Most leaders approach the IoT with the belief that its scope only involves solving new problems with new things. In reality, the challenges are much deeper, and involve a longstanding legacy of intertwined technical and organizational relationships that must be brought closer together.
To CIOs and IT infrastructure leaders driving software, the Internet of Things is a new thing. To a plant manager driving machines, the Internet of Things is a new name. The disconnect between these silos is subtle, but problematic.
On the operational technology (OT) side of the enterprise, facilities managers have been utilizing 50 billion network-enabled, software-embedded things to power our world for more than 25 years. These technologies have already produced trillions of dollars of economic activity, and still are being deployed at the same pace today. However, they’ve been owned and controlled by different silos.
That’s changing. The IoT revolution is blurring the lines between the responsibilities of the IT leader and those of a building manager, with both having to work more closely than ever before or even combine job titles and roles altogether. Most industrial machines today don’t have modern APIs, and are limited by resource-restrained electronics hardware and software, both of which are non-upgradable and proprietary. With many early into a 20+ year productive lifecycle, it's not practical to expect replacement of these machines in order for interoperability with modern IoT devices and apps to exist.
Essentially, the nature of these “hardware-defined” machines tends to block IT organizational usefulness, which is why the majority of IT leaders are unaware of them. Furthermore, as an early adopter of IoT, one can have 57 devices that report to 57 different clouds, via 57 different API formats that have 57 different smartphone apps. Standards for interoperability between legacy network industrial machines have existed for more than 25 years – Modbus and BACnet, for example -- yet getting the modern Philips lightbulb on a porch to properly interoperate with the smart door lock two feet away is still hugely painful.
With billions of OT machines continuously coming online, it’s clear that machines are eating the Internet, and will outnumber people online by a large margin. At the same time, IT has been leading the “software eating the world” push through a global shift from hardware to software defined approaches. In order achieve effective interoperability between these disjointed silos, IT leaders and facilities managers must converge, via collaborative and cultural integration, and even organizational realignments. It’s simply critical for effective realization of the IoT.
Since the industrial revolution began, people have placed increasing importance on the accumulation of things. Today, the realities of hoarding, clutter, and distractions have become unsustainable and dysfunctional. More people are beginning to relate more things to more problems. A stronger desire for better experiences is replacing the desire for more things. Listening to this trend is paramount to the true intent of the IoT.
Speaking of distractions, the Internet of Things is not really about things at all. It’s about getting to a point where we utilize software to improve relationships in order to create a better experience with fewer things. However, in order to do so, we need to reach that point not just technically, but organizationally as well.
Scott Noteboom, is founder and CEO of Litbit, a new company focused on building rhythmOS, a modern platform for the Internet of Things. Prior to Litbit, Noteboom led Apple’s global infrastructure team, with responsibilities that included engineering and development. Previously, Scott was Vice President of Data Center Engineering & Operations at Yahoo!, where he led all aspects of the company’s global data center portfolio. Scott’s background also includes leading global data center operations at AboveNet. Early in his career, he founded an early regional Internet service provider, as well as one of the first integrated voice/data companies.