As Consumer IoT grows, some businesses are already seeing this technological evolution as their golden ticket; their a pathway to new success and their share of an industry estimated to be worth trillions of dollars in the coming years. Companies are rushing to invest in IoT as many believe it will forever change the way people interact with the world around them, and they believe IoT is the next big thing on the Internet. IBM just spent $3 billion launching a new IoT business unit, while GE recently started building their own IoT platform, Predix.
The truth of the matter is that IoT is already here, and an actual functional, growing network of connected devices are starting to emerge from the hype. Today’s IoT is hardly representative of what companies like IBM have planned for the future. The current network connects around one billion products, or “things,” while the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that more than 50 billion devices will be connected by 2020. However, just as the internet was misunderstood in its infancy, many do not see the big picture, or the potential value of the IoT. At least not yet.
As anticipation over the future of IoT builds, some are left begging the question: have we already been thrown into new era where IoT really is the golden ticket to a new ultra-connected world? Or, are we looking at the goose with the golden egg--a metaphorical warning to exercise patience when it comes to diving headfirst into the age of autonomous smart technology.
The answer may reside somewhere in the middle. We have yet to be truly thrust into the immersive network of IoT. Worldwide adoption of IoT will take time, as technological innovation is a process. IoT is around us, and while it holds promise, it is not yet at a point where its full potential can be realized.
While companies such as IBM are already quick to invest in IoT, it may take time for many to understand the real big picture benefit. There is a challenge in being able to look beyond the promise of indulgent smart appliances that offer no real necessity and see that IoT actually aims to blur the lines between the physical world and the online one.
The answer of where IoT lies on this spectrum and where it is headed in the future can be seen by looking at the promise of IoT, what experts believe it has planned for the future and what this age of innovation means for businesses today.
Where We Are Today With IoT
No discussion on the future potential of IoT is complete without a look at the foundation of this technological movement. IoT is built on the idea of being a bridge between products, data and people. Right now, technology is almost entirely dependent on human intervention; IoT is challenging the world to imagine a future where it doesn’t have to be.
Today, for a product to be labeled as part of IoT, it needs to encompass three defining characteristics. An examination of these individual characteristics illuminates the potential individual and economical impact that IoT can have on our world. Every IoT product needs to:
- Be an actual consumer product. A refrigerator is a consumer product, made of physical components such as shelves, doors and lights.
- Have a “smart” component or an internal processor. This adds to the capabilities of the physical component and includes analytics that make use of the data messages being sent from item to item.
- Posses a level of connectivity. This feature enhances the capacity of the device’s internal processes and enables it to reach outside of its physical boundaries.
IoT where it stands today is considered to be the early stages of the next evolution of the internet. When the internet was first introduced in the 1990s, it grew over time to eventually connect more than a billion people from around the globe. The second wave, or the Mobile Wave, emerged in the 2000s, doubling the power of the internet and bringing together more than 2 billion people from around the globe. These numbers seem surprisingly small when looking at the estimated 50 billion entities expected to be connected through IoT
Now, with IoT in a similarly undervalued premature stage, the world finds itself on the precipice of another major change as it stands face-to-face with the promise of the third wave of the internet.
The Promise of the New Wave of the Internet
As the third wave of the internet, IoT’s future promises intelligence and connectivity will no longer be a separate entity, but instead an integral part of individual products.
Embedded processors, softwares and sensors are enhancing the way these items work and autonomously connecting them with systems and items from the outside world. Items that were once static and inactive will be able to independently respond autonomously to changes in the world around them.
One of the most powerful outcomes of this rebirth of the standard internet comes in the form of data collection. IoT collects, interprets and delivers data from everything in the world, in ways that manual human collection never could. With this new era of the internet, this data is interpreted and used to not only create a tighter sense of connectivity but to actually change the way people use the internet.
Today, search remains an integral part of how the world views the internet. Companies like Google have profited tremendously from the fact that whether people are looking for a phone number or a restaurant recommendation, they use a search engine to find it. Meanwhile, IoT poses the question: what if there was no longer a need to search?
The promise of the new wave of the internet is to capitalize on this increased connectivity and the trillions of pieces of data it can collect, in an effort to eliminate, or at least expedite, the search process. The more IoT devices a person has, the more data is collected about their habits and your preferences. The aggregated data will help devices predict patterns of activity and let people know what they want before they ask for it.
This extends beyond predicting internet search activity. Going back to the refrigerator example, this device will be able to predict a person’s grocery order, based on their previous ordering habits and can use a sensor to determine when the person is most likely to reorder, and send the information out autonomously. The refrigerator is able to communicate outside its physical limitations, to another computer, without human intervention.
While smart data analysis is one of the core benefits being touted by IoT specialists, the real potential of IoT can be seen in the expected short-term growth of the products that make up this network. In the next two years, the number of IoT products is estimated to outnumber the amount of personal computers, smart phones and laptops in the world. Think about how integrated these personal devices are into our everyday lives. Now imagine the power that a network that more than doubles that type of connectivity will have.
IoT’s Influence in Reshaping Today’s Businesses
With IoT’s influence already infiltration today’s economy, businesses are seeing the potential for triggering innovation, increasing productivity gains and promoting economic growth. Businesses are able to develop even more specific niche markets as companies are able to further tailor their products and services to even more specific areas of their current market. According to Cisco Consulting Services, the output of the Internet of Things is estimated to be a $2 Trillion opportunity over the next 10 years.
As IoT continues to grow, today’s businesses find themselves on a threshold of change. Many businesses are already embracing some of the more basic IoT services available, and are seeing the way that its influence is reshaping their internal operations. These improvements have only scratched the surface for what industry experts expect from the future of IoT, but their impact is substantial enough to shed light on IoT’s possibilities.
IoT has already shown a great industrial value and the capacity to offer a faster time to market and improved productivity in the manufacturing sector. While only a small percentage of plants and industrial operations are currently embracing IoT manufacturing approaches, enterprises connected through IoT systems are seeing a massive increase in efficiency.
For example, King’s Hawaiian bread company openly adapted a new IoT system that included 11 connected smart machines in one of their new factories. By only changing to new technologies, the company was able to expedite their process and double the amount of bread they were able to make in a day.
However, IoT is doing more than making it easier for large companies to produce even larger amounts of inventory. IoT sensors are helping provide detailed data and feedback on daily operations, processes and productivity, in ways never thought imaginable, eliminating information gaps and providing real time conditional insights.
Aside from the benefits of experienced companies, as IoT begins to expand, and data begins to accumulate, its influence will start to infiltrate into the economy as a whole. More specifically, in the form of developing the need for things such as product data analytics and security. With so much substantial data to analyze, new demands for analytic software will undoubtedly start to appear. This surge within the industry is not only projected to come from IoT but to also accelerate IoT while changing the structure of many business models as we know them today.
Adapting to an IoT Future
Technological change has always been presented within a ‘survival of the fittest’ type framework. Businesses need to adapt to the evolving world around them or their complacency can threaten their survival. When it comes to IoT, adaptation is slightly more complex.
IoT itself also has to survive in order for the new wave to come to fruition. However, it is threatened by the intrusiveness of its surveillance capabilities, cost and the current lack of functional value. According to Accenture, approximately 73% of businesses haven’t invested in the Internet of Things in any manner yet. For many this is because they don’t know how or because they have yet to realize IoT’s potential.
For most businesses the concern surrounding IoT is the same: the high cost. With all of the new hardware, sensors, software and analytics, many dismiss IoT prematurely based on their estimated views of the associated expenses.
Planning for the future does not necessarily need to come with billion dollar investments. When it comes to capitalizing on this movement, it is important to remember the fable of the goose that laid the golden egg. Successful integration is patience, enjoying one thing at a time and revel in the prospers of IoT as they come. Killing the proverbial goose and going all in with your company’s assets in hopes to see a massive return is not the answer.
In order for a completely connective new world that straddles the line between digital and physical to succeed, businesses need to be ready to adapt to an IoT future, as much as IoT needs to start gaining traction. While its true that IoT means potentially earth-shattering changes and businesses need to stay proactive in creating plans to fit with these changes; it is important to keep practicality in mind.
In terms of actual implementation, companies need to think in terms of services and not products. Too much focus on the next great smart gadget will only cost money and valuable time and resources that most companies don’t have to spare. Simple IoT devices, offering the right services will deliver a much better return than expensive high-tech devices that only deliver a novelty “wow factor.”
People are still at the center of IoT. Without people there would be no need for this IoT network. With this in mind, a focus on implementing services that can benefit the people that drive a company. Most consumers are unable to identify between a product and the service it offers, their interest lies only in their personal gain.
Operational costs can also be cut down, by using IoT to boost efficiency. With IoT sensors that already monitor energy and electrical use, by acting autonomously, entire facilities and systems can react to the environment and activity around them. According to Verizon Inc., when the communications giant used wireless IoT sensors in its data centers, the company was able to reduce electricity consumption by more than 55 million kWh.
However, utilizing the data collected from IoT is what many claim the real benefit of this movement is. Data analysis has the ability to cut costs, and make assets better, more reliable and safer. According to Cisco, $19 trillion will come from IoT profits and cost savings in the next ten years.
The potential benefits of IoT implementation are there for companies with no rooted interest in research and development and no intentions of spending a great deal to jump on board the IoT train. Businesses must simply be able to exercise control amidst the exciting new offerings from IoT and determine the best way to take advantage of the movement in a cost-effective manner.
As the United States looks to rebound from a decade marred by stalled economic growth, the country is ready for a surge of innovation. IoT is poised to offer just that. The promise of IoT offers a golden, glittering beacon of hope for a new era; a golden ticket to a world where everyday objects are smarter and life can move at faster more efficient speeds. A world where both business and human needs are met instantly and the way we do business is drastically simplified.
If IoT is given the proper time to grow and businesses to carefully plan their infiltration into the new wave of the internet, without over-exerting or over-spending, the possibilities for future growth are virtually endless. The world has seen former IT waves stall and fade out before. In the 1990s it was virtual reality, and in the 2000s it was gamification. There is no guarantee that even a system hailed as the new internet won’t exhibit its own struggles. However, the promise of IoT is there, but it may be a process of waiting for small spoils to arrive, one by one, from its maturation, as the world readies itself for the wave of possibilities to come.