Chasm Not Crossed as A Sensor Data Tsunami Comes Over The Horizon

Just over a week ago I spent a day at SensorExpo in Chicago to present on Complex Event Processing (CEP) discussing how CEP engines, Predictive Analytics, business rules can be used to analyse sensor emitted event data in-motion to facilitate business optimisation. This was a very busy conference. I estimated at least 2000-3000 people on the exhibition floor with maybe 400 on the conference. I found around 100 vendors with all kinds of sensor devices on show exhibiting their products and services. To my surprise however I had only heard of 2 of the vendors. IBM and Texas Instruments. The floor was heaving with people looking to instrument their business operations to measure everything from movement, temperature, energy consumption, stress, heat, fluid volumes, pipeline flows and RFIDs. There were analog devices and digital devices. When taking to the vendors the big common denominator was that they are all trying to collect the data from sensor networks and RFIDs to analyse it. Yet other than IBM there was not a single BI vendor in sight. Not even a single complex event processing (CEP) vendor in sight. I was shocked because this market is clearly booming. What was even more surprising was that I could not find an IT professional anywhere. 99.9% of all delegates and speakers were engineers.

Attending some of the case studies I found some fantastic applications of the use of sensor networks and RFIDs. Healthcare with sensors all over hospitals with equipment and patients all tagged with RFIDs. The return on investment in this case was fraud prevention on equipment (theft mainly) and process improvement for patients. Another session I attended was one on monitoring stress in all the bridges in the US – over 700000 of them. Some of the stats being quoted by the speakers were staggering. “Well we are emitting, 3 events per minute from every sensor on a 7×24 hour basis. After 6 months operating like this we have over 20 PETABYTES of data”. You read it right 20 PETABYTES. A lot of the technical focus at the conference was on energy harvesting to prolong sensor battery life, but the business message was clear as a bell. Process optimisation, preventative maintenance and cost reduction comes from instrumenting business operations. Manufacturing production lines, supply chains, product distribution, asset management. You name it, they’re measuring it.

So I have to ask, where are all the BI vendors? Where are all the analytical DBMS vendors? Where are the CEP products, the real-time dashboards and predictive analytical models for automated analysis? This is an operational BI gold mine. Yet there are no mainstream vendors in sight bar IBM (at least someone there is switched on to what is happening). The volume of data coming over the horizon from the adoption of sensor networks and RFIDs is nothing short of massive. What is also clear is that this is already going on in enterprises and IT are blissfully unaware of it in the main. Clearly IT BI professionals have got to get in touch with their Engineering colleagues and engineers have got to be made aware of mainstream data integration, analytical database and BI platform technologies as well as CEP software of course. In my 29 years in the industry, I don’t think I have ever seen a chasm between IT and business not even explored never mind crossed. Yet the value of CEP and mainstream DW/BI to this market is nothing short of enormous. It is symptomatic of a young market heaving with engineers that has yet to be tied into mainstream IT to exploit far more robust software than is being used on this data at present. What an opportunity. What a huge opportunity. It most certainly is going to re-define large databases when we have to set them up for analysis of historical event data emitted by these devices. CEP has to go there. CEP vendors have to get out of just being in the financial markets and wake up to a ton of data in motion being emitted by the growing number of devices. An article I read recently said that Sensors empower an Internet of Things. Well, those things are coming over the horizon emitting a Tsunami of data. It is time CEP and DW/BI vendors woke up an smelt the coffee and became aware of this rapidly growing market. CIOs had better take heed too because they are going to have to integrate it into mainstream IT.


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