The internet of things or IoT will allow devices to communicate and send data to each other, wirelessly and immediately. Technology giant Cisco predicts some 50 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020, having ten times the impact on society the internet has had to date.
“The fact that the technology has become so cost effective is driving the adoption of it in more mainstream applications. It’s now both feasible and relatively affordable for cameras and sensors, among other devices, to be attached to someone or something and to transmit data and valuable information that can be used for mutual benefits,” says Joanne Moretti, senior vice president, marketing and sales enablement at Jabil.
The potential for the IoT has been loosely divided into industrial and human, with the former incorporating new applications into existing infrastructure in areas such as mechanical, electrical and digital systems, and the latter focusing on new devices interacting with individuals.
Both require the development of infrastructure along the way. “In the short term, the people side of things has been faster to adopt the IoT,” says Scott Gebicke, leader of emerging markets at Jabil. “But by far the largest impact will be in industrial, in sectors such as manufacturing, healthcare and utilities, around issues such as energy and water management, transportation and logistics. That’s what will drive the economic value.”
Ms Moretti adds: “The race is on to innovate, differentiate and connect. For example, with an ageing population, we see remote health monitoring as a trend. By 2020, the number of connected devices will be up threefold.”
The biggest barrier is the integration of devices into a wider system that is completely seamless to the end-user
Before this happens, though, there are a number of challenges which must be overcome. Skills is a particular issue. Research conducted by Jabil earlier this year, which involved surveying more than 300 supply chain professionals from around the globe at electronic goods manufacturers, found that while 75 per cent are planning to develop or produce IoT-related devices, 77 per cent admitted they lacked the necessary in-house expertise in order to do so.
Another issue is the lack of an ecosystem which can bring together the various constituent parts of the process, such as sensors, communication technology, gateway analytics, security and the user interface. This is a significant point as we think about the dimensions of an ecosystem as layers of complexity in a connectivity sphere.
We have sensors and devices that communicate within the confines of their own purposes, such as radio-frequency identification or Bluetooth signals, for essentially finite purposes, such as inventory or headphones and speakers, as well as interactions for health and fitness to your smartphone that utilises an extended layer of the ecosystem into the internet, and so on.
“The biggest barrier is the integration of these devices into a wider system that is completely seamless to the end-user,” says Mr Gebicke. “Right now things are so disparate that it’s really difficult for people to adopt a single standard and that’s what the Industrial Internet Consortium is driving towards. But until that is solved, either through consensus or the emergence of a clear winner, it will be very difficult to capture the potential value in this market.”
Jabil is helping to create such an ecosystem and remove the complexities through its role as a design and manufacturing partner for virtually every industry which could benefit from the IoT, bringing together the various disparate players.
“There are a lot of companies offering things in siloes,” says Ms Moretti. “There’s no one company you can go to and that’s an issue for municipalities, retailers, hospitality companies – a lot of companies that historically haven’t got electronic hardware. Having someone to weave this together and offer a full service solution with a number of partners already in place can add a tremendous amount of value.”
So Jabil manufactures everything from the sensors that gather and communicate data, to the end-products which use the sensors and the data they generate, including smartphones, wearables, clothing and medical devices. It also designs and builds the infrastructure that supports the IoT, such as smart grids, servers, cloud infrastructure and communication systems.
“We’re the biggest company that nobody has ever heard of,” says Ms Moretti. “We work with industry leaders in 16 distinct sectors in concept, design, engineering, manufacturing and advanced services around the world.” The business has strong links with Cisco, she adds, and works closely with Intel, AT&T, GE and IBM as part of the Industrial Internet Consortium, giving it a unique place in the market.
Jabil has recently opened its Blue Sky Center for Innovation in Silicon Valley, where it displays the latest manufacturing and design technologies in the IoT, and its ability to connect sensors, devices, data and people together to enable IoT on a global scale, across industries including consumer wearables, packing and healthcare applications. This has received the backing of the UPnP Forum-certified cloud platform ConnectingYourThings, which will enable Jabil’s customers to design and verify new devices on a live cloud platform before production.
Already it is positioning itself to get new products out to market quickly. Earlier this year, it entered into an innovative partnership with the MIT Media Lab and Mass Challenge in Boston, which will give startups unprecedented access to the advanced electronics and prototyping capabilities, as well as the training they need to bring new products to life.
It also recently acquired San Jose-based Wolfe Engineering, a well-respected design and engineering firm which specialises in new product introductions for companies in the semiconductor capital equipment market, to help expand its ability to take advantage of new innovations and roll them out as quickly as possible.
“Companies need to identify the specific end-to-end solutions they want to play in. Once they’ve done that, it’s a case of working out where they want to play in that ecosystem and who their partners will be because no one company is going to be able to provide the entire solution,” says Mr Gebicke. “The adoption of connected devices in the industrial sector, given the cost-point and emergence of new technology, will enter into a geometric curve in the next couple of years.”
How to ride that curve and capture value is now the real challenge.
To find out more about how Jabil could help your business take advantage of the internet of things, visit www.jabil.com and follow us on Twitter @jabil