TechZine – Alcatel-Lucent

Business

Smart Sensors Enable Enterprise Opportunities

Highlights

  • Smart sensors are used for measurement in almost every industry
  • Networks are crucial enablers for sensor applications
  • CSPs are ideally positioned to help enterprises benefit from smart sensors

Sensing new opportunities

As the use of smart sensors accelerates, so does the business opportunity for both communications service providers (CSPs) and enterprises. Today, almost every industry uses sensors to measure temperature, humidity, pressure and other values. Getting those measurements to the right destination in an instant is crucial.

Depending on the industry, smart sensors typically help increase operational efficiency and save money. But they can also have a direct impact on human life and the environment.

  • Health care: Even small changes in temperature or humidity can affect patient health. Instant actions to keep temperature and humidity constant in hospitals can mean the difference between life and death.
  • Green buildings: Sensor applications can analyze measurements from light and temperature sensors in buildings to determine whether lights should be automatically shut off and temperatures adjusted. These actions can be based on time of day or other factors, such as hotel room checkouts.
  • Supply chain: Smart sensors in cargo holds and shipping containers measure temperature and humidity to prevent spoilage of perishables. Spoilage is very costly. It can also affect quality of life for those awaiting food.
  • Oil and gas: Pressure sensors along remote pipelines ensure instant leak detection. These smart sensors reduce the need for costly pipeline visits, protect assets, and help prevent environmental disasters.

Dubbed by some as the “sensorconomy,” the growing market for sensor applications is a subset of the broader market for machine to machine applications. Every day, enterprises connect more and more smart sensors to networks to provide applications with information. While smart sensors are used for dedicated applications, they are not typically part of the business ecosystem. Now that is changing.

  • CSPs and enterprises are recognizing opportunities to make smart sensors part of their core business strategies. For example:
  • CSPs can use their networks and professional services practices to extend their relationships with enterprise customers and improve their position in the smart sensor value chain.

Enterprises can get more value from smart sensors and sensor applications by incorporating network intelligence and creating tighter links with business processes.

CSPs can build their enterprise business

CSPs are in a unique position to provide enterprises with the capabilities they need at multiple levels of the smart sensor value chain including connectivity, services, applications, and business processes. They can take a progressively greater role in enabling sensor applications to increase their value and expand their enterprise business.

Stage 1: Delivering connectivity

As a first step, CSPs can provide enterprises with the wired and wireless connectivity that smart sensors require. This is a natural extension of the connectivity services CSPs already provide to enterprises. Their experience and expertise gives CSPs ready-made credibility in the smart sensor market.

CSPs likely already provide their enterprise customers with SIM cards as part of their wireless services. SIM cards are considered intelligent objects because they retrieve information on location, device status and other factors. This means CSPs are effectively already delivering machine to machine applications — a superset of sensor applications.

Stage 2: Adding services and applications

To move beyond the role of connectivity provider, CSPs can exploit the IP intelligence in their High Leverage Network™ (HLN) to add services and enable applications that help enterprises take advantage of smart sensors:

  • Services could include providing private or IP virtual private networks (VPNs).
  • Applications could include unified communications that help enterprises increase employee productivity and ensure the information from smart sensors reaches the right people at the right time.

CSPs can use the intelligence in their HLN to develop sensor applications themselves. They can also securely expose their network intelligence so trusted application developers can create more advanced sensor applications. A strategy of application enablement helps CSPs increase their value to enterprises and to application developers.

Stage 3: Enabling real-time business services

The 3rd level of value for CSPs is found in their ability to enable real-time business services in the enterprise. Because sensor applications trigger events or actions based on information from smart sensors, they affect the enterprise’s core business processes. CSPs can help enterprises build the business case for smart sensors and integrate sensor applications into communications-enabled business processes.

In many cases, enterprises are already deploying communications-enabled business processes. And CSPs are already advising their enterprise customers about how to add communications to IP applications. In many cases, business processes and applications can be adapted or extended to take advantage of smart sensors.

Ten years ago when core business processes were based on proprietary techniques and technology, this would have been difficult. However, because today’s business processes and applications are based on standards, there is no need to ‘rip and replace’ existing business processes and applications. It’s simply a matter of using open interfaces to add sensor-related capabilities.

Get more value from smart sensors

With CSPs as their partners, enterprises are in a better position to take advantage of smart sensors and sensor applications. They have a single partner that brings them expertise in networks, services, applications, and communications-enabled business processes. This combination allows enterprises to:

  • Start using smart sensors and sensor applications without massive upfront investments. With a ‘pay-as-you-go’ subscription from their CSP, enterprises can adopt a flexible business model that helps them quickly take advantage of smart sensor opportunities. For example, they can pay a monthly or annual fee for sensor applications based on the number of smart sensors connected to the network or the number of sensor transactions on the network.
  • Deploy applications that analyze the measurements from smart sensors and take the appropriate actions based on that analysis. To take the right actions, sensor applications need to combine information from smart sensors with intelligence from the network of the CSP. By incorporating network intelligence, these sensor applications create a link between the network — which smart sensors use to transmit information — and the business processes, databases or Web-based applications that need to be contacted or run after the smart sensor has sent its information.
  • Eliminate latency in business processes. When people communicate as part of business processes, they are typically reacting to something they’ve seen – an alert or an indicator. Incorporating measurements from smart sensors directly into communications-enabled business processes removes this delay. At the precise moment a threshold is exceeded, the information is transmitted to the right systems and processes for action. After that, it is transmitted to the right people or to other objects for further action.

Go with what you know

With any new opportunity, it’s best to rely on known strengths – your own and those of others – to succeed. As the sensorconomy continues to unfold, CSPs can rely on enterprises’ deep industry knowledge to help extend their business into the rapidly growing smart sensor market. And enterprises can rely on CSPs’ expertise in networks and communications services to help them incorporate smart sensors into their core business strategies.

To contact the author or request additional information, please send email to techzine.editor@alcatel-lucent.com.