Internet of Things & Software-Defined Product
The Internet of Things is a complex technology that’s never too far away from business. First, the definition.
The Internet of Things or IOT is simply an extension of the current Internet, further into our physical world, into things.
Although technology is an evolution, the business is a revolution. So, when you hear all the hype, it’s real. The Internet of Things is segmented by B2C, or business to consumer IoT, and B2B, or business to business IoT. B2C IoT is consumer IoT, where B2B is commercial, industrial, and infrastructure IoT.
Product Types in IoT
In the Internet of Things, there’s three kinds of products. We have our
- Smart products
- Connected products
- IoT products
In this article, I’m going to be talking about the IoT product. We’ve had smart products for over half a century. Simply just having an embedded device, doesn’t create that much value. Connected products have been around a long time, too. However, it’s debatable how much value is associated with just being able to connect your, let’s say, dryer, to your smartphone.
With the Internet of Things, we can apply a lot more value to our products. The traditional engineering view has been to look at IoT similar as a networking stack, going from the media layer, through the networking layer, to the application layer. However, this focuses more on the plumbing. That’s not really where the value is. Historically, if you were a designer, or a system integrator, it gets a little bit closer. There’s a front end. That’s for the users. There’s a back end, for the actual customers. And, in between, there’s all the enabling technology. However, I think there’s a better view, looking at it from a value perspective.
Before jumping too far into the tech, it’s useful to start out with some basics, and then jump into the big picture. The business view of the IoT product, segments it into four parts, the software-defined, and the hardware-defined product, that are connected by the network fabric and interface the external systems. The tech of an IoT product is either collecting data or transforming it into useful information. The hardware-defined product and external systems collects data and transports it through the network fabric, to the software-defined product, where it’s transformed, along with analytics, into value. I’ll be going into far more detail into each of these four components throughout the course.
Software-Defined Product, or SDP
The Software-Defined Product, or SDP, is both the heart, and the brain, of the IoT Product. It is the virtual representation of the physical product. And, in this case, when I say IoT Product I mean a discrete product, a system, or an environment.
The Software-Defined Product is one of four main components of the IoT product. The Software-Defined Product sits between the interior data source, the Hardware-Defined Product, and the exterior data source, the external systems. All three are connected by the Network Fabric.
The Software-Defined Product consists of two components,
- Cyber Model
The Software-Defined Product is a simulation of the product’s functionality. It represents, along with the analytics, all of the IoT product’s value. The Software-Defined Product is also sometimes called the Digital Twin because it is the virtual equivalent of the physical product.
Similar to a Software-Defined Network, we abstract the physical hardware into a software version that allows us to reorganize it and focus on what matters. The Software-Defined Product is almost like the brain of a robotic vacuum, like a Roomba or a Neato. While at its core, it’s still a vacuum, all the intelligence has been centralized into the brain. That is the Software-Defined Product. The Software-Defined Product is a key source of differentiation between the IoT product and the connected product or smart product. It is this virtualization of the physical into the digital that gives it its power.
A trio of value in IOT is the cyber model, application, and analytics. The cyber model is central to the IOT product as both the application and the analytics use it to generate value. The cyber model is one of two parts of the software designed product along with the application.
Models are not new. We use them in computer rated design to represent the physical representation, of say, cars. We use them in computer animation to both represent how the dinosaur looks and how it moves and we use them in video games to represent both the character and how it operates within its environment. The video game model is probably the closest analogy to the software defined product, with both its application and model. Think about a video game character. Their model is their personality and their skill set. A game is the application. It operates on a character and the character acts out its personality and its characteristics within that environment.
What is new in IOT is that the IOT model, the cyber model, is a live model, and it’s also part of a closed loop, incorporating real world data from its sensors and its external systems. The software defined products, Cybermodel, is represented with statistics. The real world is too complex to represent parametrically. Consider a simple spring. In high school physics we would learn that it’s represented by a linear equation. However, even the simplest spring when put in the real world doesn’t behave like this.
To understand how this particular spring behaves we would apply a force to it, see how it compresses or enlongs. Apply another force to it and see the same thing. Over time, we will see how it can behave. We then represent the scattergraph statistically, and use that mathematical equation instead of the linear equation typically attributed to the spring. Once the physical product is represented mathematically by the cyber model it’s more malleable. It can be reorganized and solved in different ways.
Think about your clothes dryer at home. Once we represent it mathematically with a cybermodel we can reorganize it to solve for drying clothes for the least amount of time, or drying clothes for the least amount of electricity. It’s important to note that an IOT product is not represented by a single model. Unlike a CAD representation, we will have many models. For the IOT dryer, for example, there isn’t just one model, like say, a CAD representation of it. We would have a model for how long it takes to dry clothes or for how much money it’s going to take to dry those same clothes. Well, arguably the most important component of the IOT product, creating a cyber model is often overlooked. The cyber model is key to creating valuable IOT products, differentiating them from products that are just connected or just smart.
The Application is a second component of the software defined product, along with the Cyber Model. It interacts with the Cyber Model and the Analytics, which together make up the Trio of Value and IoT. The Application and IoT provides functionality and the human and data interface. It defines the way the product works and its functionality.
Thinking back to the video game example, the application is the game, and the model are the characters in the game. The application acts upon the model to create its functionality. The application is also used for communication, interfacing both with the users, and the owners of the product, and orchestrating the data to and from the internal data sources, sensors, and external data sources.
The application also orchestrates data to and from the model, from its internal sources of data, its sensors, and its external systems of data. In an online video game this data flow could be coming from the sensors in the video game controllers, or from some AI being controlled by a remote data center. The application, however, is not centralized. It can be distributed anywhere on the network fabric, from the embedded systems on the end nodes to the cloud, to remote server, anywhere on the internet. IoT application development is central to value creation and as such, must become a core competency of every IoT company.