Sure, we know that the number of connected ‘things’ is quickly growing, and there is significant potential in connecting them. But until recently, there had been a lack of concrete information on precisely how the IoT could live up to its promise to boost the efficiency of everything from our cities to our vehicles and to help kickstart the next industrial revolution. Part of the problem is that everybody has different ‘things’ and different problems.
“There isn’t a single customer who comes to us and says: ‘I want to buy some IoT,’” declared Joyce Mullen, vice president and general manager at Dell OEM Solutions in a recent webcast celebrating the company’s first anniversary of its IoT division. Instead, the company’s customers have a particular challenge and are wondering how IoT technology will help them address it. They might be frustrated that they are wasting energy. Or they could have inefficient production lines. Or they could be wondering how to improve their lagging customer service.
IoT Blueprints More Important Than IoT ‘Sausage’
To help address such diverse needs, Dell is collaborating with its customers to develop custom blueprints, recipes, and reference architectures to guide companies through specific IoT implementations.
“These blueprints help us move from the ideas and the dreams to the implementation and value delivery,” Mullen said. “That is a big learning for us. Customers are not interested in understanding all of the elements of how the sausage is being made. What they are much more interested in is seeing the results of that digital transformation opportunity.”
According to Mullen, the blueprints will include things like the build of materials for the components that are required, the partners they may want to engage in so they can get the appropriate level of analytics, and to include systems integrators.
In the webcast, Dell walked through three case studies that help illustrate how IoT technology is leading to tangible benefits for three customers in distinct industries.
Brooklyn Borough Hall’s IoT Makeover
To illustrate how Dell’s recipe-based approach works, Mullen mentioned how the IoT smart building technologies were used in Brooklyn Borough Hall to improve energy consumption. The team that managed the 168-year-old Greek Revival–style building had identified a handful of problems to address with technology; they wanted to cut their energy bill and prevent overcrowding and monitor a handicap-accessible entrance. “They are also working on monitoring all of their ADA-compliant entrances [with ultrasonic rangefinders] and exits to ensure that their constituents can move through the halls unimpeded,” Mullen says.
In May, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams announced a three-month partnership with Dell and the Brooklyn–based cloud IoT firm flowthings.io that will employ Dell’s Edge Gateway 5000 to integrate data from sensors plugged throughout the building. Smart outlets will help monitor energy consumption throughout the building while sensors monitor that infrastructure is working correctly.
There are many other buildings like this across the United States and the world. “We believe there are 5 million dumb buildings in the United States. Those are buildings that have not been automated because the price of entry has been way too high,” Mullen said. But the cost of building automation has dropped precipitously. Brooklyn Borough Hall is a great use case for smart buildings, she added.
Making Manufacturing More Efficient
The manufacturing sector was among the first industry niches to leverage the IoT, and Dell observes a continued rollout of IoT and Big Data technologies across the manufacturing sector.
Mullen points to Shire Pharmaceutical as an example of this. The company’s rare diseases business segment is using Dell’s Statistica platform to help optimize its supply chain. Previously, Shire had relied on a complicated network of platforms including a laboratory information management system (LIMS) platform, Excel, and JMP statistical software. The company was able to replace this setup by using Statistica across development, validation, and production. After installing, Shire was able to analyze LIMS data in real time—a task that would have been labor intensive before.
In fact, within a few moments of going live, one engineer was already sending real-time LIMS data summaries and analyses that were needed urgently for an ongoing project. Before implementing Statistica, such real-time tasks would have been labor-intensive and time-consuming, if not impossible. “There is a lot of opportunity for Big Data analytics in a manufacturing environment and linking those supply chains to make sure there is a line waiting for materials,” Mullen explained.
Connected Race Cars
Richard Childress Racing is using Dell technology to help monitor coming from the network of sensors integrated into race cars as well as biometrics related to their drivers. The company mounts Dell gateways to the bottom of their race cars. “The cars are going around the track at 195 mph, so they withstand some serious vibration and thermal pressure,” Mullen said. The company meshes that information together with ambient information about the racetrack including factors such as the temperature of the track. “They are using this information to improve the efficiency of pit stops and to monitor the driver behavior inside the car. And they are using the information coming off of these sensors to improve the design of components,” she said.
Richard Childress Racing’s Director of Competition, Eric Warren, PhD, is been using IoT technologies for vehicle dynamics simulation and for monitoring real-time data from races. For the simulation, the components of the cars are digitized and compiled to simulate races. That data is compared to the actual measured base coming off the race track. Statistica to help sift through the data.
Connecting the Unconnected
The challenges and the greatest potential of the Internet of Things lie in connecting the unconnected. No matter what the ultimate number of billions of things that are linked to the Internet by 2020, the IoT is going to be huge. "But the huge majority of those things is going to be legacy technology in those production lines, in vehicles, in elevator shafts — customers aren’t going to replace them because they need them to connect to modern systems," said Andy Rhodes, executive director, Dell IoT.
Another challenge is the huge amount of variability across the IoT landscape. "Even in the same use case, one customer's factory is set up completely different than another user's factory," Rhodes said. "As they go off and look at return on investment for each of these projects, it depends on so many different variables. It is a continuous struggle to put forth the case for the investment and to make it clear," he said. "What we have seen is lots of small pilots that prove out the investment before they lead to large deployments."