IBM i and the IoT
April 15, 2015 Alex Woodie
By now you’ve probably heard of the Internet of Things (IoT), or as some overzealous marketers like to call it, the Internet of Everything. By instrumenting data-emitting sensors into everyday items such as toasters, watches, and shirts, we’ll be able to glean much more insight into the real-time state of ourselves and our world. It may sound heavy on the hype and light on substance today, but there’s a good chance that the IoT could impact your standard business systems–including enterprise applications systems running on the IBM i platform.
IBM made a big IoT splash recently when it announced it’s investing $3 billion over the next four years to establish a new IoT business unit. This unit, IBM says, will build “a cloud-based open platform” that will help clients build IoT solutions. It all fits nicely into IBM’s existing “Smarter Planet” marketing scheme, which doesn’t have a big IBM i angle to it. Don’t be surprised if IoT becomes the fifth horsemen to Big Blue’s current stable of cloud, mobile, social, and data.
The way IBM sees it, there’s a big opportunity for regular companies to leverage the emerging IoT to gain a competitive advantage. Sure, born-on-the-Web darlings like Airbnb and Uber are leveraging cutting-edge technologies like graph databases, in-memory analytics, and massive Hadoop clusters to disrupt the hospitality and transportation industries. In exchange for the unique way they manipulate bits and bytes, they’re rewarded with huge valuations in the tens of billions of dollars–even if Airbnb and Uber don’t actually own any hotels or taxies.
But companies that actually make and move physical stuff are important too, and now they’re going to get a taste of the emerging economic pie with the IoT. “Developers,” IBM says, “will be able to enrich existing business applications–such as enterprise asset management, facilities management, and software engineering design tools–by infusing more real-time data and embedded analytics to further automate and optimize mission-critical IoT processes.”
There’s a huge potential here for the IoT to impact the IBM i’s sweet spot in industry verticals such as trucking, distribution, equipment rental, facilities management, and textiles. ERP vendors could help clients by helping to integrate machine and sensor data with their ERP software. There are all sorts of use cases imaginable in the manufacturing, distribution, and asset maintenance businesses, for starters.
Wearables are trendy today, thanks to products like the FitBit and the Apple Watch. But increasingly we’re seeing sensors embedded into everyday items, such as workout gear. Clothing maker Under Armor, which relies on IBM i servers and Manhattan Associates‘ warehouse management system, is embedding sensors directly into its clothing to allow athletes to measure data such as heart rate, perspiration, and breathing rate. It’s doubtful that data is ending up in an IBM i server somewhere. But there’s no reason that creative IBM i developers couldn’t devise such a system.
One vendor that is moving forward with ERP and wearables is Denovo, which just launched a new IoT solution for Oracle‘s JD Edwards EnterpriseOne ERP system. The company has established deals with device manufactures and software vendors to build IoT solutions that provide benefits in the areas of asset tracking, maintenance program improvement, operational performance monitoring, and retail management.
“We will continue to bring solutions such as IoT, wearables, and mobility to help extend the JD Edwards applications from the back office to the core processes of their business,” says Marty Snella, CEO of Denovo, which will be showcasing the offering at the Collaborate 2015 show in Las Vegas this week.
IBM i-based ERP systems were developed to automate and integrate standard business processes, such as accepting inbound EDI orders, recording the transaction in the general ledger, and generating shipping documents. One of the general trends in ERP these days is integrating analytics directly into the application and trying to better anticipate and prepare for what may happen next. With the IoT, customers have a lot more data points to base those predictions on, and those predictions should be better.
Magic Software is looking to help its JD Edwards customers use its data and integration toolsets to build next-gen IoT systems. “Magic xpi and Magic xpa applications have been used to control stuff on a network long before we knew to call it the Internet of Things,” Magic’s Glenn Johnson recently wrote. “These apps have been used for decades now to control thinks like warehouse racking systems, secure door locks, nuclear power plants, bar code readers, hospital medical devices and even newspaper insertion machines. In addition, sensors such as scales, biometric scanners, RFID, and thermostats have been feeding data to Magic apps for decades as well.”
The IoT is also expected to have an impact in the field of healthcare, where the IBM i server is a trusted provider of process automation. Vendors like Oracle are looking at ways to use remote patient monitoring to deliver high-quality in home instead of requiring users to stay at the hospital. The combination of high-volume data collection via sensors and streaming analytic systems, meanwhile, is helping hospitals to make real progress in the battle against deadline disease states, such as sepsis.
There’s nothing stopping today’s sharp IBM i developers from integrating the IoT into their existing applications in all sorts of creative ways. They already have most of the core elements they need to instrument existing apps with IoT data feeds, including: a scalable database, a powerful SQL query engine, support for popular IoT technologies like REST and JSON, and the availability of Java, PHP, Ruby, and even a Node.JS runtime to attract all the young programmers who can’t spell RPG. Now all it needs is a spark to set it off.
So what will be your first IoT app for the IBM i? Let us know by contacting us on the handy IT Jungle contact page.