The challenging future of the data center in an IoT landscape

Disclosure: This post was previously published on Atos Ascent Blog Post and was co-authored by Mr. Andrea Sorrentino (LinkedIn) – minor format and content edits have been applied to fit it to this website.

“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” This phrase of Machiavelli Wikipedia perfectly aligns with how we should consider the Internet of Things (IoT) – the need to change our mindset regarding the IT industry and how we use data. Better analytics are now creating an amount of information which has never been obtained before; providing important insights into markets and consumers. The IoT can further enhance the business value extrapolated from data, and we find ourselves in the early phase of development of this new technology that will shape our vision of the world.

Now, imagine a company that distributes millions of sensors along its production chain in several factories, all sending data about machinery to a central location. On one hand, managers will have access to a large amount of data which can effectively contribute to help correct inefficiencies, and to create business value. McKinsey estimate that if policy makers and businesses get it right, linking the physical and digital worlds could generate up to $11.1 trillion a year in economic value by 2025. On the other hand, the data center involved would probably very quickly reach its processing capacity, as it would be overloaded with data and connections that are being pushed from the sensors. According to Gartner, it would not be technically and economically feasible to maintain every computing activity in a central location with the IoT.

The impact of the IoT

The IoT will have a huge influence on companies’ data center strategies, and the best option is likely to be creating a distributed data center infrastructure, installing smaller facilities close to the devices for local processing, with further aggregation in a central location. This creates a more flexible management system which can be adapted to changing requirements. The old logic of using a centralized data center to reduce costs and increase security is simply not compatible in the IoT era. However, any strategy is dependent on the smartness of the devices being used to filter data and avoid overloading the entire system to prevent inefficiencies.

The adoption of the IoT will likely lead to a profound reassessment of data management strategies within businesses, and aspects such as costs and the integration of new technology are hot topics for managers today. The IoT represents a great opportunity for creating smarter companies that are more responsive to market needs. It enhances capabilities that, decades ago, managers could barely imagine: real time analytics that allow for preemptive intervention to avoid potential errors.

Therefore, implementing IoT solutions is important to be able to create a tailored data management strategy, re-considering the role of the data center for a business. The IoT will likely speed up the transitional process to cloud-oriented infrastructure; companies in different sectors are already gradually running a larger part of their processes on hybrid cloud solutions. The cloud is an enabler of digital transformation which can enhance the potential of the entire infrastructure, and support in delivering better services.

A future for the traditional data center?

The advancement of IoT and cloud computing may lead to the reduction in the use of data centers by businesses, simply due to the potential level of scalability and flexibility that companies may need to attain. Clearly, security cannot be underestimated and companies need to maintain a robust infrastructure around their data. It is likely that data centers will gradually lose strategic importance for most businesses, however physical locations will still be needed as safe stations of reference in case of system failures.

IT managers need to begin thinking about the best approach to optimize and innovate their infrastructure, ensuring it doesn’t become quickly outdated in a fast moving environment, enabled by the IoT.

 

4 ways the Industrial Internet of Things can enable digital transformation

Disclosure: This post was previously published on Atos Ascent and was co-authored by Mr. Andrea Sorrentino (who wrote a significant part of the text below) – minor format and content edits have been applied to fit it to this website.

Today the manufacturing industry faces one of the biggest challenges in modern times: how to embrace the next industrial revolution. The technological disruption which has arisen from “Industry 4.0”, the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies, has drastically changed how we see the world today. Moreover, the highly competitive landscape poses urgent questions of change management that manufacturing companies need to address quickly.

Nowadays, in a more inter-connected world, companies need to adopt the right tools to get closer to the market and become more competitive. The manufacturing industry needs to adopt big data to innovate, to optimize their processes, and improve yields. But how should managers approach this technological revolution and work towards creating a smarter factory?

Machinery performance can now be measured with small sensors connected to the internet, monitoring where efficiency can be optimized. For example, workers will be able to foresee machinery malfunctioning, and intervene in a timely manner. Gartner’s latest forecast predicts 20.4 billion things will be connected by 2020, which will completely change the way we work in several sectors. In the meantime, machine-to-machine communication is fast becoming a reality, and the Internet of Things (IoT) represents only the first step in that process. In this post, I look at four ways in which managers in the manufacturing industry can exploit IoT solutions for commercial benefits:

1. Understand how your company can profit from IoT solutions

Industrial standards for IoT are still not clear, in part due to the wide range of flexible solutions that can be developed in any industry. Factory and operations managers need to define a series of objectives to understand how best they can benefit from connected devices. This is because while it is relatively easy to collect data, it is difficult to understand how to cluster it to avoid complexity in analysis. It is key to define first what type of data can be useful to increase efficiency, rather than trying to analyse huge amounts of data which is not necessarily relevant. By honing in on the aspects which will make the most difference to the business, in terms of profit, subsequent analysis becomes much simpler.

2. Clarify your security strategy

Security is a fundamental aspect to take into consideration when adopting any IIoT (The Industrial Internet of Things) solution. Consumers still hesitate when purchasing IoT products, in part due to safety and privacy concerns. Similarly, manufacturers are hesitant to adopt IoT solutions since data and app platforms can be subject to cyber-attacks as well. Operational processes and risks need to be coordinated around these safety issues, a topic Atos explored in their Journey 2020 report.

The IIoT is fundamentally changing the cyber-security landscape; the old logic of go-to-market quickly to gain market share over competitors does not apply anymore. Any device connected to the internet can become a weapon for hackers, and IT companies need to effectively secure their infrastructure before delivering to clients. Having real-time security analytics and a cyber-resilient system are essential when deploying IIoT solutions to protect against any potential attack.

3. Consider sustainability

Sooner rather than later, companies need to consider how they will ensure that their IoT solutions remains sustainable i.e. future proof. Their IoT strategy needs to define, among other things, what type and the expected amount of data they need and how to manage it effectively to minimize potential negative impacts. It is also crucial to understand how to manage potentially millions of connected devices, and how to build a scalable and reliable, distributed computing environment around the production factory.

Sustainability in the sense of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) also offers opportunities. It is currently one of the hottest topics in the manufacturing industry. The adoption of sustainable strategies is something many manufacturers are beginning to take into consideration, since brand reputation depends on companies working to reduce the level of emissions and waste they generate.

IIoT will enable the creation of what researchers have termed a ‘circular economy’; the concept that puts re-usability and recyclability at the center of any type of process. Through IIoT solutions, managers will be able to extend the lifespan of machinery, thus cutting energy costs. Therefore, the development of smart-factories would likely result in a more ecological manufacturing industry, thus drastically reducing the impact of industrial processes in the environment.

4. Get out of your comfort zone

The industry is still in an early stage when it comes to IIoT adoption, but some pioneers are taking steps to ensure they are future leaders of the industry 4.0 era. The opportunity is out there, and decision-makers need to act rapidly to advance in this next wave of technology change.

It is fundamental to assess your own capabilities and role within the IoT ecosystem: will you push data or will you pull data? In a push model, you need to look at the smartness of your devices and data platform. If you pull data you need to look at your data analytics capabilities so you know when to ask for data and what data you need. Companies cannot bear the risk connected to data management for the entire production chain, therefore, it is necessary to build a partner ecosystem of buyers and vendors that co-operate for creating secured, efficient and scalable end-to-end solutions, leading to real added value in the production chain.

Your Future; Now available in real-time

cobblestones (road)Imagine you have an automatically and real-time updated agenda – it continuously adapts your schedule to meetings taking longer, predicts and updates in real-time your travel-time to the next meetings and will adapt your schedule because it ‘knows’ that typically any meeting with your best client always takes 30 minutes longer than you originally plan it for.

A proof of concept conducted by the Atos Scientific Community looked at this aspect of predictability and took the data of the traffic in the city of Berlin to see if it was possible to do real time traffic forecasting (RTTF). The result is in a recently published white paper.

  “RTTF enables a prediction (within 1 minute) of sensor data streams for the immediate future (up to four hours) and provides traffic condition classification for the upcoming time period based on the forecasted data.”

“The forecast provides a suitable time span for proactively managing upcoming incidents even before they appear.”

The team took a radical different approach to the challenges of today’s traffic management. Instead of proposing another reactive traffic management IT system with some smart analytics, the team targeted successfully a proactive traffic management approach which provides analytics solutions to predict critical events in advance before they appear.  Using historic data and artificial neuron network technology, predictions are created for the intermediate future and utilized to determine the traffic status of the upcoming next four hours. Based on that information, actions can be taken proactively to mitigate or avoid future upcoming events. Utilizing the software and bringing in data scientists with an understanding of the context was the next step. This helped in defining the right parameters and a pattern based strategy (PBS) in place.

“Being able to identify patterns out of the existing data, model them into patterns and come up with a system that can provide reliable predictions is a remarkable achievement in itself, but the true value of PBS is being able to apply such capabilities to strategy definition and decision making.”

Working with the subject matter experts the team identified multiple models that were then consequently implemented in the software. The models are important, they avoid that you are trapped into simplification; when a car is driving slowly, it can be because of a traffic jam, but it can also be an older person driving more carefully.

By introducing the concept of ‘flow’ – the number of vehicles passing a sensor each hour – the team could identify 4 different states, which were in themselves also parameterized by looking at road capacity, speed limits, etc. This information is then fed into a look-up table based complex event processing engine in order to predict, within 1 minute, the traffic situation at given locations.

Because in real-life the historic data is continuously refreshed with the actual events of the past time, the system will be able to predict in real-time the situation on the road.

The proof of concept clearly showed that a self-learning system, combined with a complex event processing unit and the help of some subject matter expert data scientist can accurately predict the future – the white paper shows this in some great details.

  “Real Time Traffic Forecasting is an excellent example of how data sources and identified patterns can be exploited to gain insights and to develop proactive strategies to deal with upcoming events and incidents. It enables a short term view into the future which is long enough to act on predicted incidents rather than react on occurring ones”

For me this proof of concept shows the benefits of data analytics in everyday life, and I am looking forward to this future.


This blog post was previously published at http://blog.atos.net/blog/2013/12/12/watch-this-space-your-future-now-available-in-real-time/ 


Like Shopping? Prepare for something better.

shoppingThere are 3 reasons I never go shopping without my smart phone; first I need to be able to compare the price of what is on sale with the price I would pay elsewhere, secondly, I like to see a review of the product on-line and thirdly I need to be able to call my wife when I am in doubt about what kind of groceries, or some other unknown item written on her shopping list (female hygiene products are always challenging for me).

The shopping experience has suffered a dramatic change over the last decades. Offers are larger and more diversified than ever, globalization is a reality and e-commerce is growing exponentially. Buyers are more demanding, discerning and sophisticated while the traditional selling models are not good enough to secure a sustainable sales flow.”

This change in shopping, fueled by mobile technologies and a much deeper understanding of the customers behaviors and demands is the scope of a white paper download, called “The Future of In-Store Shopping”.

Physical shopkeepers, as explained in the paper, are increasingly under pressure to compete with the e-commerce world in order to provide an experience that has the same convenience of shopping on-line while at the same time offer the intimacy and customer satisfaction of getting to touch and discuss a product.

The answer lies in putting the customer at the center of the value chain through an enhanced shopping experience. Whenever customers interact with the commerce, a new opportunity arises to know them better and offer a more personalized service, which could extend up to negotiating prices on a one-to-one basis.”

New shopping models will be needed to capture the client and bring the value of being in the shop, while at the same time the convenience of electronic payment and delivery is combined with the physical shop experience. Possible scenario’s include personalization but also increase the experience through show casing of product ranges and providing expert support during the decision making process.

The reason for being in a store can be further enhanced by making it part of a full end-to-end experience that can even start before you go into the shop. Something we used to do by sending around leaflets of this week’s offerings, but can now become a much more sophisticated and personal experience through data analytics of previous purchases or engaging the customer in communities – this ‘value-flow’, that can even include a post-shopping experience, is explained in detail and allows you to understand how you can set this up yourself.

The better the retailers take care after a purchase, considering it the ‘purchase before the next purchase’, the more likely they are to have won happy and frequent customers.”

Technology will support this change. New payment methods, using mobile devices (we have talked about this before in my blogs and a white paper dedicated to mobile payments is also available) are increasingly available. But other technologies such as geo-location and in-store routing allow consumers to find stores and even navigate to specific locations inside the store. Big Data Analytics and all types of product identification through smart labelling, NFC or bar codes will help us track both the consumer and the products inside the store and beyond. Better and ‘always-on’ connectivity will support high enough bandwidth to enrich the physical product with lots of additional (meta-) data to give the customer even more information.

Initially consumers will start using basic functionalities (find a store, make a shopping list, get product information, etc.) and once they feel confident and see the value, they will access more complex functionalities (make a shopping basket, self-checkout, mobile payment, cloud tickets, etc.). It is important that all these functions are easy to use and they are designed with the consumer at the center, hiding the complexity of the technologies being used (NFC, image recognition, indoor location, etc.)”

And when we look further in the future we will see possibilities for consumers to get access to the full product life cycle – where was this chair made, what is the origin of this coffee, what are the ingredients of this pizza? The full ecological footprint will be available regarding the actual product you are touching and putting in your basket. On top of that, using augmented reality the shop can adapt itself to your mood, informing the staff that you are open for suggestions or want to be left alone.

Ultimately, what will make stores interesting in the future is the same thing that makes them interesting today: the physical experience of being there, talking to real people who know their products, touching such products and the unbeatable joy at leaving the store with the product in your hands.”

The paper gives you a comprehensive overview and is a good starting point to understand how customer expectations, technology and the way retailers like to organize their physical business comes together. And this is not far away in the future as I experienced recently when my favorite on-line retailer just now opened a physical store in my home town – interestingly the location of the store was the result of asking their on-line customers to find the best spot for them. I’m sure they saved a lot of money because they did not need to hire a specialist, locating the perfect location was outsourced to their customers – in my book, that is clever thinking.


This blog post was previously published at  http://blog.atos.net/blog/2013/11/29/watch-this-space-like-shopping-prepare-for-something-better/ 


Three (and more) disruptive changes in the media landscape

 

Changes in media landscape (newspaper)I am a news junkie; I eat, drink, snack, swallow and dine copiously on any news source. My starter is the newspaper in the morning, followed by a quick look at some of my favorites online. During the day, when work allows it, I will visit some other sites and during lunch I might have a second look at the morning newspaper. The evening paper I read after dinner and around 8 or 10, I will watch the evening news on television. Just before turning in, I will check my usual favorite websites again. About 3 or 4 times a week I will check out new background stories on YouTube, TED or some local news sites – they will mostly serve the news in a video format, which is a good break from just reading about stuff.

Still, I am apparently an old fashioned guy:

“Smart mobility is opening up the media market in two dimensions. It is enabling personalized engagement with audience segments previously un-reached, and it is creating the opportunity for a near unlimited range of multi-screen services that enable the users to interact via the second screen.”

In a white paper published by the Atos Scientific community about disruptive changes in media, an overview is given of the impact of these changes and the increased use of smart mobile devices is the first one mentioned; I myself still like the paper format of the news, but am also increasingly drawn to using my phone or tablet.

 “Socially connected dynamic content creates the opportunity for mass media experiences that are unique to any social graph.”

Secondly the authors indicate a strong increase in the interactions between producers and consumers of news. This need for direct interaction was already existing with radio – many “shock-jocks” have chosen this format to increase the impact of their radio-shows in the past, but the social interaction allows for a much larger amount of interactions and sometimes, through the interactions, creates its own new news stories. We have seen this when web logs publish videos of a bank-robber or some hooligan beating up innocent people and the readers actively participate to find the identity of these persons.

“Any individual has the opportunity to become their own broadcaster, and there are millions of examples of successful user generated channels (…). In this new world, the sole barriers to entry are an idea and basic production skills.”

Thirdly the paper explains the impact of user generated content. This used to be a very modest part of the media landscape and most often initiated by the professionals – for example CNN or BBC asking their viewers to upload pictures and movies, but is now exploding into semi-professional channels on video services like YouTube and Vimeo. With the rise of consumer friendly video equipment paired with HD quality, it is no longer expensive to be a creator and I expect that when technologies like Google Glass become mainstream we will see (no pun intended) an ever bigger growth in user generated content.

The paper shows at least 4 more disruptive changes in the short/medium term, which you will need to discover when it is finally published (hint: Intellectual property, real time advertising, personalization, network capacity).


This blog post was previously published at http://blog.atos.net/blog/2013/11/21/watch-this-space-three-and-more-disruptive-changes-in-the-media-landscape/