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How will the Internet of Things affect critical communications? 

Imad Mouline, CTO of Everbridge, says we must not overlook the huge opportunity for the industrial IoT to affect the world significantly, especially in critical situations.

The Internet of Things, IoT, is without a doubt one of the most talked about topics in our tech-obsessed culture at the moment. The possibilities appear endless and we can all visualise how our lives will continue to be transformed for the better, with Smart devices interacting with each other, to put our heating on before we get home, pour a bath while we stay in bed, and send instructions to the oven from our phone during our commute. But we mustn’t overlook the huge opportunity for the industrial IoT to impact the world significantly – especially in critical situations.

Mainstream attention is being paid to machine-to-machine communications, but a whole host of new technologies are maturing to make these communications even more actionable during critical situations. This is the real future of our ‘connected’ world. Our ability to connect machines to people for immediate action will continue to improve the way we communicate, work and live.

Let’s look at some examples that illustrate just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of an industrial IoT that is appropriately people-aware.

First, imagine that your local reservoir dam was connected to a critical communication system – a comprehensive notification platform. Now imagine that every time that it needed to be opened to release water, the system would automatically trigger a notification to the water company to enable it to take the appropriate action. And not just one simple text message that could potentially (and likely) be missed or ignored, but a multi-modal notification tailored to reach the ‘need to know’ person(s) via text, email, phone, etc. until it is confirmed that they’ve been reached and agree to take on the necessary task or next steps.

If the right person does not confirm that he or she is taking care of the issue, then the system will know to escalate the issue to the appropriate person. That peer could be a peer with the right skills sets who is the next go-to person in a published schedule rotation, or it could be a supervisor who is on-call that day and who can make the appropriate decision when supplied with all the relevant information. The reservoir can simply keep trying to reach the right people based on simple or complex rules until satisfied that the right human being is dealing with the situation.

So how does the reservoir know who the ‘need to know’ people are, or who the right human being is?

An infrastructure using an automated, IoT capable critical communications platform would know what members of the team are the right ones to call, who has the right skill set to deal with the issue at hand and is available, and whose location is close enough to the reservoir to get there in time. Additionally, the system would recognise the severity level of the incident and tailor its communications accordingly. A severe issue may require alerting seven people at the water company immediately through all available channels and triggering an aggressive escalation policy while a routine check-in could be sent with far less urgency to recipients’ inboxes.

A potential catastrophic issue would entail automatically messaging and calling all the residents who are at risk and giving them detailed information on how to get to safety, while activating sirens, road signs, and other public means of mass notification. This so-called smart reservoir isn’t some pipe dream that is years away. We are already there, and we are only just getting started.

Second, think of the possibility of things like smart rubbish bins that connect to refuse collectors when they are ready to be emptied, or better yet, tell headquarters they don’t need to be emptied, directing crews to the areas that have the highest density of full rubbish bins. One automated message could stop a lorry from being deployed, saving both time and money.

Another industrial or corporate example is a smart building access badge system that keeps track of employees’ last known location, so that everyone in an affected building, including visiting employees, can be notified or accounted for in case of an emergency.

So what’s next? Now, and in the future, devices, people and things will continue to automatically trigger communications in a smart and actionable fashion to ensure that the right messages get sent to the right people, based on their location, skill sets or simply, their ability to respond at the right time.

The possibilities are endless for any organisation, hospital, school or community that needs to act quickly and decisively during an incident. Next time you step outside, take a moment to look around and admire how IoT isn’t just going to be a major component of shopping and personal chores, it will become a vital part of society’s backbone, helping to keep us all connected, safe and secure.

I’m optimistic there will be more conversations that focus on these big picture opportunities to improve the way we communicate and respond, and less on the smart fridge.

Let’s focus on public infrastructure, workplace controls, medical devices that can send Data Protection Act compliant messages to healthcare teams, IT platforms and all other types of critical connected systems and collectively pursue a society that is not just smart, but also accurate, automated and downright brilliant when time is of the essence.

The true future of IoT lies in connecting devices, big and small, to critical communication systems to ensure that the right teams are called in to help when needed, that the right decision-makers are chased down to approve a course of action that is then carried out automatically, or that the right people are informed of an impending critical situation that could impact their well-being if left unheeded.

CTO Imad Mouline of Everbridge is former CTO of organisations including CloudFloor, Compuware and S1 Corporation. Mouline is a regular presenter at industry, technology, and academic conferences, including APCO, NEDRIX, the World Conference on Disaster Management, Cloud Connect, Interop, Internet World, and the MIT CIO Symposium. He is frequently quoted in leading publications including The New York Times, USA Today, BBC News, BusinessWeek, CNN Money, Fortune, Forbes, Investor’s Business Daily, Network World, CIO Zone, and InformationWeek.

Positioned as a leader in the 2014 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Emergency and Mass Notification, Everbridge is recognised as an industry innovator. Everbridge is the world’s largest independent provider of critical communications solutions, with 18 data centres and offices across North America, Asia and Europe serving a customer base of more than 3,000 organisations supporting in excess of 50,000,000 contacts and stakeholders. 

Imad Moulin, 06/08/2015
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