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The Internet of Things: Intelligent, instrumented, interconnected and in real time

Vice President, Watson Internet of Things Platform, IBM

The world runs in real time. Planes are flying, inventory is moving, temperatures are changing and motors are turning all around us, as has happened since the Industrial Revolution—and as will continue long after. We do our best to manage events as quickly as we can, racing to collect information, to react more quickly than our competition. Indeed, the companies that react the soonest generally win in their markets—by innovating earlier than their competition, by understanding their customers sooner and by moving their inventory first. But taking the ideal action before others do requires us to accelerate our understanding of people and processes.

Keeping up with real-time data

The Internet of Things is creating powerful new sources of real time information and decision making which enable new levels of business efficiency. Because machine data is available inexpensively and efficiently—courtesy of low-cost pervasive networking and sensors and intelligent, software-driven devices—machines are active participants in business, producing and sharing data and processing commands on a massive scale. Indeed, we have access to real-time data created by billions of machines.

Moreover, we can use analytics capabilities to act on data at scale, using such tools as machine learning, predictive analytics and cognitive computing. Analytics systems have moved from proprietary, custom solutions, locked away in glass rooms, to cloud services available to anyone, whether individual developers or corporations. We now make sense of our data using analytics tools, such as those available through IBM Bluemix, that lie at our fingertips.

When I think about real-time data, I am reminded of Gomez Addams, patriarch of the Addams Family, standing in his living room, watching stock prices reel off a brass stock market ticker—able to telephone his broker to buy or sell at will. Such a level of insight and action was once unattainable for any but the most wealthy. Since Gomez’s day, however, machines have taken over the stock market, and their algorithms enable high-frequency trading, based on petabytes of data and completed in microseconds. Not even Gomez could comprehend so much data so quickly.

Just think of the real-time insights and action embodied in the anti-lock braking systems (ABS) that safely stop modern cars in rain and snow, allowing drivers to slow down while still controlling the vehicle. Before ABS became commonplace, drivers pumped their brakes to keep from skidding out of control. ABS systems sense and act in milliseconds whereas the fastest human beings react in about a quarter-second—and a lot can happen in that time. The difference is profound, and the effects can be life-altering.

Doing analytics in real time

As an engineer, how can you take advantage of these new technologies to change how your business works? You can start today by connecting your devices to an Internet of Things (IoT) cloud, allowing you to begin gathering and analyzing your real-time data. Better still, discover how to connect a device and visualize your data using the IBM IoT Foundation, then learn how the IBM IoT Real-Time Insights service can help you understand and take action on real-time data.

No doubt about it—computer systems can ingest huge volumes of data and make decisions at a scale and speed that humans cannot approach. Indeed, computers can take action long before we even realize that action is needed. In a world containing billions of devices, constant torrents of data stream from countless sensors: The world is being digitized and quantified all around us. But that’s good news for businesses, because technologies tied to the Internet of Things are helping companies think deeply and act quickly to make better—and more timely—decisions than ever before.

Coauthored by Greg Knowles, Program Director, IoT Analytics, IBM.