Ten Ways ThingWorx Can-Spur Innovation

December 6, 2010

In our posts to date, we’ve talked about building the Internet of Things “2.0” and why it’s essential to tackling the really big picture problems facing humanity in the coming decades—climate change, resource scarcity, and other scary stuff. But unless you wake up every morning striving to Save The World, your daily to-do list is probably more prosaic—how do I innovate faster, cut costs deeper, and stop a crisis before it starts? Here are ten aspects of ThingWorx that can make an immediate impact on your business.

1. Composable. We’ve spent millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours building a platform for the Internet of Things, complete with all-new semantic data structures that make it easy to model the properties, connections, and relationships of each Thing. With that plumbing already in place, your developers can stop worrying about basic services and focus on delivering value through innovation. And this, in turn, increases productivity while reducing time-to-market or deployment.

For example, let’s say you have a hundred air handlers in your plant, and you’d like to monitor one and the filter system that goes along with it. Using our platform, your developers can create a ThingShape with all the properties for one air handler, and then it clone it for the others. We supply the glue, and you provide the intelligence.

2. Mashable. Our platform includes a “Mashup Builder,” allowing end users to quickly add and extend features and functionality almost on the fly. Rather than buying software off the shelf and asking IT to spend months adding missing features, applications built in ThingWorx can be mashed up as needed by the business users themselves. In the air handler example, adding preventative maintenance capabilities might take only a few weeks, after which you can add extensions, change the look-and-feel, and add whatever’s missing. You improve it as you go, rather than wasting time implementing every conceivable feature.

This has huge implications for both end users and IT. The former have been empowered to mash up data however they like, tweaking the application to help them perform their jobs better – without needing to burden IT. Meanwhile, IT is free to focus on high-value processes rather than generating reports. You can democratize innovation and increase IT’s productivity and job satisfaction.

3. Searchable. ThingWorx’ semantic data structures, coupled with its contextual search and query and analysis tools, makes it faster and easier to perform root cause analysis in an operational environment.  That means when something goes wrong, you’re able to spot a potential disruption early, aggregate data around it, and then drill down to isolate the cause. If a bad product comes off the line, for instance, you might search through its properties to see what materials went into it, who supplied them, and where they were stored. If they were supposed to be refrigerated, you could check the temperature to see if they might have spoiled.

The implications are subtle but profound. Providing “google-like” searchability to operations makes data less expensive to obtain and easier to access, enabling people to use it and to consult it before making decisions. To build a data-driven culture, you need to change the economics of data-based analysis. Our search capabilities do just that.

4. Networkable. Things are defined by their ThingShapes, which in turn create a ThingShadow, that is, the information describing or produced by a Thing. Because data in our network is semantically aware, it’s a relatively simple matter to define entire networks of devices as Things, and then to define the relationships between them or to other people.

In practice, this means defining conditions in such a way that one device sounding an alert automatically triggers messages and behavior elsewhere.

In the case of a refrigerated truck barreling down the road, a failing refrigeration unit might cause the temperature to start rising, triggering an onboard sensor to send an alert to the dispatch system, which in turn notifies the nearest maintenance facility and the driver, directing her there. This is just an example; the point is that ThingWorx offers a platform for flexibly connecting devices in almost any scenario you can define.

5. Preventable. Building off the prior point, most business processes are scheduled. Time passes and sooner or later, a previously defined decision occurs. One example is preventative maintenance—upon reaching a certain number of hours, a piece of equipment is taken offline. Do it too soon and you’re incurring unnecessary downtime; do it too late and you risk catastrophic failure. But ThingWorx is event-driven, which means you could monitor the equipment’s condition (as defined by fluid levels, pressure, etc.) in real-time, and define that decision based on performance. So when the pressure begins to fall ever so slightly, that’s when you take it offline. The difference between time-driven and event-driven scheduling (in maintenance or anything else) is the difference between inefficiency and optimization.

6. Fallible. ThingWorx empowers you to fail. What do I mean by that? In IT, the potential benefits of installing new software or undertaking integration are weighed against the costs of failure. And because it’s traditionally been so difficult to create or alter packaged applications, the cost of failure was too high. ThingWorx changes the economics of IT. Because it’s so easy for users to compose and mash up applications, development is spread much wider, which means the cost of failure falls, and which in turn means the cost to innovate is lower as well, making it easier to experiment. It’s a virtuous circle.

7. Replaceable. To succeed in the Internet of Things, you’ve got to include legacy support. The revolution will not be ripped-and-replaced; the smarter everything promised by the likes of IBM and other companies will appear slowly in the market if ever. RFID failed because it assumed tags would grow cheaper, readers would grow smaller and more accurate, and everyone would install new systems all at once. It never happened. Success depends on integrating everything— plant-floor equipment, systems, meters—and innovating on top of the equipment you have. It’s about mixing-and-matching rather than ripping-and-replacing, and ThingWorx is designed from the ground up to do just that.

8. Reusable. If there’s one thing to be learned from the runway success of Apple’s iPhone and iPad, it’s that apps—simple applications boasting discrete features—beat bloated software and cluttered dashboards any day. Apple subsequently triumphed by broadening the development of apps beyond its own engineers through the creation of its App Store, which allows anyone to create and submit an app for use. ThingWorx can do something similar for you, creating an app store of sorts where employees and partners and can copy, improve, and swap their own mashups, thus bringing still more eyeballs to bear on the development process, and saving time and resources by reusing the most useful applications.

9. Connectable. Social networking is one thing, but creating networks of not only person-to-person but thing-to-person and thing-to-thing. We call these industrial social networks, a network of people and the stuff that makes businesses work. Imagine if all the operators of certain types of equipment start sharing information via social networking that incorporates the maintenance needs of their “things.” Information sharing becomes as easy at work as it is at home.

10. Equitable. In the past, there was the data center, the control room, the hierarchy, the top-down approach. The ThingWorx platform creates an ecosystem where each Thing and person can become the center or play a supporting role as needed. This reflects how businesses really work. They are highly distributed with many components and business units. Thingworx allows this complexity to be managed and makes new management paradigms and new business processes possible, with very low risk.