If you haven’t yet heard of “The Internet of Things”, or just “IoT”, then you may not have much interest in technology. Or business, for that matter – Gartner’s latest report on the IoT Hype Cycle stated that we have reached the peak of the hype. So we’d better get you up to speed.
The Internet of Things refers to a new kind of technology solution whereby connected devices (e.g. mobile, sensors, wearables, drones) transmit data continually about the Real World around them. This data can be sent from device to device, device to machine, or device to cloud.
What makes this phenomenon different from past models? Cloud Computing, working together with tools for processing Big Data, have made this data valuable. Without cheap cloud storage, on-demand processing and the Big Data tools which allow us to aggregate petabytes of data for analysis, the costs of this data would outweigh any benefits. The cost model has shifted and there is no going back.
What do we need this data for? Great question. Before I answer it, let’s acknowledge that we (and I mean “the human race”) are in the process of systematically digitizing our entire physical world. Don’t believe me? Have you ever checked out your home address on Google Maps? I remember being startled that anyone would take the time to do that kind of data collection. Today, we collect data about ourselves, mapping our vital statistics, with wearables such as Fit-Bit. Map apps and Wearables are two mainstream examples of products which are continually mapping the real world. The question remains: why are we building these digital maps?
Let’s take a simple example: the common incandescent light bulb. It has a certain shape, wattage; attributes which have been recorded by the manufacturer, and consumers can get this data today from the manufacturer by simply opening the box. Now, once the lightbulb is in the real world, it begins to do other things which can be measured. How much energy does it emit? How bright is the light? Does the resistance fluctuate? How do these measurements vary during a power surge? This is “Internet of Things” data which, in order to capture, we need sensors capable of capturing and transmitting data for things out of the box and in the Real World.
So why don’t we have sensors on our generic incandescent light bulbs? Maybe because they are cheap to manufacture, burn out quickly, and will soon be replaced with better technology. But, Home Automation systems do measure lights in the real world. They measure climate, time, humidity and a variety of different things which, depending upon the consumer, make for an intelligent system. An Intelligent System is one which can automate adjustments to the real world based upon data collected from it. So, in fact, we are measuring lightbulbs, in aggregate, when a business model calls for it. The Internet of Things is about a convergence of technology and new business models.
What sort of business models do I mean? This is just a miniscule sample of business models being written about in business and technology journals.
Predictive Maintenance – What if machinery could broadcast data about conditions in the real world, and “predict” an impending failure, saving costs. That’s how ThyssenKrup Elevator gained a competitive advantage: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/customer-stories/Thyssen-Krupp-Elevator.aspx
Personal Retail Experiences – What if a convenience store, where customers get in and get out, could overcome that intrinsic anonymity? They’d be able to deliver differentiated customer services and financial services: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/customer-stories/kwik-chek.aspx
Public Safety – What if firemen could review the schematic of a building before entering and while navigating a burning structure? What if EMT professionals could see current medical records of victims as they encounter them in a triage situation? Mutualink, together with Google Glass, are making these scenarios a reality: http://iotinternetofthingsconference.com/2013/08/28/mutualink-unveils-google-glass-for-public-safety/
In closing, before you engage in a serious discussion with your team about how your company can get into the Internet of Things, keep these things in mind:
1. The Internet of Things represents a convergence of Technology and New Business Models
2. It’s about devices measuring and mapping the Real World
3. You’ll need to get into Cloud, because Cloud Computing delivers the cheap storage and on-demand processing that makes this viable.
4. IoT devices will generate Big Data. You’ll need Big Data processing tools and Big Data people.
5. You’ll need to ask yourself – What If?