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IoT for Consumers and Business


We’ve just looked at the future of IoT and how it can be integrated into business opportunities.

In this step, we’ll explore the differences between consumer and business implementations, as well as what classifies a device as an IoT device.

Let’s look at the following:

  • The differences between consumer and business IoT solutions.
  • Ways that consumers are using IoT.
  • The way data is treated in consumer and business scenarios.

Consider how you might answer the following questions:

  • What makes one or more connected devices an IoT implementation?
  • What is the difference between consumer devices and the devices used in an IoT business implementation?

Let’s think about the first question. A personal computer is usually connected to the internet. Does that make it an IoT device? Is a smartwatch or door lock that both have internet connectivity IoT devices? As we’ve learned, definitions can be hard but it’s possible to put some boundaries around devices that should be included under the umbrella of IoT, and those that should not.

An IoT Device

Here are some criteria for a device to be considered an IoT device:

  • Connected to the internet: The most obvious criterion is that the device has a connection to the internet with a unique identifier and two-way communication. Both properties are important for a device to be considered an IoT system. The device has to be unique to ensure secure communication with both the server and with other devices, and the device has to be able to consume and deliver data. A primary value proposition for IoT is data collection as well as consumption.

  • Secure: Being able to uniquely identify a device on the internet or within an IoT ecosystem is one aspect of security, but making a device secure also means it’s resistant to being hacked (both the hardware and software), uses encrypted communication protocols, and is immune to mimicry either by an alternate hardware device or a virtual device.

  • Smart features: This simply means that the device must have sensors or hardware that enables it to collect specific data based on events such as smoke in the air or a light being switched on. There’s an implication that the device should be able to do this without user interaction so it has an embedded intelligence.

  • Communication capabilities: The device should have the capability to communicate not only with cloud-based services but with other devices.

  • Configurable: The device should be remotely configurable or have the ability to self-adjust its configuration based on changes in the ecosystem. This includes the ability to automatically install updates, modify sensor receptivity, repair problems, and modify energy consumption, amongst others.

  • Programmable: Like connectivity to the internet, this should be a basic function of any connected device but certainly is true of IoT devices. The main idea here is that the function of the device should be able to be modified without having to make changes to its hardware. This may mean that a device has several sensors that could be activated or deactivated by software. If it’s a single-purpose device, the features should be able to be modified by the software to accomplish a different task; for example, a thermostat that can deliver outside temperature readings from a service vs taking the internal temperature readings from a sensor.

These probably wouldn’t be considered core features, but here are other properties to consider when defining a device as an IoT device:

  • Replaceable: In many scenarios, when an IoT device fails (such as a sensor on an aeroplane engine or wind turbine) the device should be able to be replaced and its entire firmware and software settings loaded onto the device quickly and easily. This means that every programmable feature of the device should be able to be stored in the cloud and downloaded to a replacement device.
  • Environmentally flexible: Depending on the scenario, the device should be able to maintain power, collect and store data, and smartly upload stored data in the event of a power outage and/or loss of internet connectivity.

Consumer and Business Implementations

Now let’s consider the second question: What is the difference between consumer devices and the devices used in an IoT business implementation?

The difference between a consumer scenario and a business scenario often comes down to how the devices are being used and why. In other words, the goals of the implementation and the data being generated.

When we consider the features of IoT devices, some may be more important in business scenarios and others take prominence in consumer scenarios. For example, designing a device so it can easily be replaced may be more important in mission-critical business scenarios than it would be for a consumer device that checks the weather or turns on your lights.

Let’s take a look at a couple of scenarios and how they might differ. Microsoft created this case study for an IoT implementation for BaxEnergy, a company that supplies analytic and optimisation solutions for energy companies. While this white paper is mostly about data ingestion and processing, it illustrates features of an IoT solution that are relevant for this business but may not be relevant for a consumer device.

Microsoft outlines the following benefits of IoT in three distinct areas:

Data Ingestion

This area defines how sensors collect and queue data for delivery to the database. The benefits of the Microsoft solution are as follows:

  • No complex setup for data acquisition via VPN.
  • Workload reduced to read/write operations by establishing queues.
  • Data flow divided into hot and cold paths.
  • The asynchronous model allows for temporary storage of the data without putting more pressure on the busy databases.

Data in Motion

This category defines how the solution improves real-time monitoring of the energy plant. The article notes the following improvements:

  • Visualising real-time monitoring without accessing the database.
  • Presenting the data in almsot real-time.
  • Portal still allowing for execution of queries on historical data.
  • Immediate notification as soon as the device is not sending any data.

Messaging and Analytics

This category describes how incoming data is analysed. Workflows are triggered based on certain event parameters.

  • Creation of automatic workflows and additional services.
  • Instantaneous notification to wind farm operators so they can take immediate action.
  • Cost-effective features.
  • Real-time data analytics.

The advantages provided to BaxEnergy from this particular IoT implementation may be true of many business scenarios. Real-time monitoring and reporting, real-time analytics, problem reporting, and asynchronous data communication are essential in many business contexts. These probably wouldn’t be true in most consumer contexts.

For example, taking the paradigm case of a connected thermostat, acquiring real-time information about energy usage may not be that important.

A customer may only need weekly or monthly reports so the data the device is collecting doesn’t need to be analysed in real-time or available immediately after it’s collected. Similarly, the home thermostat may not need to be able to initiate additional workflows when specific events occur, or queue data if the power goes out.

Consumer vs Business Goals for IoT

Consumer Products and IoT

Individual consumers implement cloud-connected devices such as doorbells, thermostats, and even refrigerators to make their lives easier, more comfortable, or more secure. Consumer devices in the home are not typically being used for the same purpose as an IoT device implemented in a business scenario.

While IoT in the consumer space is still fairly nascent, there are new examples of the technology used to improve customer experiences and expand product features.

Here are a few scenarios, some with which you may already be familiar:

  • Connected refrigerators: The Samsung Family Hub line of refrigerators includes a large touch screen that enables customers to easily track their food inventory through the use of interior, web-enabled cameras, an easy-to-use shopping list, calendaring, and TV mirroring features. While the element of data collection and analysis isn’t central to this IoT solution, the refrigerator is an early look at the potential for connected appliances.

  • Connected doorbells and cameras: Many companies have moved into the consumer doorbell and camera business. The Ring system and Google’s Nest Hello device are examples. These doorbells record and store video, and enable two-way voice and one-way video calling for people at the door. The Nest device will perform facial recognition and use AI to determine which type of being it detects.

  • Connected thermostats: As we mentioned earlier, the connected thermostat is probably the most widely-used example of an IoT consumer device because it was one of the first connected devices to check all the boxes in terms of using IoT architecture.

The most famous device is the Nest thermostat, but there are others. Microsoft recently released its GLAS thermostat in partnership with Johnson Controls, and Honeywell has a line of connected thermostats.

These devices enable customers to view and control their indoor temperature anywhere using a mobile device and an internet connection. They can set a heating and cooling schedule, view historical data on their home’s temperature and energy consumption, and even get alerts when their heater’s filter needs to be changed.

Many other connected devices are coming on to the market that range from practical to pretty weird, but the possibilities are endless. Consumers are moving from a mindset of experimentation to anticipation that will soon evolve into expectation as connected devices enable customers to do more.

Business Goals and IoT

Business goals for IoT are simple compared with consumer goals. Businesses tend to implement IoT solutions to be more profitable, to increase safety for their workforce, and to easily comply with government regulations to create a better business environment.

Profitability can be realised either directly through cost reductions or indirectly through competitive advantage. For example, businesses can use IoT to reduce their manufacturing or operating costs which increase profits directly. Or, a business could use IoT to provide customers with improved service, resulting in increased market share and overall profits. In most cases, both the business and customer benefit.

Business goals for IoT focus on improvement in one or more of the following areas:

  • Product quality and extended product lifetime
  • Service reliability and uptime
  • Operating efficiency
  • Workforce safety
  • Governmental compliance.

We’ve been looking at business-focused scenarios for IoT solutions but you can read more at the Microsoft IoT site to see examples of how industry and vertical lines of business are using the technology.

In the next step, we’ll look at strategies for implementing IoT.

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Microsoft Future Ready: Fundamentals of Internet of Things (IoT)

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