The future is 4D. Nope, we’re not talking about Einsteinian physics or tesseracts, those theoretical four-dimensional objects that rotate, mind-bending, along two planes at once. These Four Ds are imminently practical, and they’re already shaping the information infrastructure around which we build our businesses and reshaping the future of business IoT.
Each of the Four Ds—as conceived by Asteria CEO Pina Hirano—is a pillar of a successful digital ecosystem, which is itself the platform on which tomorrow’s businesses will stand or fall. As you explore these ideas, think about how they could apply to your operation—or the new business you’re considering building atop this cutting-edge of information technology. With all due respect to spacetime and advanced mathematics, then, here are the Four Ds of the future that every business operator needs to master.
Data has been described as “the oil of tech in the 21st century.” That’s a fair metaphor. Data is the fuel that powers insight. You can refine raw data into information. You turn information into knowledge. Refine further, and knowledge becomes wisdom—the wisdom to steer your enterprise into a leading position in a world of constantly evolving technology.
The quintessential proof of data analytics’ commercial power dates back to the early 2000’s when Target data scientist Andrew Pole created a pregnancy-prediction model based on customer buying habits. About a year after deploying the analytics system, Target fielded a headline-making complaint from a father whose daughter started receiving coupons for cribs and baby clothes. In the end, the angry father apologized, telling a Minneapolis Target manager, “I had a talk with my daughter. It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August.”
Of course, not all data mining is this invasive. Whatever the object of analysis; however, data plus predictive analytics tells the future—or at least builds a more accurate picture of the present.
How do you collect the data that powers insight without an army of clipboard-wielding analysts? The answer is the Internet of Things, which is to say devices. Our computers are smaller than ever, and they fit into just about any package. Think of earbuds and mobile phones, for example. This enables organizations to build data sensors into the equipment they use to complete mission-critical tasks, automating data collection in real-time.
The secret to leveraging devices to impact business outcomes is to think outside the box:
Start with a goal and then use devices in creative ways to meet that goal.
For instance, a supply chain operator might use a connected thermometer to make sure a refrigerated trailer remains up to spec during the whole journey from warehouse to distributor. But they could also place that temperature sensor on a truck’s engine to detect spikes that might suggest a need for service, using the same device as a predictive maintenance tool.
A radical shift in the information landscape is occurring as we speak. To prepare for next-generation data science, you have to understand this revolution. Most business leaders are stuck in hierarchical, monolithic thinking: There’s one platform, provider, or leader, and everything else plugs into that centralized authority.
Most of today’s organizations are like that, as is a lot of computing architecture. But nature is not like that. Nature is an astoundingly complex interplay of connected phenomena. Sunlight, rain, and soil connect with the seed to give rise to a tree. You could say that nature is peer-to-peer. Organisms hardly communicate through a “cloud device,” but mostly peer-to-peer according to some protocol.
Successful data follows the distributed path of nature, not the path of a monolithic monarchy. And starting with the vast social experiment we call the internet, data has grown more useful as it becomes free to make decentralized connections.
One big decentralization trend in technology is blockchain, which has enabled everything from cryptocurrency to tamper-proof supply chain tracking. But another powerful trend in decentralization is edge computing. Rather than having one central cloud system that controls everything, edge computing systems use diversified devices that communicate with and between each other, and no central server is needed. This computing system alone is contributing to reshaping business IoT.
Many future edge computing systems will give users full power over their data, without a monolithic corporation’s control—and they may even have a shared ledger between themselves, like a blockchain system, to synchronize a common reality without a third-party authority absorbing a share of the value they create.
As any app developer can tell you, design is the key to better user experiences—which is the key to competition. After all, a user interface is a sort of API between digital systems and humans themselves, the point at which human intelligence and machine intelligence meet. The design of a digital system leads to more or less successful integration between the human and nonhuman elements of any process.
To witness the importance of design in digital systems, look no further than your smartphone. You can choose from any number of apps to meet any number of goals; odds are you use the ones that are simplest to navigate. The same is true of enterprise platforms. Business users are more likely to find success with a drag-and-drop interface than a similar product that requires detailed knowledge of coding to perform the same task.
Business IoT: Incorporating the Four Ds & Building an Edge
When you bring the Four Ds into the physical world, you get the Internet of Things—and IoT operates best through a decentralized infrastructure powered by edge computing. To incorporate the Four Ds into your business now, start by building an edge IoT system that meets your industry’s unique needs. Edge computing makes each device into a data hub. The devices speak to each other on a peer-to-peer basis to keep data moving quickly, securely, and without the need for centralized, third-party authority. But how does an edge IoT system help business owners take ownership of the Four Ds and their incalculable advantages?
To start with, the main purpose of any IoT platform—even centralized, cloud-based IoT—is to capture more data with less effort. At its core, the key mission of IoT is to automate data collection. That’s the role of Data, the first of the Four Ds, in edge IoT: Data is the material that flows through the system, fueling business insights.
Choose an edge IoT provider that offers a wide range of sensors, built to measure what’s important to your business. For example, temperature, window/door status, motion, vibration, Co2 concentration, the distance between objects, and many, many more.
Or, choose a “software sensor,” a machine learning digital layer that transforms any digital camera into the sensor of your choice. Software sensors use TensorFlow machine learning models that you can train yourself, so you can leverage AI to build your own device out of a cheap digital camera. This gives you complete freedom to build your own robust, decentralized IoT systems to track whatever data you need. Turn a camera into a traffic counter, event logger, inventory tracker, predictive maintenance tool, and more, all with automated data collection and transfer into your analytics platforms.
Regardless of the devices you choose, the advantage of edge IoT is that these devices double as data handling systems themselves, all of which connect to one another for robust, decentralized connectivity—which brings us to the third D.
By definition, an edge-computing system is decentralized, which requires a different approach to data security than your typical, cloud-based IoT platform. Look for IoT edge devices that include a built-in distributed ledger system, a technology similar to blockchain. These devices work together to exchange data and the history of that data, making it nearly impossible to fake or manipulate contents along the way.
To master the fourth D, choose an edge IoT system that’s easy to use. Look for low-code or no-code controls over your system infrastructure. Drag-and-drop interfaces are great for creating IoT data-handling environments that anyone can use. Bottom line: The platforms you use to create your IoT system must be modular, adaptable, and—above all—designed for a great user experience.
Transforming Connectivity For Business IoT
Don’t worry about “digital transformation.” That already happened in the 1980s when paper began to give way to digital record-keeping. Today’s challenge—tomorrow’s, too—is connectivity transformation. To ensure the ongoing success of your organization, ask yourself a new question: How do I connect more data, more devices, and more people to our processes, tools, and offerings? In other words: How can I make my business more interconnected? The Four Ds offer a framework for answering that question. Edge IoT brings the Four Ds to life.