From TechCrunch to Forbes and across healthcare, analysts and pundits are talking about how edge computing will change how we work. But what IS edge computing?

Edge computing refers to moving processing closer to the origin of the data. Because smaller and smaller devices can process more and more information, data can often now be processed, not in the cloud, but inside an IoT (Internet of Things) device itself. The minute gains in speed that can be made by this relocation can add up to make a big difference.

Think about the way you sigh impatiently when your GPS recalculates. That lag is a little annoying, but it could be deadly if the data being processed is coming from your car’s blind-spot camera or your anti-lock brakes. It’s an imperfect metaphor, but the point is, when functions need to happen as soon as possible, it’s often best for them to happen on board.

Medical devices offer a great example of how edge computing will change our world. Consider an implanted device that can monitor blood chemistry and self-administer treatment in real time. This could change life for a patient with diabetes, for instance. You can see why devices like this can’t rely on spotty wireless connectivity and the cloud to evaluate data and make lifesaving decisions.

But wasn’t everyone just talking about how great the cloud was last year? Yes! And the accessibility of storage on that scale is as important — or more important — than ever. As in many other facets of business, though, we see a slow but steady swing between distribution and centralization. As processing power increases and storage devices shrink, we’re more able to reap the benefits of local processing — not instead of, but in addition to, cloud computing.

To me, one of the most intriguing elements of edge computing will be how it will leverage the secure sharing of Internet of Things data between devices,” says Jacob Shepherd, Intouch director of product development.

We are moving toward a world where everything is interconnected, and the systems that support IoT and edge computing must be secure and scalable. One solution, IOTA’s “tangle,” aims to be the “the backbone of IoT.” The IOTA tangle works in a fashion similar to blockchain but is decentralized and more scalable, making it possible for devices to collect, process, and analyze data, and share it securely with other devices nearby, all with zero transaction fees.

Will “edge computing” be in the title of anything that comes across your desk in 2018? Perhaps not directly. But it’s important to be aware of this decentralization. What was once impossible due to time lags and device size is increasingly possible.

Today, tiny devices can process and analyze data at speed all by themselves. Whether that’s what a medical device can accomplish, what a live conversation with an HCP is capable of demonstrating, or what a wearable can do for a patient in a trial or out in the world, edge computing will make you rethink your assumptions about what’s possible.


Parts of this post originally appeared in “The Health and Tech Trends that Will Shape Pharma Marketing in 2018.”