Internet of Things comes of age

Posted on 1 Mar 2017 by Jonny Williamson

Jonny Williamson provides an overview of IBM’s new global headquarters for its Watson Internet of Things (IoT) business in Munich, Germany.

Ecosystem, collaboration and integration. Those were the words I heard most while taking a tour of IBM’s impressive new Watson Internet of Things (IoT) Centre, and characterise the very real approach the technology leviathan has adopted.

The 15,000m2 Munich Watson IoT Centre is IBM’s first European Watson lab - image courtesy of IBM.
The 15,000m2 Munich Watson IoT Centre is IBM’s first European Watson lab – image courtesy of IBM.

The new headquarters represents IBM’s largest single European investment in more than two decades, totalling close to US$200m, and it’s easy to see where the money has been spent. More than a dozen floors have been fitted out with the very latest technology and tools needed to create the products and services that deliver on the promise of cognitive IoT, not to mention some of the sharpest talent currently working in this space.

IBM’s vision is to bring all associated competencies under one roof in an effort to compress innovation and development cycles, a move inspired by, and will no doubt itself increase, the tremendous pace of advancement in the ultra-competitive IoT space.

Interestingly, the building itself is around a decade old so offers an excellent facsimile of how others could effectively retrofit and implement IoT Watson into existing structures. In the words of one IBMer, the building had been ‘IoTised’, short-hand for describing how an embedded cognitive infrastructure makes the building smarter.

Everything from climate control to hot-desking, comfort to space utilisation is controlled using a combination of voice-activation or wall-mounted panels, with a mobile app currently under development offering a host of further functions.

Appropriately described as a ‘campus environment’, the centre is presently home to 300 IoT developers, researchers, designers and engineers, with a target of 1,000 set to be reached in the near future. As well as numerous ‘IBMers’, the building is – or at least will shortly be – home to five co-located research and development teams seconded from within IBM’s partner organisations.

Robotics is a way of providing Watson with 'arms and legs' - image courtesy of IBM.
Robotics is a way of providing Watson with ‘arms and legs’ – image courtesy of IBM.

To date, these include BMW (the first of such key partners, announced late last year); IT distributor AV Net; banking group BNP Paribas; technology consulting business Capgemini, and software service provider Tech Mahindra (all announced in February 2017).

Demonstrating the cross-sector, multi-industry impact IBM expects the Internet of Things to have, it has also announced collaborations with the likes of payment giant Visa; global engineering firm Bosch; imaging and electronics company Ricoh; French railways operator SCNF; drone manufacturer Aerialtronics; Arrow Electronics, and crowdfunding platform Indiegogo.

“We have reached a tipping point with IoT innovation; we now have over 6,000 clients and partners around the world, many of whom are now wanting to join us in our new global Watson IoT centre to co-innovate,” explained Harriet Green, general manager, IBM Watson IoT, Cognitive Engagement and Education.

“Together we are building a new global IoT innovation ecosystem that will explore how cognitive and Internet of Things technologies will transform industries and our daily lives.”