There's a lot happening in the exciting world of enterprise resource management and asset tracking—AT&T is getting into the sensor-based networking game, and IBM just launched software to aggregate and analyze the vast quantities of data from RFID tags and sensors, to name two of the bigger names involved.
It's All About the Economics
So why the fuss? Why the rash of partnerships involving RFID, GPS, wireless sensor networks, and data mining techniques? As far as I can tell it's a confluence of technology developments meeting economic pressures. Quite simply, the push is on to get the most out of whatever assets you have, whatever industry you're in. In our increasingly mobile world, that means tracking where your vehicles, cargo containers, raw materials, deliveries, or people are at any given time and trying to use that data to be as efficient as possible. You may have wanted to track these things before, but now you need to do so—whether it's to control costs, identify opportunities, or beat the competition.
Similarly, there's been a move from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance in the manufacturing world. Rather than swapping out parts in case they might fail, companies are increasingly installing sensors on their equipment to spot the early signs of trouble. This doesn't just have the effect of preventing unplanned downtime, it also lets you get the most possible use out of your machinery.
I suspect that some of these trends are going to start trickling down to the general populace as we start dealing with global warming. Conservation of energy is a critical part of any attempt to stem the climate change wrought by global warming, but to conserve energy, you first have to figure out where you're using it, how much, and when. Whether it's utility companies or states, cities or countries, they're all going to need to gather and analyze data to make their decisions. Work is already afoot to develop and implement so-called intelligent electricity meters that communicate energy use back to the utilities. In fact, according to a September, 2006 posting on ZDNet's IT Facts blog, quoting a Berg Insight research study, some 35% of Swedish electric meters will be connected to mobile networks, and intelligent metering solutions in the European energy sector will total 3.5 billion euros until 2010.