tips for getting started with the Internet of Things

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Intelligence at the edge: 4 tips to begin exploring IoT

The Internet of Things is a relatively new term in government, though the concept -- often referred to as machine-to-machine communications -- has been around for decades. Data can be collected through edge devices, such as sensors on a machine, wearable devices or even mobile phones.  IoT makes these devices smarter because data is computed in real time where it’s first collected, and then transferred to a user’s device or a server for additional processing.   For devices that don’t have the ability to compute data into information, IoT gateways  can be added to perform the compute.

That means the IoT can give government managers actionable information, rather than raw data, more quickly, which allows them to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. Other benefits of IoT include reduced infrastructure investments, increased quality and security of information, as well as new approaches to data transmission during limited network bandwidth.

Both agency IT and operations managers are acknowledging these advantages and adopting IoT thoughtfully in a crawl-walk-run evolution. Most are not ripping out whole systems and replacing them with IoT; rather, IT managers are trying bits and pieces of IoT, adding sensors or gateways to their existing solutions to modernize them and begin to discover IoT’s value.

Thinking about trying IoT technologies? Make sure you consider the following:

1. Ask yourself what problems you’re trying to solve or what the biggest area of opportunity is. For example, if you have sensors that send a signal every five seconds indicating that a room’s temperature has not changed, you’re wasting money. Instead, insert a gateway appliance that would make the current sensors smart enough to send a signal only if something in the environment changed that crosses a specific threshold of concern. Or, in a new environment, install a smart sensor that would do this automatically. That instantly reduces the amount of data going through the communications system -- and it cuts costs.

2. Work with a solutions architect who’s familiar with IoT. Agencies need someone who can suggest elements of IoT that are right-sized and form end-to-end solutions, so that you only transfer across the system the data that you need, not everything you collect. A solutions architect can also help determine where data should be collected and computed.

Note that some IoT communications are two-way. For example, if someone at the Agriculture Department’s Forest Service is conducting tests on soil moisture levels, a gateway in the ground can send an alert that soil is too dry. That, in turn, can generate a command to turn on sprinklers or even notify a command center that there is a potential increase in fire hazards.

3. Consider where the users who want the analytics are. Just as you want to translate only the data you need, you want to send the data only where you need it to go. In the Forest Service case, you might want information to go to rangers’ mobile phones so they know the sprinklers are about to turn on. First responders, on the other hand, might want the information sent both to local gateways for two-way processing in their vehicles and to a local or national command center.

4. Understand the four principles of IoT. Underlying all of the IoT system architecture are connectivity, manageability, security and interoperability of systems and data. To understand these elements, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the security model robust and adaptable to support myriad use cases and usage models across different infrastructures?
  • What’s the policy on shared data?
  • How manageable are the edge endpoints?
  • Does data move seamlessly and securely through the systems?
  • How does data exchange or fusion happen across domains, rather than under specific standards within one domain?  Is this a cross-agency or critical infrastructure that requires common IoT frameworks?
  • Can the data collected be viewed and interacted with across many platforms, including phones, gateways, tablets, machine dashboards and control centers?
  • How will the system integrate with new and existing technology at the agency?

Looking ahead, agencies’ requests for IoT proofs of concepts will continue to grow as government managers test the technology to see if computing at the edge lives up to the hype. And IoT does hold great potential, paving the way not only for cost savings and productivity, but also future innovation. Those are advantages agencies can’t afford to ignore.

About the Author

Tiffany Sargent is IoT senior solutions architect and principal engineer, Intel Federal LLC.

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