There are times when a sleepy late-night hunger attack may cause some of us to speak to our refrigerators, loudly if that last piece of blueberry pie has gone missing. But do we expect the fridge to talk back? Someday it might. For now, most of us are content that our appliances stay quiet. In fact, only about a third of survey responses show interest in “The Digital Home.” And that interest is primarily in fire detection, security, and energy monitoring. So it isn’t surprising that the sleepy pace of consumer adoption for the Internet of Things (IOT) may have masked growing business adoption. Big time business adoption.
Yes, the idea of IOT has been around for a few decades, but only in the last few years, using newly integrated technologies, has this network of objects rapidly evolved. If you blinked, you could have easily missed the shift. Now, however, the intersection of embedded systems, wireless sensors, and automated controls, has led to predictions of 50 billion unique Internet-connected objects by 2020. It will encompass computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors contained in cars, streetlights, buildings, medical devices, even cows. We can expect more intricate smart grids, smart cities, smart transportation, smart homes and wearable devices collecting data that will integrate the physical world into computer-based systems. The general purpose is to improve efficiencies, provide immediate and accurate data and increase economic advantages. And for many of us it will feel a bit like Science Fiction come to life; growing machine dominance.
Waves of Data
Even as consumers have been mostly skeptical of the value, industrial IOT has spread quickly. Although it’s in early stages, impacts are being made across multiple business sectors, and it’s big money. Gartner estimates IOT services spending in the range of $235 billion by the end of 2016. That means enormous and constant waves of new data. Initially, that data will be used to improve internal business efficiencies. But, going forward, it is quickly expected to help create new services and new revenues streams supported by all that data from IOT devices. So, where will all the data go? How will it be managed? How long must it be stored? Where?
PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts the coming extent of IOT change in their report: The Future of the Internet of Things:
“IoT is transforming the everyday physical objects that surround us into an ecosystem of information that will enrich our lives. From refrigerators to parking spaces to houses, the IoT is bringing more and more things into the digital fold every day, which will likely make the IoT a multi-trillion dollar industry.”
Verizon has issued a “State of the Market: Internet of Things 2016” report that presents IOT as already mainstream. They say it has gone beyond project stage and in several key industries has seen growth of 26 to 58% in just one year. It’s more than wearables like smart watches and fitness trackers. It’s moisture management in vineyards, city streetlight controls, manufacturing operations and farming for oysters off Cape Cod. It’s also the start of billions of investment in R&D, testing, and deployment. It’s the promise of developing new business models and better competitive differentiation.
Gartner has recognized the significance of IOT growth with the appointment of a Vice President, Internet of Things. His name is Jim Tully, and he’s based in the UK. During an interview posted on the Gartner website, he acknowledged that many businesses are still unclear on just how IOT will help them. They see some cool new technology but are unclear on how it fits their business goals. Also, because IOT represents a new class of machine-generated image and technical data, it isn’t clear what platforms are required to manage it. How will it be aggregated and then absorbed into existing applications and systems? And, of course, there are the universal questions around security, business rules, regulatory compliance and analytical tools.
There are also the practical questions about availability of expertise to understand, design, test and implement practical, valuable, business IOT initiatives. As early stage as all of this may be, resources are being offered by Accenture and Verizon and McKinsey and all the usual suspects to assist in developing your IOT business plans. Perhaps the best advice is “Don’t jump into technology without first defining the problem you want to solve.” Once the potential business value is clear, you get to figure out how you’ll deal with management, security and value creation from all that new data.