Fragmented IoT misses the benefits

Owners rushing to install internet of things solutions on vessels need a more joined-up approach to reap real benefits, writes Frank Coles, CEO, Wallem

The maritime approach to the Internet of Things is too fragmented, says Frank Coles, CEO, Wallem

Some technology vendors have gone crazy over the internet of things (IoT). At some point, there are diminishing returns in sticking a chip and network capability into a device, no matter how cheap the silicon and interface.

It does not make sense either to have multiple IoT products on board, each providing a single connection for an application. The value comes when it is in a system and able to share and interconnect. The ship is an industrial transportation enterprise and we should be talking about systems rather than things. IoT needs to evolve into system of systems (SoS).

Today, the ‘connected car’ also talks to its manufacturer, which provides free basic services to the owners and collects maintenance and reliability data from its vehicles, enabling it to understand replacement part demand, fine-tune warranties, and look at other issues relating to a large fleet of rolling vehicles. The telematics data collection feeds into a system that includes big data analysis from hundreds of thousands of vehicles.

This is a business-owned system that operates independently of the owner’s systems and needs. The ‘thing’ of the connected car is one node, piece, or part of an IoT, but it is more valuable as a participant in two systems built to deliver value.

Consider the third system in the future, when the connected car starts actively talking to its peers on the highway, providing information to the vehicle and cloud-based systems that provide real-time traffic information and recommendations in a far more intelligent manner than today’s traffic advisory services. It would be able to distribute multiple alternative traffic routes across a pool of local vehicles rather than simply putting everyone on the most obvious alternative – and merely shifting the traffic jam to another road.

If we substitute ‘ship’ for ‘car’, fleet of ships for fleet of vehicles, ocean for highway and so on, we can quickly see how an SoS is much more desirable than a series of unconnected IoT applications installed in a fragmented way on board a ship.

A system is also likely to be more secure, efficient, and provide a much more transparent view of the safe operation of the ship. An industrial SoS is also likely to incorporate a much more robust approach to design. It should include the following parameters: security, interoperability, scalability, precision and accuracy, programmability, low latency, reliability, resilience, automation, and serviceability.

By having an IoT of multiple applications, the level of quality and veracity of the data is high while the protection from cyber risk is low, however, the risk of conflict between the IoT devices is likely to be higher.