IoT in the Enterprise

Interview with Chris Matthieu

We recently had an opportunity to speak again with Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and a co-founder of Octoblu. In this discussion we explore some of the emerging opportunities for IoT (Internet of Things) in the enterprise.

To start off could you provide a quick overview of Octoblu, which Citrix acquired in December of 2014?

Octoblu is a full stack IoT platform for connecting and automating smart devices, wearables, and REST APIs. The core of the Octoblu stack is an open source called Meshblu that can be deployed as a private, public, or hybrid cloud or even as a mesh network. Octoblu offers a software gateway for connecting sensors to our platform as well as a micro-controller operating system for controlling pins on Raspberry Pis, Arduinos, BeagleBones, and many other micro-controllers. We also have a suite of mobile SDKs for iOS and Android to enable developing custom mobile apps that leverage the Octoblu platform. Octoblu is currently in beta and you can gain access here.

While, there’s a lot of buzz about IoT in the consumer space, what are your thoughts on where and how IoT will play in the enterprise?

There are a number of emerging uses of IoT in the enterprise… following are several examples:

  • Smart Conference Room – Businesses are using the Citrix Octoblu IoT platform to bring conference rooms to life and ultimately eliminate the first 5 minutes of unproductive meeting time. As people walk into a conference room, a beacon can initiate an Octoblu automation checking if he/she has a meeting in the room now. If the answer is yes, Octoblu can have GoToMeeting call the conference room and automatically start streaming the employee’s presentation to the big screen display via Chromecast. Lights are turned on. Shades are closed. The thermostat is adjusted. The meeting is recorded. When the meeting concludes, the call and casting are ended. Octoblu then uploads the GoToMeeting recording to ShareFile and sends an email with the link to all of the meeting participants. Octoblu can delay several minutes and then open the shades, turn off the lights, and adjust the thermostat.
  • Automating Daily Tasks – Knowledge workers are using Octoblu to automate their daily tasks. For example, sales leads can be updated in Salesforce allowing Octoblu to add a task in Podio, schedule a follow-up meeting in GoToMeeting, and even send a text message or email to the team lead regarding the sale.
  • Monitoring Social Media – Social media professionals are using Octoblu to watch updates on Twitter (and Instagram, Facebook, etc.) for information related to the company. Positive feedback could automatically be retweeted or favorited. Negative feedback could alert the Marketing and Customer Service teams of the event and even respond to the user via Twitter with a GoToMeeting Free link inviting the person to speak to a live representative immediately. Tweets could be displayed on big screen monitors. Lights could change colors based on the sentiment of the tweet.
  • Automating Classrooms and Online Training – Universities are using Octoblu to automate their classrooms and online training sessions similar to what businesses are doing with their smart conference rooms. Instructors can also receive real-time attendance records using beacons. Students can participate in real-time quizzes and receive tips on the courses.
  • Healthcare Applications – Hospitals and clinics are using Octoblu to securely sign into systems in waiting rooms by flicking the screen from their tablet to the computer in the room. Wearable sensors on patients can securely stream vitals into Octoblu and alert nurses and physicians when a patient’s vitals appear distressed. Octoblu could even monitor the big data produced from these sensors and start GoToMeetings with nurses and physicians to triage medical alerts as needed.

Citrix and Intel have teamed up to change the way companies integrate the Internet of Things into their business and operations. You can read more about the Intel / Citrix collaboration and access some Solution Briefs and Infographics here.

As we consider the billions of connected devices, how do you think we can harness this emerging Hyper Connectivity for real business value?

There are an estimated 15B connected devices today and there will be an estimated 200B connected devices by 2020. In a couple more years, the number of connected devices will surpass PCs, laptops, and mobile devices. Octoblu enables these connected devices to securely communicate with each other. For instance, when the Google Nest turns on the cooler, it can tell the Phillips Hue lights to turn blue (or red for heater). These connected devices can also stream their sensor data through Octoblu allowing us to apply machine learning techniques to tune the automation between these connected devices to improve our lives.

As an example, if I turn the lights on and adjust the thermostat every time I walk into my home, Octoblu can learn to imitate my routines for me. These same IoT automations can be applied to enterprise. In addition to connected devices learning, Octoblu can also interact with REST APIs and web services.

For example, in the future, there will be no reason to do data entry. More connected devices will stream sensor data into IoT platforms. Frequency and accuracy of data will be the norm. Companies will need to learn how to apply this abundance of new real-time data to business processes that improve customer satisfaction or reduce operational costs.

Connected devices are also getting smaller and smarter. Their user interfaces are either getting more intuitive (voice, gestures, tabs) or they are disappearing altogether. Devices are getting better at doing focused tasks very well. Octoblu harnesses the power of all of these connected devices and orchestrates automations to create real business value.

What factors will accelerate the benefits of IoT to the enterprise?

Octoblu empowers knowledge workers (anyone) to build IoT and system automations without the need of IT or programmers. Knowledge workers know exactly how to automate small and large parts of their jobs or business processes to improve operating efficiencies and customer satisfaction.

What if every employee in your organization could automate business processes? What if employees were happier and more productive in their workspaces due to IoT-improved lighting, temperature, reduction of meetings, etc.? What if IoT big data and machine learning principles could identify new areas of automation in the enterprise? These are all example of benefits that will emerge over time.

What do you think is the most interesting and impactful use of IoT in the enterprise?

In my opinion, Autonomics is the most interesting and impactful use of IoT in the enterprise. Machine learning followed by artificial intelligence will create wide gaps between your company and its competitors. Autonomic systems can be self-managing, self-configuring, self-healing, and even self-optimizing. More sensors and more data create more possibilities for machines to develop improved algorithms and automations. Real-time business intelligence and system awareness will drive operational costs and pricing down which will simultaneously improve customer satisfaction and increase sales. Leading edge companies implementing these IoT technologies will have an unfair advantage over their competitors.

Can you comment on some of the security concerns having so many connected devices?

There are no security standards regulating the marketplace today. It is true that more devices create larger attack vectors for hackers. While we cannot secure the devices themselves beyond the manufacturers’ specifications, Octoblu adds several layers of security to devices including connectivity, communications, and data at rest. By allowing Octoblu to control the security for these devices directly, users can bypass platforms with questionable security practices. Since Octoblu is an IoT cloud service, we continue to make improvements to our security posture. As with any cloud service, these improvements and changes take effect immediately after they are implemented.

While we like to think of everything being connected, are there things you think shouldn’t be connected?

I believe that *everything* should (and will be) connected. Connected cars will offer safer and quicker commutes. Connected homes and offices will improve security and operating efficiency. Connected farms will improve health of plants and crop yields. Connected construction equipment will improve safety and equipment uptime. Connected drones are being used in industries for surveillance and 3D mapping which is safer and more cost efficient than hiring helicopters, pilots, and crews.

Could you share your thoughts on interoperability and potential for standardized communication protocols in the IoT ecosystem?

We are already seeing the following protocols being accepted as IoT standards: MQTT, CoAP, HTTP, and WebSockets. Octoblu supports all four of these protocols as first-class platform communications protocols. In fact, we allow devices speaking any one of these protocols to communicate with devices speaking the same or different protocols. We also support Bluetooth, BLE, AllJoyn, and many other native device communication protocols via our open source software gateway called Gateblu.

Each of these protocols have pros and cons. Depending on the use case, one protocol will continue to be better than another protocol. I do not see a consolidation of protocols on the horizon, but rather, even more protocols entering the market to connect and route via our platform.

If we were to focus on one industry market segment, where and how do you think IoT will be benefit the manufacturing segment?

IoT will benefit the manufacturing segment in many ways. Robots will reduce labor costs and improve quality. IoT will track inventory and improve just-in-time ordering processes and discounts. IoT will add transparency into the process for customers and possibly even allow for custom orders (e.g., names on shoes, etc.).

In a slightly different segment, we were speaking to a vineyard owner a few weeks ago. She is interested in using Octoblu to monitor the health of her vines (control water, shade, soil nutrients, etc.). She is also interested in adding temperature, humidity, and GPS sensors to the bins of grapes for tracking purposes. As the grapes go to the winery, the bottlers would know which grape bin had optimal growing conditions and transportation conditions and fermenting conditions. This would allow the winery to identify “reserve” bottles as they are corked and labeled which will ultimately add more gross profit to the company and a better customer experience. This is a great example where the results significantly exceed the costs to IoT-enable a vineyard/winery.

Do you have any final thoughts?

IoT will have a bigger impact on business than the Industrial Revolution! Based on current predictions, there will be 1 trillion connected devices in 2030. That’s a device for every 6 square feet of land on Earth!

There are new breeds of sensors (such as EnOcean) that do not require batteries for power. Sensors and embedded computers are getting smaller, more powerful, and energy efficient. In the near future, everything *will* be connected.

While we may not have flying cars in the next 10 years, our world is starting to look more and more like the Jetsons Cartoon Series every day.  

Chris Matthieu
Director of IoT (Internet of Things) Engineering
Citrix