Dell Technologies held the final one of their four Canadian events around the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence on Tuesday, emphasizing both the advantages and the challenges involved.
TORONTO – Organizations need to embrace the Internet of Things [IoT] or risk high odds of being left behind by their competitors. At the same time, they need to understand that IoT is a difficult process, where mistakes are easy to make, and commitment to the process is essential. That, in a nutshell, was the message that Dell Technologies presented to a customer audience at the Ritz Carlton Hotel here on Tuesday.
Dell is a relative newcomer to the IoT space compared with some other vendors like Cisco and Hitachi who have been involved with operational technology [OT] for decades. Dell has invested heavily in it, however. And they believe that the co-ordination of the different Dell Technologies companies can best optimize customers’ chances of success.
“We are in a data deluge, driven by mobile devices and the Internet of Things,” said Paul Katigbak, President, Commercial Sales Canada, Dell Technologies. “90 per cent of all data today has been created in the last two years. The perimeter of security is now at edge devices, and not in the data centre.”
This means that every organization today faces an imperative to transform, Katigbak emphasized.
“High performing IT organizations adopt new technologies early,” he said. “They must transform digitally. They are rethinking their business processes to become more agile, and more customer-focused. Now more than at any point in history, you need a trusted technology partner for this. We make business transformation happen and make it real.”
Dell emphasizes that their unique federation of companies under the Dell Technologies umbrella, allows for an approach to IoT which is both co-ordinated and multi-faceted. They include Dell EMC, Pivotal VMware, Virtustream, SecureWorks RSA – and Dell Boomi. Boomi, Dell’s iPaaS [Integration Platform-as-a-Service] subsidiary was acquired before the EMC merger, and so is not badged independently like the former EMC federation companies. However, while Boomi doesn’t have a place on the slides, within the last year its ability to integrate with the other Dell Technologies offerings has been increasingly emphasized, and it seems likely to play an ever more important role around things like Smart Cities and Blockchain.
“It’s just as confusing from the inside as it is from the outside,” acknowledged Randy Thompson, IoT Solution Planner, Dell Technologies IoT and Edge Computing Centre of Excellence of the Dell conglomeration of companies. “Trying to derive a centralized IoT strategy for Dell – that’s like trying to get all your kids to do the same thing. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But it allows each company to pursue what it is great at while still being part of the integrated whole, making it a powerful collection of companies and products. My job is to look how we can use Dell products in innovative IoT solutions.”
Thompson emphasized the complexity of the relationship between IT and OT in IoT.
“IOT pays for itself in OT, but it SCALES in IT, so the two sides need to be on the same page, he emphasized.”
Thompson reviewed the business value of IoT, which he emphasized was clear.
“It provides operational efficiency, making the business run better,” he said. “This almost always winds up being a cost savings.
It also helps with customer experience.
“This can be fuzzier to measure, but this information can make the customer experience different, making it better – which makes it stickier,” Thompson noted. “It also helps to mitigate risk. You need to monitor things so if something bad happens, it shows what led up to it.
It creates new revenue models.
“You can move from a business where you sell an asset to one where you sell a service. GE for instance moved from selling engines to selling thrust, where the customer pays for the time that engines are running.”
Nigel Wallis, Vice President, IoT and Industries at IDC Canada, discussed other examples of this transition in business models, including selling jackhammers-as-a-service.
“No one wants to buy a jackhammer,” Wallis said. “They want to get holes in the ground. So some companies have changed their business model so that they bill for the amount of compressed air used to drill holes.”
Thompson also stressed that IoT isn’t easy, and these projects can easily fail. To begin with, it’s necessary to first establish a business case for the project.
“Then probably the most important issue is stakeholder alignment – in particular, getting executive commitment,” he said. “I’ve seen many IoT projects fail because they didn’t have this. Skunkworks projects are hard beyond a departmental level.”
A high degree of interoperability is necessary to connect broadly and feed to as many stakeholders as possible.
“It often catches people by surprise, because the storage and compute required grow exponentially,” Thompson said. “I’ve seen companies have to start over at device 500 because they didn’t plan big enough.”
Proper analytics are also necessary because data has no value until it is analyzed, and proper security has to be built in from the start, not considered as an afterthought.
“You need to always be thinking about architecting for better outcomes,” Thompson said. “You will learn things you didn’t know. Your needs will change. People will think of new things to use data for, and some data may no longer be needed. That’s why having a partner who has done this before can help you out.”
“Do you have unstructured data – video, phonelogs, massive text input through email that you could mine, for things like sentiment analysis,” asked Jay Boisseau, AI & HPC Technology Strategist, Dell EMC. “It won’t be organized and labelled for training, but the modelling, once you have crunched the numbers, isn’t that hard.”
Jonathon Hazzard, Manager – IoT Surveillance iBDMs at Dell EMC, emphasized how customer needs are changing in the surveillance space.
“Business outcomes in surveillance start differently from other IoT cases, because you don’t know what the final outcome will be,” Hazzard said. “Surveillance isn’t often thought of as IoT, but it is gateway IoT. In the past, it has been mainly been used for loss prevention, but now customers are looking at what else they can do with the cameras to drive additional outcomes. In retail for example, they can track customers coming in, what times they come in, what they look at. It’s a much easier conversation to have if you say you can increase sales by 1 per cent rather than reduce loss by 1 per cent.”
IDC’s Wallis went through a myriad of IoT use cases. One example was the Internet of Snow Ploughs.
“On every 400 series highway in Ontario, snow ploughs report where they are, how much salt they put down, and the angles of their blades – or they can lose contracts,” he said. This was the result of costly lawsuits inflicted on the Ministry of Transportation, after accidents caused by contractors not being compliant with their stipulated requirements.
He cited other examples of new uses, such as embedding sensors in new bridges to detect future stress that could lead to collapse.
“We now have smart infrastructure, not just smart buildings,” he said.
Wallis also noted that the City of Toronto uses drones to do sewer inspections to determine blockages, a job humans had never been enthusiastic about doing
Agriculture has been a fertile ground for the IoT. This includes the ‘Internet of Cows,’ which saves farmers money. Sensors let them identify cows which are actually sick, as opposed to ones having a cranky day, so that they can be isolated from the rest before they infect them.
Wallis referred to the Chipotle e-coli fiasco, which did enormous damage to what had been a high-flying brand.
“They could have tracked shipment and traced the e-coli back to the specific farms responsible,” he said. “They still don’t know which farms were responsible.”
Wallis summed up IDC’s perspectives on succeeding with an IoT strategy.
“First, you need to get started,” he said. “Companies that grow faster are much more likely to have adopted IoT solutions. Second, it’s not just about the technology. The problem is that systems of record are locked into the processes of the past and executives are not visionary enough.”
Not everything needs to be online, Wallis indicated. He noted that in a Las Vegas casino, a consumer grade sensor on a fish tank that was online was used to hack into the whole system.
He also emphasized that the IoT goes beyond security into ethics.
“Onstar sold customer GPS location in real time to radio stations to help them target advertising, without asking them, or even informing them, and we only learned about it because they bragged about doing it,” he said.
Finally, he emphasized that the partner ecosystem is especially critical for IoT.
“Industrial equipment lasts for a long time,” he said. “Does a proposed partner have the ability to still be there, and do they have the ability to provide support nationally and globally?”
Keith Bradley, VP IT, at NatureFresh Farms, which is the largest greenhouse in the Leamington ON area, discussed how they use IoT sensors to measure the health and progress of the bell peppers and tomatoes that they grow.
“We measure how much moisture each plant takes in, and the nutrient value when it comes in and when it goes out,” he said. “We can see the moment at which the tomato stopped growing.” It allows much more precise determination of costs, as well as the ability to determine the impact of outside variables.”
Not all their IoT projects have worked, Bradley said, although the major ones are pushed through to completion.
“Of the smaller projects, probably 8 to 10 have worked and 10-12 didn’t, but those that did work more than offset the value of the others,” he indicated. He cited as an example of a successful one the introduction of Smart Sheets, a client that allows the making of quick wizards that indicates workloads for drivers.
“They have improved efficiency by 30 per cent, because drivers can see what their next five loads are, and know where they will be,” Bradley said.
NatureFresh uses Priva, an OT company that provides greenhouse solutions, for their core control.
“We have been a legacy Dell IT shop since we started the business, but Priva runs most of our IoT devices,” Bradley said. “We are just starting to use edge gateways from Dell to be our central hub.”
NatureFresh is also in the process of forming a partnership with Dell Boomi to automate what has been a manual process of putting datasets into a SQL database. They expect to get into blockchain there as well, because key customers like Sobeys and Walmart are starting to get into it.”
NatureFresh buys from Dell direct, but also uses partners for some use cases.
“We use CDW and Softchoice to see what else is on the market,” Bradley said. “You have to know what’s going on. We are a Dell customer, but we also have to make sure they have what we want.”
“IoT is about outcomes – like thrust and comfort – not engines and thermostats,” Jay Boisseau emphasized in concluding the session.
Boisseau provided five takeaways for the audience.
“Big Data is here to stay, although the term ‘Big’ will disappear because it’s no longer meaningful,” he said. “We must collect and manage data better, to remove siloes that were put there for a reason 10 years ago.”
Secondly, cloud computing is here to stay as a model. Much data has been repatriated from the public cloud, but it is still managed as a cloud resource.
Third is that AI will have no more winters. It’s now enterprise value IT.
Fourth is that IoT and edge computing will grow as they become cheaper. 5G will greatly extend this as it becomes available.
“5G is really about IoT, connecting billions of devices,” Boisseau said. “It’s not like the shift from 3G to 4G. This is not about being able to download an HD movie faster. Going to 5G really enables IoT to be powerful.
Finally, while the opportunity for enterprise AI, IoT and HPC is still in early days, a plan will be needed to survive and thrive.
Two things are necessary for this, Boisseau emphasized. “First is the adoption of cloud-native principles to the edge to enable IoT agility and scale. Second is investing in industry level inoperability, in particular the Linux Foundation’s EdgeX Foundry Project, an open framework for edge IoT computing.”