Thermostats, Data, and the Internet of Things

January 14, 2014 --

Gartner defines Operational Technology (OT) as "hardware and software that detects or causes a change through the direct monitoring and/or control of physical devices, processes and events [in the enterprise]." In other words, OT is the computers (and their software) that exist outside of the IT world.

Take a thermostat for example. It is used to regulate the temperature in a home or office building. Now, think beyond a dumb, thermocouple or mercury thermostat, and consider a cool, modern thermostat that looks and works like a phone app. This is Operational Technology, not Information Technology, right? How can one think of a thermostat in the context of IT?

Last summer, before every industry pundit started to baptize 2014 “The Year Of The Internet Of Things”, Gartner published a research note titled “The Confluence of Operational Technology and Big Data” (Douglas Laney, Kristian Steenstrup, 21 August 2013, G00246899). The introduction of this note reads:

Interlacing operational technology and "big data" initiatives can generate lucrative supplemental benefits. Information strategists should plan to use OT-generated data to bolster analytics and exploit big data sources to enhance the performance of OT solutions.

Going back to the thermostat. It generates data - lots of data. How quickly does the temperature vary in the home? When is someone home or not? What time does everyone retire for the evening? When do people go on vacation?

Now, looking at it from the other side: how could a thermostat benefit from big data sources? Would weather information be useful for temperature regulation? Would it be beneficial to know the agendas of the household members to make sure they are welcomed by a warm home when they return from work/school? Would statistical information about energy efficiency of other households be useful?

The thermostat, primarily an OT device, is now an IT device. This is what the Internet of Things is really about: bridging OT and IT.

Now, consider what a company that has built a multi-billion dollar business on collecting data and selling ads/services based on this data, could do with the data thermostats (can) collect.  But also consider how such a company could make these thermostats a lot more efficient, with all the new data sources they have at their fingertips.

Google’s purchase of Nest is a strong opening for 2014 - The Year Of The Internet Of Things. It’s happening, now.