Technology decisions are business decisions. And the further technology evolves, the more organizations expect from IT in the way of business innovation. IT leaders’ roles have expanded, and the pressure is on to provide technologies that not only support efficient operations, but also leverage key data to deliver insights that will drive innovation and create a stronger competitive edge. But gathering, moving, managing and making meaning out of constantly changing, constantly growing data is a task that grows more complex each day. Complexities within the IT environment and resource limitations often slow the process, making it difficult to achieve fast, impactful results. All of this is changing with the intelligent edge.
The intelligent edge is revolutionizing our relationship to data, transforming feedback into insights into action in real time, or near to it. It enables companies to enrich user experiences and optimize business practices, creating new revenue opportunities and sharpening their competitive edge. Real-time data delivered through the intelligent edge is helping IT leaders meet the expectation of propelling innovation.
Forrester’s 2021 “Build Integrated Technology Platforms To Accelerate Growth And Agility” report tells IT leaders in the intermediate phase of technology maturity, “In this stage of technology maturity, innovate with technology to serve customers across the entire customer lifecycle, mastering systems of engagement and insight.”1 This is precisely what the intelligent edge allows us to do.
Understanding the intelligent edge
What is the intelligent edge?
To answer the question, “what is the intelligent edge?” first we need to define: “What is the edge?” The edge, in essence, is the modern term for what used to be known as “the network perimeter.” But as technologies and business models have evolved, no real perimeter exists in a world where devices, clouds and data centers connect remotely with dispersed devices and users. Now, we have the “modern edge,” comprised of traditional networks, cloud networking, Wi-Fi connectivity, 5G and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) connecting people, devices and data across a world of locations.
So what makes a modern edge an intelligent edge? The intelligent edge is a conceptual term referring to on-premises systems that collect, process and act upon data. Typically used within Internet of Things (IoT) arrays, the intelligent edge uses edge computing to reduce response times, bandwidth needs and security risks. Since all these actions are taken on premises, the data doesn’t need to be sent to the cloud or a data center to be processed.
In other words, the intelligent edge is any IT ecosystem that analyzes and applies data at or near the site where it is generated to improve efficiency and innovation.
Edge computing: The cornerstone of the intelligent edge
Edge computing is the “intelligent” component of the intelligent edge. Building powerful computation capabilities into edge devices enables the completion of computation tasks on premises as opposed to over the cloud. Whereas traditionally, IoT devices send data to the cloud for analysis, then back from the cloud to the device to be acted upon, edge devices perform this analysis on-site, removing the need to send the data back and forth.
Bringing this computing process closer to the source of the data minimizes the need for long-distance communications between client and server, improving response times and saving bandwidth usage, and enhancing internet devices and web applications. This improved process speed ultimately enables organizations to react almost instantaneously to needs, vulnerabilities, market changes, etc.
IoT at the edge
IoT devices such as cameras, sensors and other devices have traditionally been defined by limited processing, limited capabilities and singular functions, usually operating by sending the data they gather to a cloud platform for analysis and visualization to inform the user. This model has helped improve response times and increase efficiency, but its limitations in speed and scope make it impractical for more advanced use cases.
Intelligent edge IoT devices are characterized by centralizing the data at the point where it’s gathered, leveraging a traditional Operating System (OS) such as Windows or Linux to initiate actions, serving as the brains of the IoT solution. The intelligent edge model delivers autonomy to IoT devices, allowing them to record, process and address data on-site for accelerated efficiency and agility.
Why edge intelligence?
In Forrester’s Business Technographics Mobility Survey, 2020, participants were asked, “Which of the following do you believe are the biggest benefits to your organization’s using edge computing/technologies?” The top three responses are as follows:
- Flexibility to handle present and future artificial intelligence demands
- Collection and AI analysis of edge equipment help us empower our employees to drive higher and faster values
- Collecting input from mobile, IoT and other devices help us provide customers with real-time insights for greater values2
In short, the rationale for adopting edge technology is the implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) for employee and customer insights in real time.
Four benefits of the intelligent edge
Edge technology enables users to leverage four distinct benefits to accomplish the above.
First is faster actionability, due to real-time engagement with AI allowing remote response to feedback instantly or near-instantly. Next is functionality without internet connectivity — because the data doesn’t need to go anywhere to be acted on, it can be leveraged for certain use cases even with no internet connection. Third, edge technology supports better data aggregation to the cloud, as bringing data closer to home allows users to optimize cloud use and ensure only what’s necessary lives in the cloud.
The fourth benefit may be surprising: Edge technology is often very cost-effective. With its ability to create substantial ROI, coupled with lowering cost curves, edge computing is a game changer. The cost of computing, and more importantly, the expenses tied to bandwidth and intelligent technologies have all been lowering. These drops in expenditures are enabling the whole underlying cost structure of IT, meaning it’s becoming increasingly cost-effective to do things at the edge, at a very local level. Edge computing can also reduce IT costs by keeping cloud storage under control. When you analyze and assess what has to happen at the edge, you send (and store) only necessary data to the cloud or to your private cloud — all other extraneous data is immediately discarded.
Leveraging the intelligent edge: Applications and use cases
As edge enables more real-time, intelligent decision-making, companies will begin to expand their cloud strategies to include IoT edge cloud, 5G mobile edge cloud and global network edge cloud. The interest is already there, and the use cases are there to prove it.
Edge computing use cases
A host of previously existing technology has been enabling more actionable data insights for years, from IoT devices like drones, thermometers and sensors to operational technologies, image analytics, AI and ML, and more. With edge computing, these technologies become even more powerful. The immediacy with which edge computing enables insights to become actions is enabling radical results across all types of industries worldwide, for example:
Energy: Edge computing provides technicians with remote access to solar panels and wind turbines to gather critical data and instantly adjust to conditions.
Transportation: Edge computing enables automatic traffic responses from streetlights and message boards and makes it possible to conduct remote inspections of roadways and railways safely and without disruption of traffic.
Retail: Edge computing supports daily inventory checks, reducing manual labor and human error and improving the customer experience.
Globally, the intelligent edge is driving transformation across the entire spectrum of verticals, impacting business processes, health outcomes, community resources and more. Just a few of the industries in which we’re seeing incredible advancements in edge applications include:
- Agriculture: Smart farming, remote monitoring for waste reduction and sustainability
- Manufacturing: Factory networks, plant efficiency, asset monitoring
- Utilities: Remote access management, automation, substations
- Healthcare: Medical asset tracking, temperature tracking, patient monitoring, wayfinding
- Transportation: Roadways and intersections, rail, mass transit, airports
- Connected cities: Smart lighting, waste management, safety, security, public connectivity
Insight has already completed work with several clients to help them adopt advanced edge technologies leveraging edge computing and IoT for business improvements and innovations. In one instance, a smart vaccine fridge is helping healthcare organizations save on human resources costs and reimbursements and prevent vaccine spoilage while supporting improved inventory management. In another, a railroad company wanted to enhance its maintenance process and improve rail safety for its workers, so our team helped create a drone-based computer vision solution using IoT edge processing to prioritize images that indicate the need for maintenance.
Intelligent edge complexity and considerations
An intelligent edge solution is a complex endeavor to plan, implement and maintain. In fact, according to Gartner, “50% of edge computing solutions that worked as proofs of concept will fail to scale for production issues.”3 Complexity, security, resources, support and cost are common challenges for organizations looking to stand up an intelligent edge solution. To reduce complexity, consider implementing standardization across both hardware and operating systems for your edge solutions.
Standardizing on hardware
Similar hardware is predictable. For the most efficient performance, choose hardware that’s easy to manage and replace — the ability to hot swap with a quickly deployed device from a device lifecycle provider is highly recommended.
Standardizing on operating systems
A standardized OS will be easier to keep up to date, but before you implement any OS, you should already have a plan in place for maintaining updates. A standardized OS also offers more easily standardized security solutions and security management. Custom IoT solutions are a part of many intelligent edge strategies; ensure these will require minimal OS adaption to be fully functional.
How to get started
Having a strategic and secure edge ecosystem protects and accelerates an organization’s ability to innovate. Partnering with an experienced solutions provider like Insight can help you discover what your organization’s unique intelligent edge could, and should, look like.
Partnering with Insight for your journey to the intelligent edge gives you expert resources for every stage of the process, from idea to Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to full-scale deployment.
- Envisioning workshops from Insight Cloud + Data Center Transformation (CDCT) can help you discover use cases, requirements and success criteria for productive pilot projects.
- Insight Labs can work with you to create secure images and processes for IoT edge devices and assist with integration with your monitoring and update systems.
- When it comes time for rollout, Insight’s Digital Innovation and Connected Workforce teams have all the resources to help you determine the scale of your production and facilitate deployment.
- And when your intelligent edge solutions are in full force, Insight’s teams offer a host of services for ongoing monitoring, administration and optimization.
1 Build Integrated Technology Platforms To Accelerate Growth And Agility, Forrester Research, Inc., March 11, 2021.
2 Business Technographics® Mobility Survey, Forrester Research, Inc., July 2020.
3 Gartner, Tech Providers 2025: The Future of Edge, Joe Skorupa, Sylvain Fabre, Thomas Bittman, Ephraim Baron, 5 October 2020.