Nowadays many different kinds of data-capturing sensors are readily available. However, a lack of standards and systems integration means that the data is for the most part being produced in silos.
Internet of Things, X-Internet, Internet of Everything… there are numerous terms for what promises to be the advent of a new generation of Internet dominated by connected objects and M2M data exchange. But while, for instance, people in the United States are increasingly enthusiastic about connected objects that help you to keep fit – devices such as the Fitbit bracelet and the Withings scales – these systems still cannot ‘speak’ to each other, points out a recently-published Forrester study. Some systems are able to measure your exercise activity, others can assess your sports technique, and there is a whole range of devices out there to record your biometric data. The result is many sets of silo-bound data, all tied to their separate applications. But commercial companies can only expect to be able to engage properly with the customer when these separate data flows start to be brought into some kind of system. What is needed, say the report’s authors, is a way to integrate CRM, inventory systems, customer purchasing path and experience into a dynamic process, before these ‘things’ can really be called ‘smart’.
Mobile hardware, open APIs and standards needed
The Forrester report authors underline that contextual data gathering is a must in order to guarantee data relevance. Here mobile channels are seen as the best way to track and understand the consumer, so next-generation sensors and processors will continue to be integrated into smartphones. Already the iPhone 5S and the Motorola Moto X embed processors which are dedicated exclusively to managing sensor-captured data. However, the Forrester experts clearly identify system fragmentation as the major obstacle to innovation. Platform aggregation along the lines of what Xfinity and the ZigBee Alliance are doing is a good start. Nevertheless the analysts warn that it will still be difficult to achieve a critical mass of users of these initiatives. They argue that a key solution is to open up application programming interfaces (APIs). If a company can on the one hand use the services and data from other firms and on the other hand allow others to develop applications for its own services in reciprocal fashion, this would help to break down the process and data silos in a way that would benefit all stakeholders.
Moreover, the emergence of an Internet of Things will also depend to a large extent on common standards. Connected sensors require basic processes along the lines of the new Internet protocol version 6, IPv6. In addition, new wireless networking standards such as IEEE 802.11ah aim to create large groups of peripherals such as smart meters that can cooperate on sharing air medium while minimising energy consumption. Consumers nowadays are aware that they are passively providing data, and they expect in return to see their everyday lives improve. The report points to tracking sleep patterns, mentioned by 36% of consumers polled, improving driving habits (35%), and keeping an eye on elderly neighbours (34%) or the children (29%) as the main expectations voiced by survey respondents. But while observational data is of course a basic pre-requisite, the real test of the new-generation Internet will be how far the data-gathering leads to practical solutions that help to improve people’s habits and guide their behaviour.