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The Internet of Corporate Things
Sky-high guesstimates for the Internet of Things--10B devices by 2016 (Cisco), 50B by 2020 (Ericsson)--can overshadow the importance of this concept in corporate environments. In this context, the Internet of Corporate Things is a more meaningful term. General Electric calls it the Industrial Internet. But whatever term you employ, a serious, significant development is taking shape.
Axeda defines the Internet of Corporate Things as "an approach to the management of the physical products that a company delivers to its customers and the management of a company's corporate assets including facilities and plants, operational equipment, vehicles and goods being delivered". A couple of years ago I would have dismissed that statement as being far-fetched, since M2M solutions were largely operating in uncoordinated, proprietary silos. Too many barriers would have to be dismantled before anything like that kind of enterprise-wide concept could be realized. But two years later it's becoming clear that holistic solutions are definitely on the radar screen.
The integration of M2M systems into enterprise environments is a first step, and it was covered earlier this year in "M2M As An Integral Part Of The Enterprise". That article suggested that you think of this development as the Internet of Business Things. We're also seeing more M2M solutions that are cloud-centric.
However, in order to take integration to the next level, M2M platform vendors need to enable the easy, open-ended integration of new devices and applications. Platforms need to be the glue between distributed devices and business applications. And solution providers should be able to integrate and consolidate data streams and future-proof their customers' investments. It's a tall order, but it's one that can be handled by multi-service gateways. They provide automation and integration at the edge, allowing multiple business tasks to be addressed and consolidated.
Coming from the IT direction
It's clear that any M2M vendor that wants to play in the enterprise integration sandbox has to acquire IT skills and experience. Corporate IT management are not going to take a deep dive into M2M's somewhat complex value chain and its dark-side-of-the-moon technology. Systems Integrators (SIs) have bridged the gap in the past, but this approach cannot meet the needs of fast-changing markets. In these scenarios, there is an intrinsic problem. When there is a new requirement, the SI response takes too long: the market is changing at a much faster rate.
Companies that have those IT skills and experience and who decide to throw their hat into the booming M2M arena can start with a blank sheet of paper, i.e. they are not carrying any legacy baggage. CSC is one such company. They come from the IT side of the equation, where they are a major player. CSC was formed in 1995, and currently the company has 87,000 professionals that serve clients in more than 70 countries. Their focus is on very large projects, e.g., large manufacturing plants, health care systems involving a million or more patients, and communications facilities for the military.
The company is refreshingly open about its approach to M2M. Because of their strong position in manufacturing, logistics and supply chain management, CSC was aware of the need to add M2M to their offer. The initial approach was to leverage the functionality of their enterprise visibility platform, OmniLocation, which is a suite of safety location systems for tracking people, vehicles, materials and assets. It combines Web services and wireless communications and presents information on a digital globe with a 2D or 3D visualization display.
Leveraging was done via partnerships and the subsequent creation of an ecosystem, but it became apparent that this approach was not going to meet the demands of their clients, for the reasons outlined earlier, i.e. rapid requests for new services. They would not be able to respond in time, so CSC went back to the drawing board. The company had massive resources, but it would take around 18 months to create the requisite platform, so they shopped around and ended up doing a deal with ThingWorx (see figure 1).
Figure 1 Key features include: an end-to-end application environment that makes it easy to model the Things, Business Logic, Visualization, Data Storage, Collaboration, and Security required for a connected application. There is a mashup builder, an event-driven execution engine and a data collection engine that provides unified, semantic storage for time-series, structured, and social data. In addition there is search-based intelligence.
The name may be somewhat improbable, but ThingWorx has a complete, proven development and runtime platform for building M2M and IoT applications in short timelines. The develop-deploy cycle is said to be an order of magnitude faster than traditional rapid development methods, one reason why several leading M2M vendors have partnership agreements with the company. For CSC, the result of their agreement is a solution that CSC calls MachineEdge. In a nutshell, it combines the functionality of the IT-centric OmniLocation platform and ThingWorx's M2M-centric platform.
The company's Edge MicroServer (EMS) is a key component that enables transparent bidirectional connectivity between the application platform and the data, events, and services provided by remote devices. The EMS is a small piece of software that can be embedded directly into edge devices, or run in gateway devices that sit in front of one or more remote entities. Either way it allows remote "edge" devices, sensors, and systems to become part of CSC's open systems environment.
Recall this earlier definition of the Internet of Corporate Things: "an approach to the management of the physical products that a company delivers to its customers and the management of a company's corporate assets including facilities and plants, operational equipment, vehicles and goods being delivered".
Management has been emphasized to stress the need for M2M to do more than remove the constraints of silo solutions and proprietary technology. The ability to generate real-time actionable information on which critical business decisions can be made means that corporate IT will increasingly need to be able to manage the flow of that information--to add new devices as and when they are needed--and develop new services in very short timeframes. In other words, they need ownership of open, standards-based holistic solutions. This requirement can only be met by M2M platforms that enable the easy, open-ended integration of new devices and applications. They need to be the glue between distributed devices and business applications.