We’ve talked before about changes that come with new ways of thinking and waves of new technology. We also know that some of these are changes that completely rework how industries, economies, even whole societies are transformed. So, what can we predict about the Internet of Things (IoT), particularly the Industrial IoT? It’s becoming clearer just how big this shift will be. So, how do we need to think about or do things differently? Standing at the start of the industrial revolution it was probably pretty difficult to predict just how far it would go, how much it would change everything. Does IoT have the same potential for change?
One of my favorite quotes about predicting the future comes from Sir William Preece, Chief Engineer of the British Post Office in 1876. Upon hearing about the invention of the telephone, Sir William said: “The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” Clearly, Sir William was stuck in his own present context and couldn’t envision the new one. As we learn more about the IoT and its potential, we can take a lesson from Sir William and not be too complacent about just what may happen next, or how accurately we can foresee it. But there are lots of plausible opinions.
Daniel Wellers is Strategy and Research Lead for SAP Portfolio Marketing. He imagines the future of the Internet of Things in a piece published on the World Economic Forum website. He writes: “We’ll do truly different things, instead of just doing things differently. Today’s processes and problems are only a small subset of the many, many scenarios possible when practically everything is instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent.”
A McKinsey report projects the economic value of IoT at $11 trillion by 2025. By then they expect it will touch every part of our lives, from smart cities to cars, farms, hospitals, and factories. That’s in line with comments and cautions from Robert Smith at the January Forum meeting “I prefer to call it the Internet of Everything,” he said, and, “We need not end up where technology takes us, but make sure it takes us where we want to go.” That session was titled “The Internet of Things Is Here”.
Well, it may be here, but not everywhere. There has been a good deal of consumer centered IoT activity ranging from smart watches to internet-connected homes. There are also some cautionary tales. Google, for example, was out in front with its purchase of Nest a “smart appliance company”. However, recently the founder of Nest resigned. The company had technical difficulties that generated public customer complaints. And Nest is not alone in that regard. What early adopters are discovering is the reality of a fractured marketplace and as yet unproven products. Smart homes do have promise. They just aren’t quite ready yet.
The industrial IoT is proving to be different. Several industry sectors have been early IoT adopters, Agriculture and Energy for example. In most locations, agriculture accounts for as much as 90% of water consumption, so, that’s a natural place to look for ways to achieve improved water management and sustainability. We know that water is a precious resource and that increasing water scarcity is a real threat to economic and social stability. Think California’s Central Valley where IoT technology is combining with new policies and infrastructures to help. For example, IoT-enabled irrigation systems keep track of soil conditions to automate watering and minimize waste. Farmers now have sensors available in everything from smart barns to tractors to cows. This is “precision farming” where resources are more efficiently managed and crop yields increase.
In the energy and utility sector IoT is being used to address the challenges of energy efficiency, aging infrastructure, and increasing demand. Utilities also must contend with government regulations, particularly around pollution controls. IoT is helping with data collection from meters, equipment, and the transmission grid. Sensors report on faulty transformers or trees interfering with power lines. They can monitor hard-to-access infrastructure and use predictive analytics to make decisions around maintenance and equipment upgrade.
There are examples of IoT adoption across major industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, and retail. A recent piece in the Boston Globe discussed the General Electric headquarters move to Boston, and “the potential to galvanize our Internet of Things industry cluster of businesses, to make us the leader in a still-emerging field that promises to connect machines big and small – in our homes, on our streets, in our factories – and transform them with the help of vast reams of data, that can be crunched instantly.” I don’t know if Boston will be the Silicon Valley of IoT, but I do know excitement is building. IoT is here.