The internet of things has become a reality. According to IDC, “By 2021, global IoT spending is expected to total nearly $1.4 trillion as organizations continue to invest in the hardware, software, services, and connectivity that enable the IoT.”
Led by the manufacturing, transportation, and utilities industries, we might expect to see tens of billions of internet-connected things by 2020. Yet connecting stuff to the internet is really the easy part. The biggest hurdle businesses contend with is how to take advantage of this new technology and the data it can provide for customers, partners, employees and shareholders. To profit from the IoT, leaders must first define what they want from connected devices. They must then design and build the digital solutions required to serve those needs or use cases, and have the skill to deploy them successfully in their business operations.
Obviously building business solutions around IoT is a process of ongoing innovation. Requirements are fuzzy. The development of viable applications requires rapid experimentation, frequent iteration and close collaboration between business and IT. Additionally, leveraging the IoT to its full potential requires building apps that are much smarter than the passive applications of the past. We are entering a world of “smart apps.”
What are smart apps?
Smart apps are innovative systems that gather tremendous amounts of data from sensors and other sources, using machine learning algorithms and predictive analytics to make this information actionable for users and to improve experiences. Unlike their predecessors, they are:
- Intelligent. Smart apps use analytics, machine learning, and AI services to make recommendations and predictions that guide users and things to take the next best action.
- Contextual. Using personal, sensor and location data, smart apps are personalized, embedded in users’ processes and available on any channel/device.
- Proactive. Smart apps come to the user versus the other way around, leveraging push notifications, chat bots, and messaging services to proactively interact with users and give them smart recommendations of what to do and when.
According to most analysts, organizations that delay adoption and fail to catch the IoT and algorithmic business wave risk competitive disadvantage—or displacement by digital disruption. So the pressure is on to define use cases, get to grips with the technology, experiment with smart applications, innovate, and deliver.
How to build smart apps quickly
When encountering the concept of smart apps for the first time, the idea of building them sounds challenging. But the good news for businesses is that many of the services needed to create smart apps are already available via third-party providers. Your software developers won’t need to build them themselves. They can draw on cloud services like IBM Watson, AWS Machine Learning, SAP Leonardo, and multiple voice-recognition, text-to-speech, image-recognition services.
Indeed many organizations have now encountered low-code development platforms, which allow sophisticated software applications, including smart apps, to be developed quickly, in close collaboration with users—and even without any knowledge of coding. The visual-modeling, “drag and drop to a workflow” method of building apps that is low-code has seen several of the major vendors incorporate connectors to third-party smart services in their development platforms. This means that as long as your developers and users are clear about their requirements, your developers can create smart apps by simply dragging and dropping a smart service connector (like IBM Watson) into a low-code application workflow. And because low-code workflows can be edited far more easily than code-based builds, users and developers can then easily collaborate, reiterate, and innovate, evolving towards a solution they can trial in the business.
Everyday there are new real-world examples of IoT in action. Here are several that I have personally been close to.
- A major airline has built an equipment tracking app that provides engineers with a live view of the locations of each piece of airline maintenance equipment. By increasing the efficiency of engineers, this innovation is not only generating significant cost savings and process improvements, but also impacting the customer experience through more reliable, on-time flights.
- A number of medical companies and their logistics providers use a medication temperature monitoring app using sensors to help ensure the best possible delivery of medical supplies. The temperature of medications is key to meeting quality standards and regulations, and the app monitors every shipment to ensure the proper temperature is maintained and to remind patients to take their medication on time.
- Turning to agriculture, a lighting manufacturer for the horticultural industry built a smart app that uses IoT sensors and predictive analytics to perform predictive maintenance and optimize lighting, power consumption and plant photosynthesis. The app transformed the business from a commoditized lighting systems manufacturer to a greenhouse-optimization-as-a-service provider.
In building smart apps for the IoT, or indeed for any other purpose, it’s essential to remember that creativity and experimentation plays a big part. In each of the above examples, users and developers worked hand in hand to put a stake in the ground, then build and hone these apps from a basic idea, through to a prototype and into an ever-evolving and scalable solution.
Thanks to third-party smart services and low-code development platforms, smart apps can be built without in-depth software engineering skills. Even teams with little or even no coding experience can create smart apps, as long as business and IT teams understand use cases, collaborate, and are given the freedom to innovate.
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