EA and the Internet of Things – 10 Thoughts

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the Internet of Things, from both a personal perspective and as it applies to EA.  In fact, I wrote about it in my “From the Editor” column in the most recent Architecture and Governance magazine (v12n2):

I once thought consumer-oriented “Internet of Things” (IoT) device were novelties.  The early ones were single purpose, low frequency, not integrated, and had narrow uses.  They were solutions to problems I didn’t have.  Lately, I have been exploring home security/safety solutions and found device choices that seem more practical and have the potential to be inter-connected through more sophisticated apps.   As a consumer, I’m hoping that trend in home automation continues.

And while I still see many consumer technologies targeted mainly at the affluent, with abundant disposable income, the downward pressure on cost is in motion.  Just witness the surge in recently introduced lower-cost camera-based devices as an example.  When the technologies reach the point of ubiquity we will potentially see exponential growth in the consumer market.

I went on to write:

I believe that the big leap for IoT-driven evolution, though, will come through the “industrial internet”, not consumer devices (though I think those lines will blur over time).  Manufacturing, transportation, health care, and energy companies have complex and layered business operations, device diversity, scale, an enormous volume and a high frequency of data, and a need for standardization. IoT-driven analyses will touch almost every corner of these companies from operations to planning to the executive suite. Eventually, companies will rethink how they use information, who and what they are, and how they do work. These challenges are ready-made for enterprise architects.  They should update core principles in the context of this new driver, leverage business architecture concepts and models, and visit new standards, just to start.  For more on the IoT implications and opportunity for EA, check out my blog.

And here we are.  There is a lot to think about from an EA perspective. As I mentioned above, the world doesn’t divide cleanly into consumer and industrial worlds.   Up to this point people mainly thought of the consumer side as stand-alone home automation devices and mobile phones.  The industrial side includes sensors attached to larger scale systems and machines for monitoring and control as well as specialized gear for field personnel.  But it quickly becomes much more than that, with many interesting hybrids.  I believe that both of these markets will learn from each other and cross-pollinate.

So the first thing enterprise architects need to do is think business architecture, not just technical architecture, protocols, connectivity, or point solutions.  I believe it is a good idea to experiment with the latter, look for high value quick win business cases, and to be innovative. EA’s should strongly encourage it and participate.  Before long, though, as more of these quick wins start to find their way into the company it is important to start thinking about mental models for consistent usage and integration as the company evolves.  Front and center, there must be a forum to pose and answer questions about what that evolution is and what it will mean to all parts of the company ecosystem, including suppliers and consumers.  So, again, business architecture is the key element.  It forms the foundation for thinking and helps the organization mature in parallel with innovation activities.

IoT is transformational.  It is big.  It has the potential to touch everything.  It is long term. It is enterprise wide.  So it requires EA thinking and context.  So what else should the EA’s do?

If you don’t have any semblance of EA thinking going on in your company, or it needs to mature, talk to us.  We’ll help you figure out how to make it work and engage the right people in your organization.  If you have EA, work on enhancing your strengths and overcoming your weaknesses using IoT as the driver.  Here are 10 Thoughts:

  1. Start or enhance your business architecture.  Make sure you have solid capability maps as a basis for analyses on the impact to all parts of the company. Use business architecture to make sure you haven’t missed anything as you progress through strategy, analysis and planning.
  2. Think through your information model as an intrinsic part of business architecture.  An important element of this is analytics.  What will this flood of new data, much of it in real time, mean to your ability to address an entirely new set of refinements and enhancements?  Again, think big picture – there will be plenty of people already running with point solutions.
  3. Learn about IoT, but DON’T try to become the exclusive IoT experts in your EA role.  DO build a strong collaborative community of subject matter experts (SME) within and external to your company.
  4. Facilitate discussion and discovery within your community by exploring the implications of IoT on other aspects of the company. Don’t focus only on overcoming technical hurdles – rely on SME’s for that.
  5. Explore the art of the possible.  Ask great questions and guide the organization forward – use questions like “what does this mean to field support, supply chain, operation, customer relations, marketing, fulfillment?  Explore topics like “how will IoT grow and evolve over time?” and “are the approaches we are contemplating and experimenting with sustainable?”
  6. Expose executives and leaders to elements of EA (inclusive of BA) as you start through the IoT analyses process.  Do this in parallel with pilot projects and other point solutions that may be underway.  Use BA/EA to make sure you aren’t creating new siloes.
  7. Rethink core principles to include anything with implications on a new information model, analytics, real-time data, new external data sources, higher data volumes, security/privacy, and integration approaches, and risk management, to name a few.
  8. Expand your portfolio of standards and patterns, join industry consortia and do research, tap into industry reference architectures.
  9. Describe the potential use cases included in the future architecture and assess the impact on the company’s skills portfolio
  10. Assess the skill sets of solutions architecture team – are they prepared to deploy and support the new classes of front end, back end and analytics solutions

This is a big list and there are more, and each of these will take some work. Hopefully some of these thoughts will help you get started.  Remember; don’t let IoT be thought of only as a technical or solutions problem.  It is much more than that.

1 thought on “EA and the Internet of Things – 10 Thoughts”

  1. Great article! The impact of IoT for business and consumer is huge.. It is going to be very complex considering the exponential growth of devices, startups and new technologies. I believe EA can help organisations to connect the dots and help in taking right decision for business & IT and ask right questions to ensure the IoT ecosystem is not broken .

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