Combining an open model with enforced standards solves many of the challenges presented by the internet of things
I spoke with Dr. Jürgen Krämer, senior vice president for product management and marketing at Software AG in the massive trade show building at CeBIT 2017.
As we talked, I watched a tiny assembly line model move a component from one place where it had been in storage to another where it was placed into an assembly. To accomplish that, a tiny crane picked up the component, placed it on a conveyor belt, where it was take to another crane which placed it into the component.
This demonstration was similar to others that I’d seen recently. But then the operator disabled the conveyor. The system controllers seamlessly changed the routing to move the component via another conveyor system. This was the first of several examples I was to see that day where the IoT is paired with intelligent systems. Krämer said that the system would work in the same way on an operational assembly line.
What we couldn’t see was that the demonstration controller was part of a larger IoT platform developed by Software AG. The Digital Business Platform is designed to handle the vast amount of data that is generated by devices operating on the IoT and integrates it with artificial intelligence. The platform includes a variety of IoT services that enable real-time analysis.
Building in real-time analysis means that the platform can sense anomalies and either make corrections or issue alerts. For example, the system can send an alert when a production machine requires maintenance.
The IoT platform, Dr. Krämer explained, is designed to be an open system capable of working with devices from any manufacturer. Software AG has published the APIs to allow production devices to work with the Software AG from the start.
Security is a key part of the Software AG platform. Where possible, IoT devices use encryption for control and for data delivery. The network traffic is encrypted continuously and so is all stored data. Software AG’s platform controls access to most devices, making it much harder to infect connected devices with malware.
But that’s just the beginning. According to Software AG CEO Karl-Heinz Streibich, the platform encompasses IoT integration, which includes big data analytics and application integration. There’s also real-time IoT analytics, which supports integration with artificial intelligence and machine learning. An IoT hub in the platform supports device compatibility and management. An IoT modeling function that supports design analytics rounds out the platform.
This platform was a comprehensive effort to put the IoT into an enterprise setting. Prior to this, the IoT was typically seen as a collection of consumer grade devices, unconnected manufacturing equipment and uncoordinated devices ranging from inventory counting devices to forklifts to Point of Sale terminals. This platform can tie all of these devices together into a single coordinated and secure environment.
Of course, Software AG is hardly the only IoT platform out there. A number of companies are doing the same sorts of things, such as IBM with its Watson platform, Google, Amazon Web Services are providing IoT platforms of one type or another. Each of these products is different in a variety of ways, and some are more open than others.
What’s important with any IoT platform is that it has provisions to support the devices you already have and not force you to acquire a bunch of proprietary hardware, that it provides a solid security defenses, and that the platform work with your business rather than making you match your business to the platform.
However, there are limits to what any enterprise system can do. So if you insist on buying consumer grade video cameras with no security or management features, then it’s not clear that any platform can help you. But assuming that you’re willing to outfit your organization with devices designed for use in an enterprise environment, then at least you have a fighting chance.
Adopting an IoT platform is a necessary step towards getting a handle on the growing number and importance of those devices in your organization. While some companies have been dealing with an enterprise full of such devices for some time, nearly every enterprise will have some of them. Things have changed radically from the days companies were dealing with computer-controlled production machines and a bunch of bar code readers.
Now, every aspect of your business will have some sort of device. In fact you probably already have them even if you think you don’t. They may include your physical security system or a package tracking system, but they’re there. You need to make sure they’re in a secure enterprise management platform as soon as possible, if only to protect against cyber-attacks that have brought other companies operations to a standstill.