The Fallacy of an IoT Silver Bullet
Does the Internet of Things (IoT) provide a Silver Bullet for a Smart Industrial Environment?……Spoiler Alert: No, it doesn’t.
The promise of the Internet of Things (IoT) is wide-ranging and, in essence, seemingly endless. Whether you’re interested in creating a smarter industrial facility, reaping the benefits of operational efficiencies, or curbing energy-related costs, the power of the IoT is quite compelling. But is there really a single silver bullet for a smart industrial environment? Or any commercial environment, for that matter?
Spoiler Alert: No, that is what I’d argue. There isn’t a single silver IoT bullet that magically transforms a space into an intelligent environment capable of Industry 4.0 functionality.
Why is that, you may ask?
To answer that question, we have to take a few steps back first to define the Internet of Things in the context of creating a smarter environment and how that’s achieved. This is important for many reasons and applies to anyone charged with facility management, plant operations, IT infrastructure. Without defining the Internet of Things in the industrial context and how it leads to a smarter facility, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds and miss the more significant point of achieving the facility outcomes you desire.
First, What is an Internet of Things (IoT) Solution?
The first step in outlining why there’s isn’t a silver IoT bullet we first have to define what an IoT solution is from the beginning. Here’s how I chalk up an IoT solution:
“An Internet of Things (IoT) solution is applying internet connectivity to an item or device to gather data, perform a particular function, or detect something and report that information to a central location via the internet.”
The bedrock of any smart building play is this foundational requirement: Sensors with internet connectivity.
While internet connectivity is the foundation of any IoT solution and, therefore, any smart building solution, connecting items or devices to the internet is only the first step in creating an IoT solution. You see, it is more about what you do with that internet connectivity – the data you collect, or function performed, or information transferred – that determines and defines an IoT solution more holistically. An IoT solution is based on connecting devices to the internet to enable you to do something. Now that “something” could be a lot of things, so let’s dig in a bit more to understand better what those “things” are/could be. In short, it’s really all about installing lots of sensors that are connected to the internet to sense, monitor, alert, and transfer data from inside and around your facility. That’s the heart of an IoT solution and the main reason there’s no IoT silver bullet for smarter facilities.
Second, Why Are IoT Solutions Important & What Role Do They Play In Your Building?
As you can imagine, the whole purpose of an IoT solution is to give you deeper insight into your facility, mission-critical systems and equipment, and provide you with the data you need to make informed decisions. To me, that alone sums up the importance of IoT solutions for any smart facility project.
What role do IoT solutions play? Now we’re getting to the heart of why I don’t believe there is a single IoT silver bullet for a smarter facility. When we get down to it, your facility is complex. It has hundreds of moving pieces across various building systems. If we take the concept of applying an IoT solution to achieve a given outcome, say control your HVAC system, or monitor industrial machinery, or control your lights, or…the list goes on. Now all of this is possible, but here’s the main point – there is no single IoT solution that will achieve all of the things you may want to achieve. Period.
Now vendors are, of course, going to tell you their x, y, z widget can do all that you want/need it to do. And while that may sound nice and promising, history has proven that claim is a bit of a stretch, to put it nicely; at least in my first-hand experience, it is. When you stop to think about it, it makes sense that there really isn’t a be-all-end-all IoT solution that does everything in a smart infrastructure. There are simply too many variables, systems, devices, technologies, protocols, etc., for such a solution to exist.
So what does this mean for you?
While it may seem like this is all doom and gloom, it’s not. The Internet of Things and the variety of IoT solutions on the market still provide you and your facility untold benefits. You just need to approach it in the correct fashion and with the right expectations. The point here is the realization that IoT in the context of a smarter facility is an amalgamation of many IoT solutions, not a single solution in and of itself.
Here are some key pointers and critical questions to answer when considering IoT solutions for your environment. These will help you put the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) into a better context and save you some pain in thinking there’s a single solution for all your troubles. These key pointers and questions include:
1. What facility/building/operational challenge are you trying to solve? Some examples could include: We are continually losing/misplacing high-value assets, or people are continually complaining about x/y/z within the facility, or we’re continually running into machine downtime.
2. Based on question one, what area(s) of your facility/operations are you gain more insight or controllability into/of? Are you trying to track occupancy, identify lost equipment, monitor machinery, control lighting or HVAC, or are you trying to gather some data?
3. What does success look like to you? This question helps to frame and set expectations for your IoT solution while at the same time setting requirements. I want to turn lights on and off remotely, or I want to know where the x/y/z tool is at a touch of a button, or I want to be alerted via email and text when a piece of machinery starts acting out of its typical range.
4. Prioritize your goals: Identify what areas, items, machinery, or systems you want to digitize from question one and rank them in order of priority; this will help steer your search for the right IoT solution for that particular goal.
With the proper context, expectations, and priorities, you can avoid the fallacy of an IoT silver bullet, saving you, your team, and your business a lot of undue stress, frustration, and annoyance. IoT is supposed to be exciting, fun, and deliver positive business outcomes efficiently. If you start smarter, it’s entirely possible.
About the Author
©2021 SBT Alliance. This article was written by Tony Garcia, CTO of SBT Alliance. Mr. Garcia is a smart building technologist with over 25-years of application engineering experience and a holder of two US patents. Having worked with advanced wireless controls for more than two decades, Mr. Garcia is considered a pioneer as one of the first wireless controls developers at Daintree Networks in 2006.