Not long ago, only computers could connect to the Internet. Today, thanks to mobile devices and rapidly evolving smart technologies, the very objects we come in contact with each day-our cars, our coffee makers, even our toothbrushes-are connecting to the web in a vast network known as the Internet of Things (IoT).
According to a recent report by the Federal Trade Commission, the number of Internet-connected devices currently tops 25 billion worldwide, and that number is set to double in the next five years. On top of that, several studies indicate that a large majority of today’s businesses are interested in the IoT, with well over 90 percent planning to incorporate some aspect of the IoT into their portfolios in the next few years.
With this kind of momentum there’s no question that the IoT has the potential to transform industries, governments---the entire world and how we live and interact in it---in exciting and positive ways. For that to happen one very big challenge must be met:
Connecting the IoT’s dots
The ultimate purpose of any “thing” is to better serve the needs of human beings. Still, merely being connected doesn’t make an otherwise isolated thing either useful or productive, no matter how “smart” it is. The real value of the IoT can’t be realized unless all of the dots are connected.
To do that, all of these smart things must be coordinated with people, systems, and applications---and that’s where business processes come in. Experts use workflow software, intelligent BPM systems, and close collaboration to identify touchpoints where systems and isolated activities can be connected, creating the network.
In a recent article on Informationweek.com, Dr. Setrag Khoshafian, a leading expert in Business Process Management (BPM), states that the real transformation of the IoT will occur through the “end-to-end digitization of processes.” Once coordinated around humans, business partners or enterprise apps, business process automation must now factor “things” into a digital equation.
In this new landscape, an example of a complex digital process cited by the author is “the coordination of the arrival and departure of an airplane in a busy airport.” In this process there are two types of players; the people---all of the numerous airport staff in their roles; and the technical players---the digital devices and sensors capable of sending data or carrying out specific tasks. While the human element is still an important part of the equation, Khoshafian points out that, “autonomous or semi-autonomous things are becoming active participants in business processes.”
As a result, IT departments serving increasingly digital organizations must focus, not only on the technology infrastructure needed to make connected Things do what they are designed to do, but on providing a business process automation platform to make all of these Things part of business outcomes.
Many of today’s complex digital processes, such as the on-time arrival and departure of an airplane, are passive examples of the successful coordination of people and things. On the other end of the spectrum are the active things, such as IoT sensors designed to detect a crisis event and immediately respond by activating a digitized end-to-end process. For example, a sensor on a homebound patient picks up an abnormally elevated change in blood pressure and activates a process that ends with paramedics pulling up minutes later to render aid.
The future with IoT
Beyond single Thing events lies an emerging world where data from multiple sources is detected, analyzed, visualized and handled via automated digital processes involving humans and things---a world where the IoT makes homes, cities and industries cleaner, safer, more efficient and just plain better.
A world of infinite possibilities, all made possible by business processes that bring together people, systems and things.