Setrag Khoshafian and Bruce Williams of Pega led a breakout session discussing the crossover between the internet of things (IoT) — also known as the internet of everything (IoE) or the industrial internet — and BPM as we know it. The “things” in IoT can be any physical device, from the FitBit on my wrist to my RFID-enabled conference badge to the plane that flew me here, none of which you would think of primarily as a computing device. If you check out my coverage of the Bosch Connected World conference from earlier this year, there’s a lot being done in this area, and these devices are becoming full participants in our business processes. Connected devices are now pervasive in several sectors, from consumer to manufacturing to logistics, with many of the interactions being between machines, not between people and machines, enabled by automation of processes and decisions over standard communication networks. There’s an explosion of products and players, and also an explosion of interest, putting us in the middle of the tipping point for IoT. There are still a number of challenges here, such as standardization of platforms and protocols: I expect to see massive adoption of dead-end technologies, but hopefully they’re so inexpensive that changing out to standardized platforms won’t be too painful in a couple of years.
Getting everything instrumented is the first step, but devices on their own don’t have a lot of value; as Khoshafian pointed out, we need to turn the internet of things into the process of everything. A sea of events needs to feed into a sense/respond engine that drives towards outcomes, whether a simple status outcome, a repair request, or automation and control. BPM, or at least the broad definition of intelligent BPM that includes decisions and analytics, is the perfect match for that sense and respond capability. There are widespread IoT applications for energy saving through smart homes and offices regulating and adjusting their energy consumption based on demand and environmental conditions; in my house, we have a Nest smoke/CO detector and some WeMo smart metered electrical outlets, both of which can be monitored and controlled remotely (which is what happens when a systems engineer and a controls engineer get together). I’ve seen a number of interesting applications in healthcare recently as well; Williams described nanobots being used in surgery and Google Glass used by healthcare workers, as well as many personal health sensors available for everyday home use. Cool stuff, although many people will be freaked out by the level of monitoring and surveillance that is now possible from many devices in your home, office and public environments.
This was more of a visionary session than any practicalities of using Pega products for addressing IoT applications, although we did hear a bit about the technological ramifications in terms of authentication, integration, open standards, and managing and detecting patterns in the sheer volume of device data. Definitely some technical challenges ahead.
We’re headed off to lunch and the technology pavilion, but first I’m going to use the WeMo app on my phone to turn on the desk lamp in my home office so that my cat can snooze under it for the afternoon: the small scale practical application of IoT.