If I had a dime for every time I have been asked by an IT person whether she or he should embark on a big data initiative or on an Internet of Things (IoT) one at their company, I might be able to have just about enough to start a new business with personal funds.
For too long, IT managers and executives have pondered their digital future in the light of all the hype surrounding big data and getting the right IoT solutions. Faced with finite budgets and resources, they wonder if going in one direction or the other is more advantageous for them.
Here is where the problem lies: For one, there is an abundance of literature that touts the advantages of IoT solutions, frequently talking about the sort of data problems that can be solved, but never makes the connection between big data and IoT explicitly. On the other hand, there is even more information on the sort of big data problems that seek solutions and how best to go about solving them, but we don’t often see the connection between those problems and possible IoT solutions. One wonders whatever happened to the age-old wisdom of staying focused on the problem statement or pain point and approaching it from a process-oriented perspective.
For years, I have been a champion of the notion that process supremacy is key to solving problems. And, this became abundantly clear these past few weeks. On October 26, I started my week in Las Vegas, where I co-hosted a Technology Executive Summit, and ended in Singapore, where I addressed a Media Summit that drew attendees from Asia-Pacific-Japan and India.
In Las Vegas, at the Technology Executive Summit which ran parallel to SAP Tech Ed, we saw an amazing sense of energy from participants who confirmed that IoT is not merely about the next sexy app that draws on sensors galore and presents a beautiful dashboard. It’s also about achieving an optimal result – one that solves the problem at hand. It’s not about claiming use of modern and emerging technology – it is about deploying the right technology to solve the right problem. According to one study, there are more than 30,000 sensors on an oil rig, but data from less than 1 percent are used during the course of normal operations. Two distinct thoughts come to mind: One is, should we apply technology without thought around how it will be used merely because it exists? Second, could it be a case of not having well-articulated processes that could take advantage of the data because, historically, it has not been possible to consume these additional sources and types of data?
In Las Vegas, I was asked a question that touched on this second thought. I was asked if there’s a way to look at possibilities of getting more data to help solve problems associated with maintaining expensive assets in the field in a proactive and real-time manner. “Certainly,” was my answer – as long as they had a defined process and an engine that could handle huge quantities of data from the sensors in a way that provided meaningful and actionable insights almost instantly.
In Singapore, the focus was on leveraging the IoT to help provide relief to sports teams and professional athletes by helping them prevent injuries. I spoke about and demonstrated a proof-of-concept solution that is meant to do exactly that.
With such a solution, coaches and physiotherapists can actually have fact-based discussions with professional players about what will need to be done to prevent them from getting sidelined by injury. Coach Dirk Schauenberg, the Head of Sports Performance for the Home United Football Club in Singapore, was exceptionally thrilled at the prospect of having such conversations with his players.
One attendee excitedly gushed about how the sensors embedded within the fibers of a vest on the body of an athlete transmitted data that instantly was converted into meaningful analytics. This person was quite disappointed when I said that the real magic was not in the signal being transferred from the body of a running athlete to the dashboard in my hands (on a tablet), but in the fact that the data could be processed in real time, along with additional relevant data from other sources, and present meaningful and actionable analytics in real time – without any pre-aggregation or data-massaging techniques. My intent was to point out the real action behind the sizzle of the demonstration of this proof of concept.
Then came the magic moment for me. The person said, “So, this means you are using IoT but also solving what would otherwise be a big data problem as there are volume, variety, and velocity factors at play here.” If I were a bit more religious, I’d have broken out into, “Hallelujah!” or some equivalent of that expression. I merely responded with, “Yes, that is what this is all about: providing an answer to the problem at hand and not getting hung up on whether it is ‘big data’ or ‘IoT’ or some such label.”
Shouldn’t that be the way forward as we guide the IT departments of businesses across the globe? Shouldn’t we advise them to focus on the problem and then let the appropriate solution fall into place? Shouldn’t we let the situation determine if we are solving a “big data” problem or deploying an “IoT” solution instead of embarking on a declared “big data initiative” or an “IoT initiative” – does that not make more sense?
With the technologies that are at our disposal today, we can attempt way more than we were able to in the past. In fact, we now can uncover problems that we didn’t know we had. The key is to examine each process that makes a difference to the business and ask questions that challenge the status quo – it is important to imagine new ways of doing current tasks and to ponder the possibility of doing things we always wished we could do but didn’t have a way of doing.
To those out there who are trying to decide where to spend their IT budget, don’t get trapped in the mindset that you have to consider a “big data” or an “IoT” initiative. Make the call solely on the merits of the problem at hand and make a commitment to using the most capable technology platform out there.
Puneet Suppal is a seasoned IT strategist and thought leader specializing in SAP products for real-time business advantage. Experienced at leading global initiatives across multiple IT platforms, serving numerous verticals, Puneet specializes in driving business value by aligning people, technology, and business processes. Currently, he is focused on technology-driven innovation with customers and partners that drives business and social advancement. In particular, he is passionate about crafting solutions that leverage the Internet of Things, often to deliver actionable analytics to address data problems.
A member of the Data Informed Board of Advisers, Puneet is recognized as an authority within the SAP ecosystem. He frequently writes and speaks on the importance of focusing on business processes, as well as on in-memory computing and mobility. Follow him on Twitter @puneetsuppal.
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