The Future of IoT and Data Management
There's a revolution in data ownership.
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As new technologies such as IoT, blockchain, and AI converge, I would like to share a brief futuristic perspective on what IoT solutions could look like and how data could become the new oil in our economy.
Today's Layered View on the IoT
First, let’s have a quick look at today’s IoT capabilities. The top layers in common layered IoT capability models contain the enterprise cloud solutions that provide the Information Technology (IT). The lower layers contain the many individual Things that provide the Operational Technology (OT) in the field. Where the IT and OT converge there is the ‘Edge Computing’ layer.
Let’s Put Some Intelligence at the Edge
Today, these edge devices provide computing capabilities while also being actual physical Things within the OT layers of the network. By adding intelligence to the edge, the value can already be uncovered within these local IoT networks without the data actually leaving the network. This can provide benefits such as low network latency, real-time computing, and more autonomy within such local IoT networks.
For example, edge-devices could perform analytics (IT) and execute business logic within local IoT networks for real-time decision making. At the same time, they could serve as physical communication gateways (OT) to allow simple Things like sensors and actuators to use low energy communication protocols.
Where Is Most of my Data Going Today? Up
Edge-computing already indicates a shift in direction by keeping the data and intelligence closer to its original owner in the local IoT network. However, today, most of IoT data still travels up into the enterprise IT layers where most of the value is uncovered. In any case, the Thing that generated the data, the owner of the data, does not benefit much from it today.
In a much broader sense, this applies to many value chains where central enterprises benefit the most from assets instead of the individuals actually owning it. Think of corporate banks that safely keep your money while reinvesting it or social media platforms that might sell your data to third parties for profit.
Let’s Drive and Deliver Some Goods Today
Now, let’s assume that a refrigerated truck is taking part in several IoT networks as we define them today. In one of these networks, the transport company uses an IoT edge-device in the truck to provide a gateway for goods equipped with temperature sensors to send this data to its company’s enterprise cloud. The company provides a service to guarantee the quality of transport as it transports these goods as part of their larger journey within the entire supply chain.
What if these goods would like to track their temperature data beyond only this part of the journey? What if the truck is a self-driving vehicle which also wants to participate in many other IoT networks out there? The data today is siloed in various separate enterprise solutions. It can't be shared and reused easily, which is what the actual individuals in this scenario, the truck and the goods, would like to see.
A Revolution in Data Ownership
When IoT converges with blockchain, it gets very interesting. With blockchain, the trust and ownership of data could be given back to the individual. Today’s supply chains, for example, must trust each party involved as the goods and data transfer between those parties. With blockchain and IoT combined, data and events along the entire supply chain could be stored on a blockchain by the goods itself. The data can be trusted instead of the parties involved. Smart contracts could be used to provide services such as executing trades without relying on intermediaries any more.
In the example of our truck, the goods itself could own their temperature data by registering it on a blockchain throughout its entire journey instead of trusting each individual party like the truck company. This is fundamentally different than today’s trusted, but siloed, enterprise cloud solutions, which can also use this data for purposes that the goods never intended it to be used for.
When data can be owned by the IoT Things itself, helping it to break out of siloed enterprise solutions, it could be utilized in many more IoT networks and decide for itself which available networks it would be beneficial for the Thing to participate.
Agents Are Coming?
I wrote a blog post before about Intelligent Software Agents and some of their differences and similarities with the emerging microservices architecture style. When IoT is combined with both blockchain and such agent architectures, it becomes even more interesting. As these different software agents interact and make autonomous decisions they can now do this with trusted data and without the need to trust any central authorities anymore.
Instead of siloed, layered, and static enterprise IoT networks, it becomes much more about dynamic interconnectivity. Data could go in any direction based on what the owner of the data decides and based on what data other software agents are looking for. Agents could store and exchange data autonomously, initiate smart contracts, and even reward each other for their services. The data is not only owned by the individual but also becomes an asset that it can exchange with others.
Buy my Data, the Economy of Things
We already know that data can represent value since also today's enterprises, like social media platforms, sell data to advertisers and what not. In the future, we could consider our IoT data on the blockchain a ‘digital asset.' This is data that represents something of value such as monetary value or utility in a network when we look at cryptocurrencies. In our case, IoT data represents utility in a dynamically and interconnected IoT network.
In our smart truck example, there could be value in the location data that is now owned by the truck and in the temperature data that is now owned by the transported good itself. Already, there are blockchain solutions that explore this concept of data marketplaces, providing the first steps for actual individuals to own and monetize their data for use by others.
Could Data Become the New Oil?
Today, data is only available in silos, and it is owned and monetized by enterprises. As billions of IoT devices are expected, it is not hard to imagine the amount of new IoT data value-chains yet to be uncovered. It is difficult to grasp and not possible to manage with today’s static and siloed enterprise IoT networks.
Once data gets freed from its silos and is actually owned by the individual, it could become a major disruptor to our daily lives. With the expected rapid increase of data, more intelligent and interconnected autonomous systems, and data being freed from silos though technologies like blockchain, data may become the oil of the digital era.
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