How Siemens is Bringing the Cloud to the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a field that requires a great deal of collaboration to be successfully implemented. However, collaboration only comes when all parties involved see value in working together.
In a recent Forbes Insight study, 500 executives were asked about the challenges surrounding the implementation of an IoT strategy. 31% said that cross-department collaboration is one of the IoT’s ‘biggest obstacles’.
Extrapolate that obstacle out across a whole industry and the problem only compounds itself. What if there was a system that helped people work together on IoT projects and made life significantly easier?
The MindSphere IoT operating system from Siemens is an attempt to provide just that. BDJ spoke with Sakari Miettinen of Siemens about the project, as well as the state of the IoT industry itself. Siemens claim that MindSphere is the largest network of connected devices globally, with 1 billion sensors, 75 million smart meters and 1 million products connected worldwide.
Leveraging a Global Presence
How does MindSphere and the app store work alongside cloud technology? “MindSphere is our open IoT operating system, which means you can gather data easily,” Sakari explains. “It’s a cloud-based service and you can gather almost any data, because Siemens operates in many different industries — trains, buildings, manufacturing, energy management, whatever.”
“If you have a partner network that is trading apps on top of the data that you are gathering, then it is compelling and interesting for them to be part of the ecosystem.”
Siemens is able to gather data onto MindSphere, where the owner of that data can allow anyone they choose access to it and give them the ability to build applications based on it. It is possible, then, to both create your own apps and allow a third party to do so.
There is also a global store on which these apps can be sold. As Sakari puts it, “if you have a partner network that is trading apps on top of the data that you are gathering, then it is compelling and interesting for them to be part of the ecosystem if it is compatible with our system, because then the market is automatically the whole world. Siemens is a very global company; we are present in almost 190 countries, so that obviously creates an interesting marketplace for your apps.”
How MindSphere Operates
The key to the success of MindSphere is the strong partnerships Siemens has been able to build with Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and a number of other big players. They are able to offer a ‘standard client’ or a ‘standard account’ which, according to them, is a competitively priced monthly payment.
The system comes complete with a development kit detailing how to build an app on the platform. Libraries and common standards are included as well.
“The customer owns the data, the customer has all the rights to that and can choose who to share or not share it with. We provide the basic cybersecurity, the functionalities and the trust.”
Reflecting on the system’s open nature, Miettinen says: “This isn't something locked in that only internal Siemens [employees] know; this is really open thinking and an open way to move forward. When it comes to the apps themselves, all industries are in here, so this can be both consumer-targeted and business-targeted.
“‘App’ is perhaps a confusing word, because it could be either an app that is priced for millions of Euros, or just cents. It can be anywhere between, but the logic is always the same: the customer owns the data, the customer has all the rights to that and can choose who to share or not share it with. We provide the basic cybersecurity, the functionalities and the trust in that area.”
The Openness Bandwagon
MindSphere is a great example of big industry players coming together and cooperating. Siemens has been able to use bottom-layer infrastructure from their partners, despite a lot of it being developed internally by them.
“As you know, the IT business is a kind of ecosystem and relies on partnerships and networks, so it’s done together,” Sakari says. “Siemens is the one managing, giving the promises, and then selling and maintaining it, and so forth.”
Others, too, are leveraging partnerships. South Korea’s Samsung is planning to unite its own IoT applications through an open ecosystem called SmartThings, alongside delivering 5G connectivity.
This is essential for the future of IoT. The Seoul-based multinational are working with the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) to set up a common industry standard. Hitachi, meanwhile, already has its Lumada IoT platform, which allows others to co-create.
The established players in IT haven’t been sitting on their laurels either, and they continue to recognise the potential in IoT. Microsoft Azure’s IoT Edge provides hybrid cloud and IoT solutions, while IBM is pushing its Watson IoT platform, which it claims works across industries and allows for the building of specialised, integrated solutions.
Siemens Are Taking an Integrated Approach
On how the approach Siemens is taking differs from that of its competitors like IBM, Sakari highlights a number of key differences. As far as he is concerned, Watson is not the whole end-to-end Systems of Record (SOR) full stack.
“It’s kind of a superior artificial intelligence learning algorithm, so that’s one part of that,” Sakari explains. “We are also supporting more of the cost beneficial integration of the assets — getting all the data and assets into the platform.
“I would say that there is overlap between different providers but, in a way, that’s what an ecosystem is about. You gather the best elements from everywhere and then you create the leading solution together with the different companies.”
“That’s what an ecosystem is about - you gather the best elements from everywhere and then you create the leading solution together.”
Regarding the integration of other emerging technologies like VR and blockchain, Sakari says that Siemens is already working with some innovative companies. In the power sector, for example, Siemens is working in the field of electricity networks and energy management, collaborating with LO3 Energy - a blockchain-based energy solutions company.
“We are learning that blockchain could be one element in peer-to-peer markets in the electricity field,” Sakari says. “Although IoT platforms connect all the assets… you don't actually yet know what you are offering to customers, for example [in terms of] flexibility and different rates. Blockchain is going to be an interesting element to benefit the peer-to-peer market.”
Harvesting Talent for the Journey Ahead
The future of any industry is driven by its people. Is there enough talent available in emerging disruptive tech? Sakari says Siemens are always on the lookout for it. He believes that the true value lies in the ecosystem, and that it can help build up the talent pool.
Explaining his thought process, he says: “We can create all of these apps this early, but if you can harvest that specific knowhow from a niche area, from somebody creating an app, that then benefits us and our customers — so why not do it?
“That’s why we are creating the app store, to really draw attention from startups and from the developers and say ‘with this marketplace, you can reach the whole world right away.’ So I fully believe in that sort of ecosystem thinking, really harvesting all the knowhow around you and not just internally within the company.”
“[IoT] has huge potential in our everyday lives from whatever point of view you take — economic, sustainability, efficiency or whatever. It’s the only way to go forward.”
So what makes IoT an interesting concept or business case? For Sakari, digitalisation, connecting information, and finding new ways to create value on top of data is the right approach. “It has huge potential in our everyday lives from whatever point of view you take — economic, sustainability, efficiency or whatever. It’s the only way to go forward.”
The potential reach of the impact of the internet of things (IoT) even extends to your stomach. Digestible pills are being developed that perform a host of data-collection tasks from within the user’s body. Researchers from the RMIT University in Melbourne were able to determine how diet affects different gases in the stomach, which could help in a number of practical use cases in treating disease.
Similarly, a pill has been developed that can measure whether or not a patient is taking their prescribed medication. This is particular useful when treating older patients - a notification can remind the patient’s family that it’s time to medicate. IoT will change the way businesses and cities operate, and it may even become part of our diets.
Illustrations by Kseniya Forbender
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Margarita Khartanovich at [email protected]
This article was prepared with the help of the SLUSH conference team and co-authored with BDJ tech writer Shivdeep Dhaliwal.