The global pandemic highlighted the essential role of the internet of things (loT) by transcending physical security to include safety, productivity, facility management and smart cities. Organizations rushed to digitize operations to get the right data to improve efficiencies and strategize their return-to-work playbooks.
loT devices typically have a circuit board with sensors that connect to the internet, offering the added benefit of remote administration, management and control. These devices, minicomputers in their own rights, are a gateway to merging new technologies and use cases for systems integrators and their customers.
A confluence of technologies have come together: greater processing speeds for computers, emboldened video surveillance with artificial intelligence (A.I.) and sensors and other devices with built-in intelligence for detecting and analyzing events at the edge. loT sensors serve personal and professional uses and can track items and processes, as well as determine environmental conditions. We’re moving toward a world where everything is a sensor—detectors, cameras, switches and routers—that can control every nuance and action with precise accuracy. Living with the loT means a vast network of devices communicating with each other peer-to-peer while taking cues from the environment to initiate an action or response.
What can we expect to see in a futuristic society with connected, intelligent sensors and technologies? For systems integrators, sensing adds a decided edge—the ability to offer new, turnkey services that the customer values, a project from the ground up. Think of the possibilities in sensors alone: heat, humidity, moisture, motion, pressure, vibration, shock and water quality. Anything that connects with other systems in an integrated fashion becomes a sensor, including video surveillance and thermal cameras, temperature detectors, access control, speakers, beacons, contact tracing devices and health-monitoring wearables.
Full, seamless connectivity among devices isn’t quite there yet, but the loT is moving the concept in that direction. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 State of the Connected World, system interoperability and advancement of global technology standards remain important priorities for continued IoT development and expansion. The loT market and ecosystem is expected to grow even faster in a post-COVID-19 business environment, thanks to the release of pent-up demand and the determination to minimize the impact of future disruptions, especially in the enterprise and public domain spaces, according to the report.
Are you ready?
Currently, the loT is a rapidly growing, multilayered, complex set of technologies still operating on its own data, communications and platform sensors—so systems integration skills are in demand.
“IoT and smart sensors include cameras and access control today, but many systems integrators are still learning this,” said Jon Polly, chief solutions officer for ProTecht Solutions Partners, a consulting firm based in Charleston, S.C. “IoT sensors are going to allow the systems integrator to offer more than they initially had: they can provide systems that interact and grow with the customer. By incorporating analytics or biometric data, they can deliver more holistic solutions.”
Polly said cybersecurity is required because sensors are connected to a network converging IT/loT/OT. However, many systems integrators don’t offer this competency as part of their deliverables.
“I see many IT companies now leveraging traditional physical security technologies (sometimes without the proper licenses) because they are no longer security, but IoT sensors connected by a network cable. I believe there will be a shift in the industry as to who will be providing IoT sensors in the future, from systems integrator to IT integrator. If IT offers cybersecurity and the physical security systems integrator doesn’t, end-users may seek a vendor to do it all and the IT company could win out,” Polly said.
Adopt early and learn often
Systems integrators who are early adopters of emerging technology and learning to leverage devices for business intelligence are destined to see additional benefits and company growth, versus the contractor who is just beginning to implement these strategies, according to Greg Turner, vice president for Honeywell International Inc., Charlotte, N.C.
“Electrical contractors need to make the jump from line voltage to technology and focus on systems integration,” Turner said, adding that Honeywell has bumped up its training on loT and smart cities solutions by 400% to address growing demand for integration and intelligent buildings.
Applications such as waste management will rely on sensors to signal that refuse is ready for pickup; cameras at a crossing will recognize a pedestrian present and adjust the crossing time; buildings will maintain air conditioning or heating at lower/higher temperatures if rooms are unoccupied with sensors that assess presence and even calculate the number of occupants to communicate with HVAC and lighting controls, Turner said.
“loT is about taking discrete functions that are already here but automating them, which leads to enormous efficiency, such as using A.I. in cameras for detection as opposed to manually watching monitors all day,” Turner said.
5G connectivity, he added, is also changing the dynamic of loT with an explosion of devices that eliminate the need for digging and trenching in many applications.
“Up until now, if we wanted to put up a traffic camera, we had to build our own high-speed infrastructure, whereas a public 5G infrastructure that supports video streaming represents an absolute positive play for ECs, but there’s pressure on the business to develop and hone different skillsets,” he said.
To leverage the loT and smart sensors in solutions, Turner advises systems integrators to seek out trusted partners.
“Expect those partners to provide training to your people and ask questions about the life cycle of the product and how it will be powered. Intelligent buildings are not yet plug-and-play, so you should request reference architecture documentation from the manufacturer that indicates which devices work together so you’re not trying to put a round peg in a square hole,” Turner said.
Featuring current 5G capabilities, Cisco Systems, San Jose, Calif., now offers a network from the enterprise to the industrial edge, with architecture that links visibility, automation and security policies across the branch, data center and campus.
“For most of our customers, the opportunity to improve efficiencies, the customer experience and business results is achieved with data generated at the edge,” said Vikas Butaney, vice president general manager, Cisco. “The edge is all the places where organizations serve their customers and create revenue. It’s diverse and is located anywhere and everywhere—from utility substations and pipelines to roadways and the police cars and buses that run on them.”
Polly said the future is wide open in physical security and will entail PoE++ applications where systems integrators will do more of what used to involve 120V AC electrical contractors.
“By moving to a network cable, they will be able to deploy IoT sensors (cameras, access control, etc.) for multiplatform access,” he said. “A camera will do more than just take a picture; it will open doors or lock them, alert upon A.I. rules and more. It’s not just a camera anymore, it’s business intelligence and part of the loT.”