistic focus on employee productivity, to a collaborative digital work model in office buildings, on the manufacturing floor and in industrial settings.

The confluence of these two trends is resulting in new ways to furnish workspaces, manage employees and adopt a smart technology. For automating buildings and processes, employers introduce more fluid and flexible strategies for optimising experiences at individual work spaces, across operations, within IT and at the brand level.

Harnessing the benefits of transformed workplaces

To illustrate the significance of these shifts, consider the smart conference room management app, Robin, which helps you locate and book a meeting location with the needed amenities using a few swipes. As such solutions continue maturing, they’ll even adjust the climate controls and kick off your Microsoft Skype for Business call when you enter the room.

Similar technologies are enabling employers like the Swiss bank UBS to abandon rigid cubicle farms in favor of hotdesking, where workers have no fixed work area, workstation or phone. This maximises their facilities while simultaneously providing the types of collaborative environments that ultimately result in the innovations necessary for competitive success.

Even the industrial and manufacturing industries are embracing the opportunities inherent in IoT. Here, operational technology (OT) is coming together with information technology (IT) to drive more efficient, effective processes to reduce costs and improve profitability.

For example, modern energy production platforms are outfitted with increasingly sophisticated IoT sensors and other devices. The collected data must be processed quickly and then provided to systems, or people, on-site. As the speed required leaves no time for transmitting packets back to a data center and then sending information out to the field again, local data processing and capabilities are now essential.

Computing power moves to the connectivity source

Given the oceans of data being generated by all of the people, places and things now inhabiting such a wide range of digital workplaces, it makes sense to move some of the computing power required to process the data to the network location we call the Intelligent Edge.

At the Intelligent Edge, some technologies connect and automate IoT-enabled lighting, HVAC, water delivery, manufacturing processes, industrial systems and various connected services to create smart buildings, factories and more. Other investments ensure the seamless and secure mobility that workers depend upon to get their jobs done.

In other words, applications like Robin not only require a host of systems to connect and transmit data from mobile and IoT devices, but also perform various analytic and other processes to create the workplace, operational, brand and IT experiences we’ve described.

What’s more, outside the four walls of a headquarters or branch location, countless opportunities exist to incorporate data generated in wide area IoT deployments – like connected cars, smart parking meters or traffic control. These use cases incorporate external connectivity solutions, such as LTE or LoRa low-powered wireless signals.

Building blocks for an Intelligent Edge

While it may be tempting to presume the Intelligent Edge is a collection of hardware gadgets with additional software capabilities built in, the reality is so much more.

We define the Intelligent Edge as consisting of three layers.

At the foundation is edge infrastructure containing familiar technologies, such as your LAN, WLAN and WAN, along with newer innovations, like Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) sensors and converged edge systems.

In the middle layer are mobility and IoT platforms, the former for the local area and the latter for the wide area. Local area platforms are also called mobile-first and contain technologies to manage the devices within your enterprise. The wide area also goes by universal IoT and focus on connecting the millions, or billions, of devices spread across a city or other geographic region.

On top of the first two layers rides a robust partnership ecosystem. This layer is necessary for developing the apps and services required for delivering the experiences enterprises need to make their digital workplaces hum. Typically, an ecosystem contains next-generation innovators, like Robin, as well as more traditional players with powerful and market-leading solutions, like Microsoft.

Key steps to success

To start realising the potential of large-scale IoT at your organisation, begin by taking the following steps:

Take stock of your current environment. It’s impossible to develop a successful strategy without understanding where you are today. Profile your endpoints, the solutions serving them and the underlying infrastructure and architectures.

Ensure you’re extracting all available data. This requires modern wired and wireless technologies from the data center to the edge, as well as solutions for connecting any remote users and systems beyond.

Fully safeguard your enterprise. Adopt technologies that protect data in motion and at rest. Include innovative solutions that use machine learning and artificial intelligence for detection, as well as for quarantining and disconnecting devices exhibiting suspicious activity.

Unlock knowledge. Deploy solutions that collect information about your employees, customers and the world at-large. Such technologies help turn behaviors into insights you can monetise.

Drive profitability. Embrace smart innovations that aggregate and analyze your collected data, in combination with other 3rd party feeds, to uncover new ways to get the most from your employees, customers, processes and supply chain.

Regardless of your industry or type of enterprise, taking these steps to adopting a modern Intelligent Edge architecture is critical to harnessing the potential of IoT at scale.

As with so many disruptive opportunities, remember that those who can take action stand to benefit, while those who hesitate, risk getting left behind.

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