Break it Down: A Billion Points of Data

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April’s Topic: A Billion Points of Data

Gary McTall

Gary McTall, GovSense- Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer

Connect: LinkedIn & Twitter

I’m addicted to tech and innovation. By day, I lead a team of great developers and consultants in building the first unified cloud ERP for government, GovSense, and by night, I tinker with home automation powered by the Internet of Things. As my wife Ashley will tell you, I can’t turn off nerding out. What initially drew me to the Internet of Things (IoT) was the amazing opportunity to automate my personal life, increase energy efficiency while cutting costs in my home, and most of all, have fun. Initially, I purely saw IoT as a way to improve automation through connected devices in my home, but I saw my position evolve as we began see thought-provoking IoT use cases for government.

I began my IoT journey with a few simple use cases:

  • I wanted to improve energy efficiency: How do I make sure all of the lights my son turned on throughout the day were shut off before we went to bed? It was a fun game (for him at least) we played from age 2-3.
  • Security: How do I make it look like someone is home, even when we are not? Standard light timers are set on a specific schedule, do not adjust for DST, and very few work well with outdoor lights.

Solving these issues were pretty simple with a Wemo from Belkin, so I decided to take my adventure to level 2. Living the in the south, summers are nearly unbearable. Heat and humidity are brutal, so my next goal was to control the power-hogs of the house – HVAC  units.  Nest was a logical solution. The easy to use, learnable device has an API, so I coupled these with my Nest smoke alarms to bring an integrated approach to self-aware automation.

From a use case perspective, my goals were:

  1. My Nest should be smart enough to detect if family members were upstairs or downstairs so that we were not using energy to heat or cool an area not being utilized.
  2. I need to know if I am getting my return on investment from the Nest. (FYI, it did in less than a  year)
  3. I wanted to be notified, in real-time, of movement or emergencies while away.

Enter IFTTT (IF THIS THEN THAT) – a framework that connects consumer-based applications through an easy to use, rules-based interface. By leveraging their interface, I was able to bring true home automation in all of my IoT devices, regardless of the silo. Some example “recipes” I implemented were:

  1. At sunset, turn on external lights.
  2. At sunset + 4 hours, turn off all lights (if not already off).
  3. If motion detected (and temperature threshold > x), exit away mode and initiate Air Conditioning.
  4. Nest, enter away mode if car (via Automatic) > 5 miles from home.
  5. Nest, text me if in Extended Away mode and experience motion.
  6. Text and email me in the event of a smoke alarm.

After analyzing the six use cases above and the successful outcomes leveraging the cloud, I quickly realized that many local governments experience similar challenges on a daily basis. Unfortunately, most communities are stuck with stagnant, inflexible point solutions that solve a unique problem and do not integrate well with others.

Enter embracing and leveraging the Internet of Things to build Smarter Communities:

A Forbes article released last year speaks volumes about the current state of IoT and why it should matter to community leaders. In this article, Bernard Marr documents that although ATMs are considered one of the first IoT objects, still 87 percent of people have not heard of the term “Internet of Things.” Furthermore, this year there will be more than 4.9 billion connected devices and by 2020, it is expected to exceed 50 billion.  With that being said, there is a tremendous opportunity to empower communities to learn and adapt faster for citizens and customers.

So how do we begin?

Samir Saini, CIO of the City of Atlanta, is very passionate about this subject. Recently he shared his thoughts on building smarter cities on a local tech-driven television show in Atlanta, Atlanta Tech Edge. In his interview, he highlights three specific actions where the City of Atlanta leverages IoT to make a smarter city.

  • Traffic Lights — Improve traffic flow through intelligent, real-time analysis of traffic patterns that are being reported automatically to a centralized data center.
  • Smart-Lights – Have streetlights report when they are out of service, rather than waiting for constituents to report the outage. Also create the ability for lights to dim, brighten, or even change color on-demand or through a rules-based/usage engine.
  • Smart Parking – View all available parking spots, reserve, and pay all through your personal IoT device.

Noting that these seem like big, high-impact initiatives, I wanted to learn more about how the City of Atlanta approached these initiatives. I’m proud to say that my personal experience in home automation aligned perfectly with Samir’s much larger scaled approach. In both, framework is key. Of course, you must understand the problem (through a model like OGSM) but without the technology, the ability to scale, and the capability to analyze the data, your project will fail.  Leveraging secure, true-cloud solutions allows you to do all of these things.

One of my favorite use cases for IoT + Big Data comes out of Redlands, California via Esri. Leveraging another true-cloud solution, ArcGIS Online provides communities with the framework to collect, store, and analyze mass amounts of data in the cloud.

For Collection: Esri provides the framework for communities to collect data on IoT devices, empower citizens to submit data via an app on their IoT device, or have IoT devices automatically communicate via WebAPIs. A great example of this is the collector app series.

For Storage: We value our relationship with Esri because of how closely our technology initiatives align and how they offer so many tools to communities across the world. GovFramework by GovSense is built on a world-class platform built to scale, supporting 30,000 organizations and 168 billion application requests. The same can be said for Esri ArcGIS Online as it is designed from the ground up to automatically scale to meet peak periods of demand, all day, every day. A great video by Esri shows how they are able to store more than 1 billion transactions a month and is a great example of ensuring the data captured by IoT devices is scalable.

For Analysis: The challenge you will experience after implementing most IoT initiatives is how your team will effectively analyze the data you have collected. Analyzing a million or billion data points is a tremendous challenge. One of my favorite quotes on Big Data is from Jennifer Priestley, Director of the Data Science program at Kennesaw State University, “Big Data is just Data! What Big Data implies is you don’t have the proper tools to analyze it quickly.”  With that being said, Esri has an amazing product on the horizon called Insights for ArcGIS. This tool allows a mere mortal to analyze large data sets through easy to use, drag and drop interfaces.

The Internet of Things can be overwhelming as it is a lot of things to a lot of people (e.g. ATM à Street lights) but when embracing technology, you are able to relate consumer-based use cases to large-scale initiatives to build a smarter community.

Supplemental Reading