Ambient Computing and the Internet of Things

by Sal Faizi, Sr. Consultant

Ambient computing is becoming increasingly important as it allows organizations to stay competitive in innovative ways. Gartner predicts that “by 2020, the installed base of IoT devices will exceed 26 billion units worldwide.” Ambient computing uses an ecosystem of Internet-connected “Things” or IoT. The Things are sensors, machines, smart devices etc. that signal a change and act as triggers.

Such an ecosystem presents revolutionary opportunities in many areas of our daily lives. We will discuss examples from the medical industry and the care of the elderly as well as another example of how supply chain operations can be transformed (see Process Orchestration below). First, let’s consider an example of elderly care.

One third of Americans aged 65+ experience a fall each year. These falls are a leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries, and time spent immobile after a fall often affects seniors’ health outcomes as muscle cells start to break down in as little as 30 minutes after falling. About half of older adults who fall cannot get up on their own; therefore, it is crucial for help to arrive as soon as possible. To further complicate this matter, the proportion of the population over the age of 65 will increase from 12.7% in 2000 to 20.3% in 2050 in the US, and to 30% in Europe. The best way to deal with this growing trend is to take advantage of technology such as ambient computing. A medical-grade human pose detector akin to the Xbox Kinect can detect a fall and also whether the patient has taken medication, eaten his or her meal, etc. A variety of physical activities could be recorded and acted upon allowing fewer caregivers to provide care to a growing population.

Ultimately, it is not just activity detection that is important, but rather acting upon these alerts. This is where the true power of ambient computing lies. In order to maximize value from ambient computing, organizations must move their focus beyond physical devices to analysis of the data collected from them. To maximize success, a framework is necessary for ambient computing to garner real-time, actionable insights from IoT.

By addressing all major areas of ambient computing, an organization can maximize the impact of ambient computing to their business. The framework consists of the following stages:




Each stage has a specific goal.

  • Collection: Collecting and integrating information from a variety of Things or devices from a variety of manufacturers with standard or proprietary data exchange
  • Analytics: Performing analytics to determine data trends and device behavior alone and in conjunction with other devices to detect and predicting impact
  • Process Orchestration: Applying an end-to-end process orchestration to determine process control to respond to the impact in real-time. Often this allows detecting and correcting trends before they materialize into issues
  • Security: Applying information security discipline to keep the system safe and to prevent tampering

Intelligence can be brought to almost any scenario with recent advances in smart devices, sensors, and ubiquitous connectivity. The possibilities of ambient computing are seemingly endless with the users at the center.


Sensor and IoT data is rich in variety, volume, or velocity. Variety comes from the many protocols and formats used by IoT devices. All this data must be collated and consumed in an integrated fashion. Data arriving from IoT tends to be voluminous. Consider a smart thermostat that transmits temperature data every 30 seconds. There are several thermostats on each floor of a building, times the number of buildings an organization has. Data arrives not only in high volume but also at high velocity. Data with variety, velocity, and volume is a natural fit for big data.


Once data is collected, transformed and integrated comes the important step of analytics. By applying analytics, important insights can be harvested. For example, the treatment path a patient is expected take after arriving at a hospital, or projecting and preparing to meet the power demand from a customer base whose houses are equipped with smart electric power meters.

Process Orchestration

The next stage of ambient computing involves orchestrating the process based on insights and signals obtained from the data through analytics. Some process orchestration could be performed with human interactions, while some could be performed automatically by ambient computing. For example, supply chain operations could make leaps in progress by integrating consumer sentiment on social media, current inventory levels, consumer purchasing habits, and analyzing this information to better match supply with demand.

Visualization is an extremely important element of process orchestration via human interaction. A smartly designed dashboard that presents information in an easy to understand format, puts clearer optics on the business.


The more Things there are in an IoT network, the more pathways there will be with each pathway presenting a risk of being compromised. Thus, security is an important consideration for keeping the network safe and away from intruders. Consider how data access is allowed for each individual Thing, how securely data is stored, how data is transported, and how the access is traced etc.


Ambient computing scenarios involve not just connectivity and interoperability, but also advanced levels of orchestration and analytics. It involves sophisticated but simple user experiences. Ambient computing opens new possibilities for organization. However, a successful implementation requires an approach based on principles of Agile, Business Intelligence, Project Management and experience in dealing with ambiguity. Such an approach can mean the difference between success and failure of a new and critical technology like ambient computing.