The following is the first in a series of conversations about digital innovation and the intelligent technologies powering the Intelligent Enterprise with Jeff Janiszewski and Ginger Shimp from SAP North America Marketing. In this blog, they discuss how the “Internet of Things” has become part of our lives, and how it’s fundamentally changing the way companies do business.
GINGER: So, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the “Internet of Things?”
JEFF: I saw this terrific example of it the other day. It’s a smart glove for industry. It has sensors on the palm side and a readout on the back. The sensors can be used to measure temperature or voltage or thickness or just about anything. And the glove can also be enabled with RFID technology. It also can be used as a barcode scanner. The great advantage is that people working in a plant or warehouse – for instance – don’t have to fumble around with other tools or sensors because they’re integrated into the glove. For example, someone doing quality control in an electronics plant merely has to touch a product to get a voltage reading and the results are automatically captured in a database. Someone restocking shelves in a warehouse simply has to grab an item by its barcode to capture it for inventory, and using RFID, movement can be tracked to make sure it ends up in the right place.
GINGER: I’m fascinated by the fact that we think of a “smart object” as a thing, but they’re often many things. I call that object in my purse a “smartphone,” but I could just as easily call it a calculator, or a calendar, or a camera. To be considered “smart,” an object needs to receive input, process that input in some fashion, and then represent the result as an output. A camera, for example, takes in information through its lens and creates a photo, but the interesting part is what happens next. When that information (in this case a picture) is relayed via a network to something else, that’s when it goes from just being a “thing” to becoming part of the “Internet of Things.” So, while I’m amazed at the technology that goes into the hardware, the true essence of these “things” is the data they convey.
JEFF: Yeah, I think the average person views smart objects as an extension of science fiction, and that one day our lives will be entirely automated and people will have nothing to do.
GINGER: Yes! Aren’t we supposed to have robotic servants by this point? You know like The Jetsons or Lost in Space. In fact, they had an autonomous car on Knight Rider back in the early 1980s.
JEFF: Of course, the extension of that is that robots or computers will ultimately find people dispensable and take over.
GINGER: Science fiction is great for inspiring technology. That’s why we created the Searching for Salai podcast. But you have to be able to separate the fiction from reality. Some people really are predisposed to think that because their car or coffee pot or refrigerator is connected to some “mysterious” network beyond their immediate view that some existential cataclysm will follow.
JEFF: It reminds me of the Y2K hysteria. There was an enormous amount of fear that the entire electronic infrastructure of the country was at risk at the turn of the millennium, and while there may have been a genuine underlying concern, it’s clear that the panic was unfounded.
GINGER: Last year the FBI put out a dire warning to parents just in time for Christmas that Internet-connected toys posed a threat to children because they might be collecting personal information. But the FBI ultimately admitted that there was no documented evidence of that ever having happened. So, while it might be theoretically possible for some evil-doers to hack into a toy to get some random five-year-old boy to divulge his social security number, the likelihood of their being successful is exceedingly slim. Not wearing a bicycle helmet is a far greater threat to children than Internet toys.
JEFF: In fact, they have smart helmets for cyclists now. Not only will it track your route, but with the use of bone conduction audio, riders can talk to each other, listen to music, and take calls without the use of earbuds that can be a safety hazard. And if the cyclist crashes, the helmet will automatically call for help and give the location of the cyclist. In short, the advantages of IoT almost always outweigh any risk.
GINGER: There are a lot of risks in life. You can cut yourself on a kitchen knife, but if you use it properly its utility makes the risk reasonable. I have a friend who’s a triathlete. She’s fanatical about training, so she wears a Fitbit Charge HR. It not only tracks the distance she runs, but keeps track of her pace and heart rate. One day she was pushing herself too much and nearly had a heat stroke. The Fitbit was able to warn her, and she was fine.
JEFF: Some people assume that embracing technology necessarily means complicating things, but if a tech solution isn’t helpful, then just don’t use it. For example, there’s a device for fish tanks that can send alerts to your smartphone if the pH balance or temperature is off. To some people that may be very important, but if you don’t have an aquarium, then there’s no need to worry about it. The same thing is true at SAP. We have lots of solutions for nearly every industry, but our goal is to find the most appropriate solutions for our customers then customize and implement them. The great advantage of SAP Leonardo-enabled solutions is that they work together seamlessly. So, yes, I suppose if a company buys a hodgepodge of solutions that aren’t what they really need, things could get complicated.
GINGER: And the real concern with IoT lies not with the consumer but with businesses. A company must be able to assure its customers, whether it’s B2C or B2B, that any given device is working properly and that the data gathered from it is secure. No one is going to hack into your smart refrigerator to see if you need milk, but there are genuine threats to businesses from data breaches to denial-of-service attacks to ransomware. When a business loses the confidence of their customers, it’s extremely difficult to get it back.
JEFF: Ironically, companies that run their software solutions in silos have the greatest risk. When one part of their business runs into trouble, the entire company falters. On the other hand, when a business is integrated, a glitch detected by an IoT sensor in one part of the company can be accounted for across the enterprise.
To learn more about SAP Leonardo and the Internet of Things, visit sapinnovate.me/leonardo.
For a more imaginative experience of how technology has become integrated into our lives, listen to our cool new podcast, Searching for Salaì.
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