Sunday, December 5, 2021

Internet of Things (IoT) Q&A with Christine Boles at Intel: Understanding the Intelligent Edge

As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to grow across industries, tech companies and their enterprise clients are working to find IoT networking and computing solutions that improve connectivity and low latency. 

Intel is advancing its IoT offerings by deeply engaging with and developing an intelligent edge computing infrastructure. 

See below to learn about some of the conversations happening in IoT today from Christine Boles, VP of the Internet of Things Group (IOTG) and general manager of the Industrial Solutions Division at Intel:

Christine Boles Christine Boles, VP of the Internet of Things Group (IOTG) and general manager of the Industrial Solutions Division at Intel

Christine Boles’ organization is responsible for Intel’s Industrial Edge business within the manufacturing, energy, logistics, and commercial building sectors, including the product and ecosystem strategies for this rapidly evolving space. 

Boles joined Intel in 1992 as an application engineer for 16-bit microcontrollers. For over 25 years, she has led the development, delivery, and enabling of customers and ecosystems for Intel-based solutions in multiple leadership roles. These solutions span a broad range of embedded and Internet of Things applications across many sectors, including communications, storage, retail, imaging, and commercial buildings. 

She holds a BS in electrical engineering from the University of Cincinnati and an MBA from Arizona State University.

More on IIoT: Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) Market Size & Forecast

Internet of Things Q&A

IoT as a Career

Datamation: How did you first get started in or develop an interest in the Internet of Things?

Boles: I joined Intel almost 30 years ago at our Chandler, Arizona location in the Embedded Products Division as an application engineer for 16-bit microcontrollers. During my tenure at Intel, I’ve had the opportunity to help our customers design Intel’s products into their solution; drive product management, including ecosystems for our solutions, addressing a range of market segments, such as communications, automotive, and retail; serve as technical assistant and chief of staff to one of our global Fabrication Manufacturing executives; and am currently leading Intel’s Industrial Solutions Division. 

While the term Internet of Things has emerged in the last several years, my career has been building to this from embedded systems to now intelligent and connected systems across a range of industries. Thus, my interest and experience have continued to grow and expand with the evolution of the industry and the new possibilities each day.

Datamation: What makes Intel a unique place to work?

Boles: Everything. Intel is a company and brand founded on innovation and technological growth. We pride ourselves in having some of the best and brightest in the world, and our leading-edge technology is transforming the world we live in. In addition, we are fortunate to have an outstanding technology innovator CEO, Pat Gelsinger, who is relentlessly reinvigorating our investment in manufacturing and semiconductor product leadership. Plus, Intel’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is industry-leading and makes this an incredible place to work.

More on edge computing: The Pros and Cons of Edge Computing

Developing a Strong IoT Strategy

Datamation: What sets Intel’s IoT solutions or approach apart from the competition?

Boles: At Intel, we are investing in cutting-edge technology that is driving innovation and industry transformation as well as solving specific customer business challenges. We are actively listening to our customers, particularly industry-specific customers, such as manufacturers, retailers, health care providers, and more, to better understand their pain points and their biggest obstacles to growth or meeting their customer needs. 

We focus our efforts and drive innovation to solve these challenges — expanding our areas of innovation and utilizing the breadth of Intel’s edge, networking, and cloud products and technologies to address our customers and the industry’s needs. 

Within our Internet of Things Group and specifically the Industrial Solutions Division that I lead, we are enabling a more intelligent edge, supporting enterprises that are moving to the edge, so they can capture more data, analyze it faster, and act on it sooner. For example, we are taking analytics to the edge and helping manufacturers automate and enhance critical quality-control processes in their factories. 

By creating a data-driven platform solution, they are able to reduce human error and ensure products are built with even more accuracy and precision. 

Datamation: What do you think makes an IoT platform or product successful?

Boles: The key in deployments, such as in factories where my team focuses, is a clear return on investment, operational acceptance, and scalability of the solution. As first deployments happen, the solution must provide easy implementation and a clear understanding of the benefits being provided. 

As the benefits are seen, the management will look to scale it, thus the need for proven solutions that scale, such as Intel’s ecosystem of market-ready solutions. With that said, even if the ROI is there and the solution is scalable, we find it is critical that the solution works within the operations workflow for its acceptance.

Datamation: How can the average company affordably integrate IoT automation and other efficiencies into their business?

Boles: Often, IoT automation solutions are deployed where much effort has already been placed for a particular problem area and further ROI can only be achieved through automation. For example, there is a limit to the accuracy that a human can provide for an inspection process as well as ergonomic concerns. These types of situations are ripe for automation to improve accuracy, product quality, and worker safety. 

We have seen this in multiple manufacturing industries for defect detection, including textile, die-cast components, and automotive. One specific defect detection that we are helping industry solution providers solve for manufacturers is weld defect detection, where they can use machine vision to detect and adjust the robotic welder in real-time.

Datamation: How can companies provide security for industrial IoT infrastructure?

Boles: Providing security for any infrastructure requires consideration and implementation of multiple layers, such as hardware root of trust, provisioning of devices, access control, data security in the system, and data security in transit, to name a few. Intel works with industry standards and with our ecosystem of partners to bring best-known practices into solutions utilizing Intel platforms. As an example, we worked with the FIDO Alliance and several other companies to define and release an open standard for secure device onboarding.

Datamation: What are the top networking and infrastructure challenges that companies face when trying to build their IoT strategy?

Boles: This past year-plus, we had a dramatic shift to limited on-site access and needed remote access to operational information or system experts. While “remote operations” has been a discussion and goal in the industrial sector for some time, there was not an urgency to solve for it, because it required possible fundamental changes in the operations of industrial environments. 

As an example, from our engagement and studies with global manufacturing companies, they have recognized investment in their networking and infrastructure is critical to bring more IT capabilities to their operations platforms. This is one area that we focus on in order to help our ecosystem of solution providers bring a more open platform approach, utilizing the range of assets from Intel edge to cloud to the operations technology area. This will allow them to address the industry needs of remote access and managed operations platforms.

Understanding the edge for your business: How Does Edge Computing Work & What Are the Benefits?

Trends in Industrial IoT

Datamation: What do you think are some of the top trends in industrial IoT right now? What platforms and/or devices do you find to be the most compelling?

Boles: Industrial organizations are on an accelerated path to realizing the factory of the future, driven in part by their desire to be more agile and resilient; they are seeking ways to leverage data more effectively. Catalyzed by both new and historic challenges, the demand for transformative, data-driven technology applications, like artificial intelligence (AI), IoT, and automation, is higher than it has ever been. Organizations now recognize just how critical it is to be able to foresee disruptions on the horizon and respond promptly and decisively. 

From a severely interrupted supply chain and unprecedented labor shortages to rapidly changing customer demands and the ability to extract actionable insights from data using AI and machine learning (ML) applications, we at Intel see these developments not just as pain points, but also as areas of transformational need. 

Another global trend that is very important is the convergence of information technology, operation technology (OT), and communications technology, especially because it enables the vision of software-defined industrial systems for self-organizing, flexible production flow, self-aware production systems, and collaborative machines with the enabled connected worker. 

The prevailing vision of the “factory of the future” is a combination of standardized connectivity, deterministic control, advanced compute, and AI.​ A platform that supports an infrastructure converging OT, IT, and CT will not only result in a lower total cost of ownership but also makes an ideal choice for future services innovation. 

Datamation: What do you think we’ll see more of in the IoT space in the next 5-10 years?

Boles: Over the last couple of years, we have seen some dramatic changes in our manufacturing customers’ technology investment strategies, and we are expecting this trend to continue. With labor shortages throughout virtually every industry, our customers are accelerating their investment focus on networking and connectivity upgrades, cloud capabilities, and industrial automation. 

These technology investments are addressing our customers’ challenges and, hence, are focused on increasing resilience and productivity, worker safety, and remote work. Intel continues to lead the industrial transformation and continues to be the springboard for transformative solutions that improve business outcomes. For example, we will continue to see Intel’s Intelligent Edge platforms, across all industrial market segments, to enable compute augmentation and connectivity in unprecedented ways. 

Intel’s foundational edge inference and machine vision development environment and reference designs, applicable across multiple industries, will continue to enable our manufacturing solution providers to automate quality assurance processes using machine vision to detect flaws that are not visible to the human eye in real-time — while also enabling fully autonomous retail stores through computer vision, autonomous mobile robots that help warehouse operators manage the explosive growth in e-commerce orders, meet consumer expectations for rapid delivery, and medical diagnostic imaging powered by AI.

Datamation: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you, your colleagues, and/or your clients’ approach to IoT solutions?

Boles: The pandemic has greatly accelerated the need for companies to complete their Industry 4.0 transformations with solutions that allow them to have more flexibility, visibility, and efficiency in their operations. We have seen accelerated adoption of AI solutions that help address that need, including machine learning, machine vision, and advanced analytics. We’ve also seen a significant uptick in investment in the foundational OT infrastructure with more IT capabilities to allow the broad ecosystem of players to deploy these solutions.

See more on IIoT: Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) Use Cases

An Expert Perspective on the Market

Datamation: How have you seen the IoT solutions market change since you first started? How have the technologies, services, conversations, and people changed over time?

Boles: When the industry started to talk about the Internet of Things, much of the conversation and focus was on connecting to the things and getting to the data. At the time, many talked about all the information needing to go to the cloud for “big data” analysis. Of course, there is a need for big data analysis and correlation between multiple data sets, but there has recently been a recognition of the need for computing and intelligence at the edge. 

There were also a lot of proof of concepts several years ago that showed the value and the return on investment, but the solutions did not scale easily. The focus now, from a technology perspective, is on edge computing, connectivity, and AI. At Intel, we focus on working with the breadth of our ecosystem to bring solutions that address the needs, bring the benefits, and can scale.

Datamation: How do you stay knowledgeable about trends in the market? What resources do you like?

Boles: I use a myriad of sources, from news articles to journals. In addition, we partner with key industry analysts to hear their insights on market trends and industry information. We also conduct our own studies to learn directly from industry-specific customers on their challenges and where they are investing. And I learn the most by engaging directly with manufacturers, utilities, and the breadth of our ecosystem partners.

Datamation: With the shortage of qualified talent in the tech world, how is Intel finding and recruiting qualified candidates for your IoT teams?

Boles: Sourcing talent at Intel is a team effort; we have an incredible Intel recruiting team. Intel is also active with our education community to develop tech talent. As one example, in 2020, Intel partnered with the Maricopa County Community College and the Arizona Commerce Authority to launch the first Intel-designed artificial intelligence associate degree program — aimed to enable tens of thousands of students to land careers in high-tech fields. In August of this year, we announced a broad expansion of this program at 18 community colleges across 11 states.

Resources for big data career advancement: Top Big Data Certifications and Courses to Advance Your Career

Outside of Work

Datamation: What do you like to do in your free time outside of work?

Boles: I love spending time with my family and especially seeing my children participate in a range of activities. Personally, I enjoy the outdoors and for the hot Arizona summers, I often have a range of projects and books in flight.

Datamation: If you had to work in any other industry or role, what would it be and why?

Boles: I realized early in my career that I love seeing technology applied to solve real problems. I also quickly learned how much I enjoy working with customers and ultimately driving business results. So, while I can do that in a different industry, right now I have an incredible role, working with an incredible team and with partners across Intel and the industry. And we are applying technology to address real industry challenges, which is helping transform an industry. 

Datamation: What do you consider the best part of your workday or workweek?

Boles: Working with incredible, talented people around the globe!

Datamation: What are you most proud of in your professional and/or personal life?

Boles: For colleagues whom I had a small part in their career through teams that I led or individuals that I mentored, I am proudest to see them soar to new opportunities and new heights!

Learn about key players working on the intelligent edge: Top Edge Computing Companies

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