The Internet of Things Meets Big Data, with Chris Curran

Chris Curran describes the evolution of The Internet of Things, its adoption by the business sector, and the inevitable merge with big data. Curran is the Chief Technologist at PwC.

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Transcript – The Internet of Things is an idea that’s been around for maybe 10 or 15 years or so. And I think the first time I heard about it there was some discussion of a European appliance manufacturer who had a refrigerator that was connected to the network, the Internet. And I think the scenarios that were playing out there were: “Okay, what if the refrigerator was smart and knew enough to adjust temperatures?” Maybe it knew enough to send a request or a message to the manufacture saying “Hey, the compressor is going bad.” That was the first time I had heard about this idea of connecting a product to the network. A product that wasn’t a traditional computer; wasn’t something that we thought was supposed to be connected to the network or interconnected. And that started to open up a lot of people’s eyes I think to this idea. It may not have been the first theoretical time that it was discussed but it was the first time that I think popular media and culture started talking about this idea.

But, for whatever reason that connected refrigerator didn’t really take off. The idea really didn’t kind of explode. Then we started hearing about the connected washing machine in the same kind of context. And I think that that idea of the Internet of Things then started to refine a bit and we heard about machine-to-machine communication. The idea that instead of human to machine, so sort of through a screen or through a webpage or through our mobile phones or whatever, that machines would talk to one another. So the idea of a stock quote generating a message that would be sent to another machine that might think about “Okay now I may need to make a trade.” So the automated trading world. Or a weather forecast that’s reported online triggering a message to another system that’s going to adjust stock levels. So this idea that machines might talk to one another without a human in between was sort of a refinement I think of the Internet of Things idea.

And now over the last handful of years we’re seeing more consumer facing ideas and concepts and products coming out that I think has regenerated interest in this machine-to-machine communication. So now we’re hearing things about the connected car and the connected thermostat and the smart home. So now that the consumer side of things is heating up, we’re also asking ourselves from a business perspective: “What is the Internet of Things for a business?” Maybe where you don’t have a consumer product or a widget that you sell. Maybe you’re a services company or a bank, what does the Internet of Things mean for a business like that, particularly a services company?

And so for companies that aren’t as consumer facing or product oriented, I think there’s more opportunity but more sort of clouds around what the Internet of Things means for business. And I think that anything that we think about, that we estimate, that we operate in, places we work in, people we work with, we think about the effectiveness of those things, the effectiveness of our workplace, the effectiveness of a warehouse, the effectiveness of routes that a truck takes or that a forklift makes. And we make guesses about the right ways to design a workspace or design a logistics path, design a warehouse. And the question is can we use the idea of sensors to collect data about things that we were just guessing about before, that we were estimating, that we were sort of using our gut to design? Can we collect real data about performance of people and places and processes that can give us more insight into optimizing and evolving our designs for the way our business works? And that’s what I call the Internet of Business Things. It’s not the consumer facing stuff, it’s the business stuff. And I think there’s a lot of promise for that.

The Internet of Things is interesting from a technological perspective for a number of reasons. One thing that’s interesting is that it’s a blend of hardware and software. As a computer science person and a technology person for my whole career, most of the focus for the vast majority of my professional career has been on software. Hardware was, from an enterprise perspective, from a business perspective, largely relegated to the technology providers that give us servers and routers and the components of the hardware systems and servers that we use in networks and now more in the cloud. But it’s more of a platform on which we do business applications and software and data work that’s largely software oriented. [TRANSCRIPT TRUNCATED]


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