Taking the Pulse: Edge

For organizations to thrive in this digital age, understanding what their customers need becomes critical. We surveyed IT decision makers around the globe to get their thoughts on how Edge computing can help them to do so.

By David Graham, Director, Emerging Technologies Messaging, Dell Technologies

Recently, Dell Technologies sent out a survey to 800 CIOs and IT Decision Makers in six countries to get a sense for how they viewed the Edge. Part of this census was to determine the role of the Edge in their corporate strategy as well as the likely use cases where the Edge and related technologies would apply. The results were tabulated and correlated to the various regions of the world where we had sampled from and today, we’d like to review some of the notable responses.

The Edge in the Next Five Years

When asked how they view the Edge in their 5-year forecasts, respondents identified 3 key areas: the Edge changing the IT landscape, making data more secure and paving the way for real-time, automated decision-making. Let’s unpack these a bit more.

While we are aware that the Edge has its roots grounded in operational technology (OT) for many years, with the recent shift away from centralized IT operations due to world events (and even workforce transformation before that), it’s the proliferation of connected devices that has brought this change to the fore. IT can no longer assume that desktops, laptops and cellular phones are within their purview; rather, additional sensors, pluggable devices and various technologies have become the operational center. This is the manifestation of the Edge made real.

Moving from the transformation of the IT landscape to the idea of data security, we find ourselves somewhat at odds with the generalized response of the Edge “making data more secure.”

However, this isn’t as contradictory as it may appear on the surface. While it is a foregone truth that the information explosion of the late 20th and early 21st century has led to a deluge of unsecure data, the fact that new Edge devices, be they sensors or integrated systems, are being developed with a security posture in mind is truly heartening. All is not perfect and, in a way, the idea that Edge data will be more secure seems antithetical to current practices and products. However, the knock-on effect of enacted privacy and regulator legislation, the development of confidential computing and systems as well as mitigations being researched and provided to manufacturers and customers around the world provide context that data security is foremost in Edge designs thinking.

Finally, the idea that the Edge will pave the way for real-time, automated decision making is fascinating. The deluge of data mentioned previously has given us a wealth of uncorrelated data: our customers, our access patterns, our “digital presence.” For organizations to thrive, understanding what their customers need becomes critical. Given some of the seismic shifts in our contemporary society, imagine how access to critical patient data, for example, can jumpstart diagnosis or treatment? Or how connected vehicles within a city can exchange data on traffic patterns and road works thus leading to reduced incidents while traveling. These type of use cases are just two of many and our customers are depending on this data to make actionable insights.

Keeping the idea of Edge data leading to new decision-making processes in mind, let’s discuss the other notable responses to our survey: Likely use cases.

Likely Use Cases for the Edge

Example use cases were provided to our participants, ranging from augmenting retail experiences to telehealth/telemedicine, to agriculture. The Edge will be the catalyst across a compendium of industries and verticals. The agriculture and telehealth/telemedicine responses, however, garnered the most attention. Let’s unpack these a bit.

Many respondents believed that the Edge will revolutionize farming with greenhouses and farms becoming fully automated. As noted previously, with the Edge poised to provide data to enabled real-time decision making, this logically falls into place. For example, being able to adjust the micro-climate of a greenhouse, based on a connected hygrometer’s data samples sent over NB-IOT or LoRa can increase crop yields and reduce time spent managing the growing process. The ability to adjust and react to dynamically shifting situations enables great agricultural output and thus, more food for those who need it.

Even more so than agriculture, our respondents viewed healthcare as another beneficiary of Edge innovation. Homing in on the data that the Edge provides, our respondents believed that analyzing the data generated at the Edge, through such devices as insulin pumps, wireless blood pressure cuffs, activity trackers, etc. would lead to quicker diagnoses and treatments. Given the changes we have seen in the world this year, this type of predictive diagnosis and treatment capability would no doubt have lasting effects on marginalized or underserved populations and represents a fantastic opportunity for social and technical transformation.

Realizing the Promise of the Edge

Having highlighted just a few notable responses, it’s clear to see that the Edge holds immense promise. From groundbreaking shifts from OT to IT, to the application of technology to solve human and machine problems, to the resulting transformation that will affect society and industry, the Edge is poised, like never before, to catalyze innovation and accelerate opportunity.