I am attending South Korea’s Big Data Forum in Seoul, and one question here is, “How big is Big Data?” My friend and colleague Dave Evans has pointed out that by the end of this year, more data will be created every 10 minutes than in the entire history of the world up to 2008. Now, that’s big!
Much of this data is being created by billions of sensors that are embedded in everything from traffic lights and running shoes to medical devices and industrial machinery—the backbone of the Internet of Things (IoT). But the real value of all this data can be realized only when we look at it in the context of the Internet of Everything (IoE). While IoT enables automation through machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, IoE adds the elements of “people” and “process” to the “data” and “things” that make up IoT. Analytics is what brings intelligence to these connections, creating endless possibilities.
To understand why, let’s step back and take a look at the classic approach to Big Data and analytics. Traditionally, organizations have tended to store all the data they collect from various sources in centralized data centers. With this model, if a retailer wants to know something about the buying patterns of a certain store’s customers, it can create an analysis of loyalty card purchases based on data in the data warehouse. Collecting, cleansing, overlaying, and manipulating this data takes time. By the time the analysis is run, the customer has already left the store.
Big Data today is characterized by volume, variety, and velocity. This phenomenon is putting a tremendous strain on the centralized model, as it is no longer feasible to duplicate and store all that data in a centralized data warehouse. Decisions and actions need to take place at the edge, where and when the data is created; that is where the data and analysis need to be as well. That’s what Cisco calls “Data in Motion.” With sensors gaining more processing power and becoming more context-aware, it is now possible to bring intelligence and analytic algorithms close to the source of the data, at the edge of the network. Data in Motion stays where it is created, and presents insights in real time, prompting better, faster decisions.
What will the future be like? As depicted in today’s popular movies and books, the future is either one of bright promise—where the world’s greatest problems have been solved by technology and greater human enlightenment—or it’s a dystopian world where today’s problems have only gotten worse, technology has gone bad, and the very survival of humanity is at risk.
As Cisco’s chief futurist, it’s my job to think about what the world will look like in a few years, and how our actions today will impact that future. And while I’m not ready to put on my rose-colored glasses just yet, I do have an optimistic view of what the future may bring, enabled by the Internet of Everything (IoE). Within 10 years, there will be 50 billion connected things in the world, with trillions of connections among them. These connections will change the world for the better in ways we can’t even imagine today. But here are just a few things I can imagine:
Better supply of food: Sensors all along the food supply chain, together with Big Data analytics and the intelligence of the cloud, will help us optimize the delivery of food from “farm to fork.” Sensors in the field will be combined with weather forecasts and other data to trigger irrigation and harvest times for each crop. And sensors on the food itself will alert merchants and consumers about when the “sell by” and “use by” dates are approaching to prevent spoilage. All of this will significantly reduce food waste—which today amounts to about one-third of total world food production.
Better supply of water: Similarly, about 30 percent of our water supply is lost due to leaks and waste. Just one faucet or leaky pipe dripping three times a minute will waste more than 100 gallons of water a year. “Smart” pipes can reduce this waste significantly by sensing and pinpointing the location of leaks that would otherwise go undetected for months or years.
Better access to education: Affordable access to education is one of the most important ways to lift people out of poverty. Soon, time and distance will no longer limit access to an engaging, affordable, high-quality education. With connection speeds going up, and equipment costs going down, distance learning is going beyond traditional online classes to create widely accessible immersive, interactive, real-time learning experiences.
Better access to healthcare: Urbanization and population growth are putting a strain on healthcare resources—especially in rural areas. After the devastating 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province, China, Cisco was a strategic partner in creating a networked medical delivery system, including four telehealth networks that allow doctors to meet with and examine patients remotely. But those capabilities are just the beginning of what IoE will make possible. Soon, women with high-risk pregnancies will be able to wear a tiny, always-on fetal monitoring electronic “tattoo,” which will communicate to the cloud whenever the woman is within range of a wireless network. The analytics capabilities in the cloud will alert doctors at the first sign of trouble, and even tell the mother-to-be when she needs to drink more water, or get more rest.
While sensors and machine-to-machine communication are important parts of these solutions, it’s not just the “Internet of Things” that is making all of this possible—it’s the Internet of Everything—the networked connection of people, process, data, and things. And Big Data analytics is what brings the intelligence to all of these connections, enabling new kinds of processes, and helping us make smarter decisions.
I’ve highlighted just four areas where IoE will change the world for the better. But there is not a single part of life that will not be impacted in some way—whether that means improving your drive to work, speeding you through the checkout line at the grocery store, saving energy through smart lighting, or minimizing your wait at a traffic light. The Internet of Everything is not a silver bullet that can solve all the world’s woes, but with the spark of human innovation, IoE can be the engine for a better future.
It’s mind-boggling to see the speed at which people, process, data, and things are becoming more and more connected. The Internet of Everything (IoE) world is already happening. But what does that world really look and feel like in our daily lives? How are our everyday experiences changing as a result? How is it helping us attain our goals and desired outcomes?
To answer these questions, we need to take a step back to understand a few critical elements. First, IoE is coming at us like a freight train, but it may not be evident because it’s happening in silos and with very specific technologies and applications. To appreciate how much activity is going on in this space, it’s critical to begin looking at the IoE landscape in specific segments. Here are two things that can help:
A video of an interview I conducted with Rick Smolan, author of “The Human Face of Big Data,” in which Rick provides some great insights and examples of life in a connected world.
This mind-bending chart that details different horizontals, verticals, and building blocks to help you explore and examine the evolution of IoE.
“Dad, how many mobile phones were sold last year in the whole world?”
“Is this a trick question? Well, there are about 7 billion human beings on earth. Assuming every…”
“No, no—give me a number.”
“Well, I am not 100 percent sure. How many do you think were sold?”
“How do you know?”
“Dad—it’s on the Internet!”
My 10-year-old daughter left the room, triumphantly. I looked after her—admittedly feeling a little bit jealous. I wanted to be 10 years old again, too. I’d like to grow up with access to any information, available at any time, at the touch of a button. And this is only the beginning. Soon, tailored information will be provided to us proactively, before we even know what to ask for.
It’s easy to forget how incredibly rapid technological development has been. The true uptake of the Internet happened only about 15 years ago. Think about what would happen if your family had to spend an entire week without being connected to the Internet and the constant global interactions to which we have grown accustomed. The next ”big thing” is always around the corner, waiting to disrupt everything we take for granted today.
So what will be the next big thing in technology? This is a topic of endless debate on the Internet, at dinners with friends, and in the trade press, with the discussion often descending deep into the weeds of architectures, capabilities, protocols, and standards. However, for a business executive, the only thing that really matters is the business impact. The only relevant business question is ultimately, “How can I improve my business performance enabled by technology?”
It doesn’t take long to realize it’s going to be one of those days.
You drag out of bed, bleary-eyed after a bad night’s sleep in a stuffy, overheated room. Desperately in need of a caffeine jolt, you then discover that you’re out of coffee. You turn on the TV but are too harried to take in the morning news. Rushing out of the house, late, you suddenly can’t find your keys. A mad, time-wasting search ensues before you drive off to work, finally. Then, stuck in traffic, your mind begins to fret: Did you turn off the TV? Turn out the lights? Water the plants? Lock the door?
Now, imagine the same morning routine in a home enabled by the Internet of Everything (IoE), the explosion in connectivity that is transforming the world as we know it.
You wake up rested, since the temperature, air quality, and lighting in your bedroom have been carefully synchronized to your sleep patterns. You tap your smartphone to start up the coffee machine and turn on some light morning music. During a short but vigorous pre-breakfast workout, the temperature in your home gym drops automatically. Later, a sensor tells you exactly where you left your car keys the night before, just as a separate prompt informs you that the plants are fine — except for the thirsty hibiscus, which you water on your way out.
You don’t need to lock the house or turn off the appliances; a proximity sensor detects when you leave the house, locks and shuts off everything, and then sends an alert message to your car’s central screen. There’s no traffic, because your (connected) car is managed through the best routes — and finding a (connected) parking space is a breeze. During the morning meeting, the refrigerator tweets from home: milk and coffee are low. But not to worry — it has automatically ordered fresh cartons of your favorite brands from the local retailer.