Many companies are digitizing their architecture in an attempt to improve efficiency and customer experience. As part of this process, software systems offer more automated ways to deliver value in those situations that previously required the physical intervention of humans to make decisions between two or more enterprise systems.
Over time, these systems have evolved from creating automated workflows, opening communication paths and integrating different data systems.
They developed intelligent workflows in which some form of machine learning will drive context-specific decisions for the end user. This combination and evolution of technological interfaces is called ambient computing, and that is what we will talk about in this article. Keep up!
To understand ambient computing, we must first understand the Internet of Things (IoT). As we know, IoT refers to the interconnected matrix of devices, objects and computers with unique identifiers that are capable of transferring data over a network without interaction from human to human or from human to computer.
IoT is becoming a normal part of corporate infrastructures. As with many technologies, it is the “invisible” and supportive backdrop to our daily lives, helping us perform various tasks in various environments.
IoT is composed of devices of various complexities and equally varied purposes, which can be Internet-connected appliances, intelligent surveillance in the community, portable devices, intelligent cars, intelligent home speakers and much more.
More than the sum of its devices, the Internet of Things connects technologies to create services and opportunities.
To realize this potential, organizations must look beyond the physical “things” and the role of sensors, machines and other devices as signals and actuators – important developments, no doubt, but only part of the puzzle.
Innovation comes from bringing parts together to do something of different value – to see, understand and react to the world around them for themselves or alongside their human counterparts. This is where ambient computing comes in!
The reason ambient computing exists
Ambient computing involves embracing this potential detection and action-taking scenario with an ecosystem of things that can respond to what’s really happening in business – not just static and predefined workflows, control scripts, and operating procedures. It provides resources for:
- integrate the flow of information across multiple device types from a wide range of global manufacturers with proprietary technologies and data;
- perform low-level analysis and management of physical objects and events to detect signals and predict impacts;
- ensure device security, connectivity and data exchange.
Environmental computing happens when this collection of resources is in place – elevating IoT in addition to allowing and collecting information to use the device and signal mesh to do something for the business, shifting the focus from novelty of connected and intelligent objects to processes and business models.
Enabling the Internet of Things requires several logical and physical layers, working together in a transparent manner. Device sensors, communication chips and networks are just the beginning.
Additional services in ambient computing add even more layers: integration, orchestration, analysis, event processing and rule mechanisms. Finally, there is the business layer – the people and processes that bring the corporate landscape to life.
In this scenario, one of the most obvious implications of cyber security is an explosion of potential vulnerabilities, usually in objects that historically lacked connectivity and built-in intelligence. For example, machines, facilities, fleets and employees may now include multiple sensors and signals, all potentially compromised.
CIOs can take steps to keep assets secure considering cyber logistics before placing them in the IT environment. Ideally, manufacturing and distribution processes have the appropriate controls. When they do not, security devices may require risky and potentially disruptive adaptation.
Such precautions can be complicated by the fact that physical access to connected devices is difficult to secure, leaving the door open to new threat vectors.
Taking a broad approach to securing the environment requires moving from compliance to proactive risk management. Continuously measuring activities against a baseline of expected behavior can help detect anomalies by providing visibility across layers and at junctions.
For example, a connected construction equipment has a fairly complete set of expected behaviors, such as its location, hours of operation, average speed, and what data is reported.
Detecting anything outside of the expected standards can trigger a series of responses, from simply recording a potential problem to sending a remote disposal signal that makes the equipment useless.
Challenges for companies
Over time, security standards will develop, but in the short term we should expect them to be potentially as ineffective as those surrounding the web.
More effective approaches to managing interaction points between layers may emerge, similar to how a secure mesh network handles access, interoperability and monitoring between physical and logical components.
Finally, advanced design and engineering of feedback environments is likely to be needed to help humans work better with machines, and machines work better with humans.
Monitoring the performance and reliability of environmental systems is likely to be an ongoing challenge, requiring the design of more relevant human and machine interfaces, the implementation of effective automation algorithms, and the provision of decisive aids to increase the performance of humans and machines working together – in ways that result in safe, vigilant, and resilient hybrid attributes (human and technical).
How to approach environmental computing in your business
The environment should not be viewed as just a natural extension of mobile devices, nor should it devote the initial focus to the capabilities of smartphones, tablets and wearables – although some similarities remain.
In these cases, the true business value came from translating IT resources to perform the processes differently. As ambient computing is adding connectivity and intelligence to objects, there is less risk of seeing opportunities only through the lens of current processes and problems.
However, the broad possibilities and broad impact of compelling scenarios in sectors such as retail, manufacturing, healthcare, and the public sector make it difficult to realize the potential of the future. But this is not impossible.
Depending on the scenario, the benefits may lie in efficiency, innovation or even a balance of cost reduction and revenue generation.
Business leaders must elevate discussions of the Internet of Things to the power of ambient computing, finding a concrete business problem to explore, analyzing in a measurable way and laying the foundations to leverage the new era of the machine for the real breakthrough of business.
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