While the term “Internet of Things” has been around since Kevin Ashton, executive director of the Auto-ID Center, coined it in 1999, it has only recently become a larger part of the national consciousness.
That same year, Neil Gershenfeld of the MIT Media Lab, wrote in his book, When Things Start to Think, “… it looks like the rapid growth of the World Wide Web may have been just the trigger charge that is now setting off the real explosion, as things start to use the net.”
Thanks to recent advances in smart sensor technology, the IoT has begun to ramp up at a much greater pace. “Simply put, a smart sensor is a device that takes input from the physical environment and uses built-in computing resources to perform functions when they detect specific input and then processes data before passing it on. That data can be gathered so that the smart sensors enable communication via the web,” explains TJ McCue, who writes regularly about the cloud, gadgets, hardware, and 3D technology for Forbes. “Smart sensors are what allow things to ‘talk’ between the web and to your devices, and they can be placed or installed in just about anything from shoes and clothing to refrigerators or cars.”
Big numbers and a burgeoning boom
The IoT has already changed the way we live. For example, we’re already seeing the transformation of products to products-as-a-service, (e.g., connected homes and industrial machinery, appliances, etc.). Given its projected growth, we’re on the cusp of what looks to be an IoT tsunami. The McKinsey Global Institute predicts IoT could have a total economic impact of up to $11 trillion by 2025. And Gartner estimates that 25 billion “things” will be connected to the internet and in use by 2020, up from 4.9 billion in 2015. This year alone, 5.5 million new things will get connected every day.
That growth, says IoT technologist Shashi Jain, means “that the IoT will require a lot of new infrastructure so that trillions of devices can talk to each other and do so while protecting your privacy and data. We'll need to make systems dead simple for basic devices to use and systems to maintain those devices, even if the original makers aren’t around.” That also means tremendous opportunity regarding business operations and product development, coupled with a need for greater security.
IoT could have a total economic impact of up to $11 trillion by 2025” – McKinsey Global Institute
The growth of IoT correlates with the direct growth in potential productivity and expansion for almost any business, covering everything from enhanced customer engagement and product/service development to a range of environmental/office improvements. But it also creates a heightened need to monitor your infrastructure. Consider the following when preparing to harness the power of IoT for your business.
BOOST PRODUCTIVITY. IoT is going to change the way you operate, whether it’s your physical plant or the way you make decisions—its breadth is that wide. Streamlining operations is always welcome, and to that end, “it means you’ll have access to smarter devices to help you be more efficient and move smarter,” avers Ramon Ray, publisher of Smart Hustle magazine. “For example, your network can automatically opt for more bandwidth based on usage; your office supplies will never run out, as sensors will know what needs to be ordered; if fewer people are in your office or retail stores, lights can be dimmed automatically; and much more. Look at your operations, and you can see where the IoT and connectivity can make almost everything operate smarter.”
Tremendous benefits also exist on the data side. “The IoT provides an infrastructure to connect everything from a component to a city, which means it can dramatically reduce the costs for large-scale systems and information sharing,” notes Doug Woods, president of the Association for Manufacturing Technology. “That, in turn, will allow detailed analysis of large-scale data and provide unique insights, which means continual refinement and upgrading of business processes, products and services, customer service, and more.”
DEVELOP INFRASTRUCTURE. As you think about what IoT can bring to your business, you might need to consider completely new positions and relationships. “For companies who want to sell and/or be in this space—or even leverage its capabilities to grow your existing business, products, and services—you need to think about hiring smart engineers and developers and building relationships with manufacturers who can modify your products to work with the IoT,” asserts Ray.
Take some time to consider where your business model, products, and service offerings might fit in the connected IoT world. “Think about the millions of sensors, door locks, lights, and heating and cooling equipment in a building; or thousands of sensors spread across a national park monitoring wildlife, weather, and soil conditions; or even systems of robots working in a warehouse,” says Shain. “The applications for science and technology will be amazing—more accurate weather predictions, better agriculture, and even more efficient manufacturing. Think about your customer as an average user, who’s expecting to see smarter homes that take better care of you, smarter cities, smarter healthcare—all of which they can access through their smartphones. The opportunities are nearly endless, and almost any small business can benefit.”
KEEP A LID ON SECURITY. Clearly, more data collected online and increased connectivity mean increased cybersecurity and hacking concerns, in addition to growing privacy concerns. “There is no question that it’s a huge issue,” adds Ray. “It’s been the nature of the world in which we live and do business. You need to approach IoT the way you approach all IT systems: use security best practices, work with trusted sources, prepare for the worst, and use security vendors who can audit your security logs and set up these systems for you correctly from the start. Make sure you update your systems regularly, and use identity management and authentication where necessary. As IoT continues to make inroads, more security resources will be developed to protect your business, so you need to stay on top of those trends.”
“There’s no question that security is a big issue,” echoes Woods “But, to put it in context, it’s not that different than handling your online banking or giving your credit card to Amazon. You need to have the necessary security protocols in place, and if you don’t know how to do that, there are plenty of cyber-physical and cybersecurity consultants available today. Above all, you can’t choose to not be connected, or you risk being left behind!”
Putting IoT to work for your business offers an array of opportunities as well as a heightened need to protect what you’ve put in place. But you need to think about how you can leverage those benefits today, because its connectivity is already here and growing quickly.
Early IoT adopters
The product/service development opportunities abound, particularly for small businesses. McCue offers a range of examples and how they’re leveraging IoT as a business model basis:
- Automatic Labs houses a sensor that connects to the data port in your car, offering information on your driving habits, car engine problems, and more. “It also allows you to log into an app via your smartphone which can connect you to your Nest thermostat, Amazon Echo, Pebble watch, and more,” he says.
- Bigbelly Trashcans tell you when they’re full.
- Dassault Systemes created Solidworks 3D design software, which has the ability to help businesses design smarter IoT objects. In fact, they created a pretty cool IoT infographic of their own
- Halo Smart Labs makes smart smoke detectors.
- Motorcycle helmet-maker Skully developed the AR-1, the first smart helmet.
- SureFlap created a smart pet door, which opens only to pets with matching sensors.
- Xively, owned by LogMeIn, provides companies with the tools needed to launch and run an IoT business.
- Ring is a smart doorbell that lets you see who’s at your door, via your smartphone, whether or not you’re home.