A conversation with a manager building an Internet of Things business unit inside a traditional embedded system supplier gives a view of IoT from the trenches.
“I’m wearing jeans here in a test lab for an automated warehouse, helping make boxes and running wiring harnesses for smart cameras,” said Rob Risany, introducing himself. He joined ADLink Technology last July from IBM’s Watson group to help the board and gateway vendor create a new IoT group.
The Taiwan-based company helped automate more than a dozen factories last year and has several smart city projects in Asia. Deployments are often trying to add a data-based service to a customer’s exiting hardware products, or squeeze costs out of a process.
ADLink’s traditional business hums along, selling single-board computers and rugged PCs made to fit the technical requirements of customers. But IoT is a different kind of gig.
“It’s not driven by product engineers writing specs but by definitions of business problems… People won’t invest in technology for technology’s sake, but on the other hand it seems like all CTOs need to have digital experiment in IoT running by end of year or they will be gone,” Risany said.
One of the biggest pain points is “connecting the unconnected.” Linking industrial assets such as diesel engines to a cloud service for remote monitoring can be “difficult and awkward because protocols are often obfuscated by vendors so they can maintain control of assets,” he said.
So Risany is building a network of partners with expertise he can tap in the host of proprietary data formats and APIs his group encounters. “The challenge has always been access to skills,” he said.
Sometimes customers have to wrestle with their own business issues. ADLink helped connect field assets in disaster areas for one customer, generating a data flow of 636 GBytes in a single week.
“That’s a heck of cellular data plan, but the carrier and customer have to make it practical — it’s a business issue,” he said.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times