Wondering what makes up the Internet of Things?
And how do these elements impact your supply chain as someone who is responsible for producing a complete product for your customers and stakeholders?
At Big Wau, we see 7 essential elements. Executives in companies who want to deliver a total solution that works for their customers and stakeholders need to know what these elements are. You also need to ensure your supply chain is built to deliver each of these elements on spec so that they perform their individual functions and integrate smoothly with every other element in your IoT system.
Let’s give you an overview of each IoT element so that you can successfully navigate your way into a bright future with IoT as part of your business.
- IoT Architecture
An IoT system needs a defined architecture. It starts as a conceptual framework to define how three fundamental elements will work together:
- The thing in the physical world
- The internet device
- The user
One framework that is used is Event-Driven Architecture (EDA). You can create a process flow diagram for your IoT system and this becomes the start of your architecture.
Another framework you should be familiar with is called Reference IoT Layered Architecture, or RILA. It uses breaks the IoT system into 6 layers that involve integration or management of different elements in the system. Two examples are Thing Integration and Data Management. Two “cross-section layers” that overlap all of these are Security and Management.
Describing every layer is beyond the scope of this article. You can learn more about RILA here:
- IoT Devices
These are the internet-friendly objects that make an existing “thing” part of the Internet. Broadly speaking, you need to understand that they will be one of three types of devices:
- Sensor – to collect data
- Actuator – to affect some action onto another device or system. It may be physical but it can also be electronic, auditory, electromagnetic, or optical (which is actually in a special range of the electromagnetic spectrum).
- Tag – An embedded data storage device. Geo-tags are one example. RFID chips are another.
Depending on the requirements and application of the device, it may have other components as well. It may need a transmitter to communicate with a network. It may need a power source. These are all defined in the IoT Architecture. Defining exactly what the boundary is for your IoT Device may become difficult when your IoT features become more integrated into your product designs.
- IoT Network
Somehow the data on the IoT device needs to interact with the internet. This is its network connection. It may be wireless or physical. For instance, a temperature sensor on an industrial automation machine may tap into the existing intranet as a diagnostic tool to monitor the health of the machine.
This example also illustrates that the network can be open or closed. It can be public or restricted access. Knowing your requirements and those of your users is essential to ensure that your entire IoT system is compatible with the network it will operate within.
- IoT Applications
“Applications” is a term that is used in two very different contexts, so we should clarify. One meaning is “use case.” How will the IoT system be used? Examples are abundant and growing every year, but some broad categories are home appliance controls, automobile connectivity, and personal health monitoring.
Another meaning of applications is the software code that runs the IoT system. “There’s an app for that,” is this context.
In our list, we are using the first definition. The second meaning is captured within the other elements of Devices, Network, Data Storage, Data Processing, and Security.
- IoT Data Processing
Data Processing with an IoT system has many layers and levels of complexity, depending on your use case. The simplest examples, with tags for example, may not need any data processing per se if they are essentially data storage and transmission devices.
More complex systems will need to understand the context of the data and compare it to their current state. Context Management becomes one of the functions of the data processing process. Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, and meta-data processing may all enter into this portion of your system.
- IoT Data Storage
Data storage can also have a wide range of degrees and complexity. Does the data need to be stored within the device or elsewhere on the network? Should it be volatile or non-volatile? Which data should be remotely accessible vs only at the source of the device or the “thing”? Your architecture and requirements will drive the right answers for your specific case. Flowing these data storage requirements into every component of your supply chain and integrating them together is essential for you to have a final product that works as intended.
- IoT Security
Security needs to be defined, designed, and built into every other element of your IoT capability. Cybersecurity threats are a clear and present danger in our world today and forever more. Regulatory and legal requirements also dictate the need for security protocols in your IoT systems. Wearable devices that collect medical data, for instance, must be compliant with HIPAA in the United States. Security must be considered throughout your IoT architecture: in the hardware, software, network, and data storage. These requirements must be flowed down to all of your suppliers and vendors. You need to establish methods (with adequate documentation) to verify and validate that these security requirements have been established. Working with someone who can understand, translate, and verify this happens across your supply chain is essential.
Now you should have a strong understanding of the 7 essential elements that make up the Internet of Things. How many elements do you have in place today with your existing supply chain?
If you are looking to build this capability for your company, or want to know what other options are available for your supply chain, contact us. We have built a trusted and capable network of companies throughout Asia that know how to meet the demanding needs and high expectations of partners in the United States.
Very few, if any, companies can deliver on all of these 7 elements. Finding a reliable partner in America who can help you establish and manage a thoughtfully assembled group of partners in Southeast Asia is why our clients have found peace of mind working with us at Big Wau. We will help you establish a strong, secure, and scalable pipeline of IoT systems for your business.
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