Next best action in the Internet of Things

Big Data Evangelist, IBM

The Internet of Things is one of those deja vu paradigms. You could swear you’ve heard this vision before under various names. Naturally, you ask whether anything is new these days that merits special enthusiasm for the approach.

IoT.jpgFirst off, what exactly is the Internet of Things? Here’s how the venerable Wikipedia defines it. At its most extreme, the vision is essentially that of embedding continuous Internet connectivity and addressability into every human artifact, into every nook and cranny of the natural world, and even into our bodies.

More to the here and now, some refer to the paradigm as the “industrial Internet,” the “machine-to-machine (M2M) Internet” the “sensor Internet,” and the “ambient Internet.” Some call it the “RFID Internet,” referring to the increasingly prevalent embedding of wirelessly accessible digital identities into every component, subassembly and product within online supply chains.

Whatever its practical scope, you could say that Internet of Things is included in the vision of a Smarter Planet. After all, the core of Smarter Planet is the notion that every endpoint is instrumented, intelligent and interconnected, and that they play together to continuously achieve various desirable outcomes.

One might also argue that the Internet of Things can’t achieve its Smarter Planet potential without a layer of next-best-action technology to ensure continuous realization of outcomes. The many outcome-focused Smarter Planet use cases allude to the ubiquitous embedding of data-driven analytic intelligence into the fabric of our existence, without a distracting focus on the specific technologies, at endpoints (a la “Internet of Things”) and/or intermediating services (a la “cloud computing”), that deliver this practical magic:

  • “Trains now queue for passengers.”
  • “Police see emergencies before they emerge.”
  • “Phones reduce their own footprints.”
  • “Shirts can pick a tie for you.”
  • “Banks now hold up robbers.”
  • “Food can tell you how fresh it is.”
  • “Buildings bring down their own energy costs.”
  • “Drivers can see traffic jams before they happen.”
  • “More suitcases can find their way home.”
  • “Cities bring down their own energy costs.”

Next best action is the silent decision-automation bus for this practical Internet of Seemingly Magical Things. Next best action is the integration pattern for never-ending optimization, leveraging advanced analytics and big data. To the extent that we instrument our world with real-time sensor grids, automated feedback remediation loops, embedded rules engines, self-healing network-computing platforms, and other analytic-driven systems, we can build a continuously optimized footprint on the planet.

But it’s not all behind the scenes. What’s truly new these days in the Internet of Things is the increasing incorporation of the ubiquitous smartphone into the constellation of connected “things.” Let’s call this the “Internet of Persons, Places and Things.” It goes well beyond decision automation into a full-blown decision-support paradigm. Our smartphones and other connected gadgets are extremely powerful “things” that perform many roles in our personal lives, such as sensing our physical, geospatial, vehicular, social, transactional and other environments. Just as important, they can give us precise, dynamic, continuous, contextual guidance on what to do next.

Wearable gadgets will extend the Internet of Things deep into our very being, often for life-or-death medical applications. Some of us will monitor our own vital signs continuously. We will do this for various reasons: to maintain constant vigilance on life-threatening medical conditions, to monitor our own stress levels in various circumstances, or to satisfy an idle curiosity regarding the digital profile of our idiosyncratic habits, per what motivates the “quantified life” devotees.

As these trends come to fruition, each of us will evolve into a walking, talking, living beneficiary of the Internet of Things.