The Internet of Things

Posted on 22 May 2017
Reader Question:

Dear Doctor, what is the Internet of Things? I keep hearing about it and how it is the next big thing in 2017 for my business, but I have no idea what these things are? Is it just another buzzword?

Doctor Digital Says:

The Internet of Things, or IoT as it is known universally by lazy linguists, is the concept of basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything from mobile phones, coffee machines, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of. To break it down further here are some simple definitions pulled straight from the Internet of everything:

Internet of Things: A network of internet-connected objects able to collect and exchange data using embedded sensors.

Internet of Things device: Any stand-alone internet-connected device that can be monitored and/or controlled from a remote location.

Internet of Things ecosystem: All the components that enable businesses, governments, and consumers to connect to their IoT devices, including remotes, dashboards, networks, gateways, analytics, data storage, and security.

If it has an on and off switch then chances are it can be a part of the IoT. The IoT is a giant network of connected "things" (which also includes people).  The scale of opportunity of all this connectivity and inter-thing chat is that as more and more devices and people are connected, more intelligence on behaviour can be extracted as data (or “big data” as is often spoken about in relation to IoT) and then re-purposed to specifically help individuals, groups, sectors, governments and business – in fact just about anyone you can think of.

Here is an example of how it works: real-time data from cars with connected GPS devices can be analysed to identify the volume of traffic on a road at a given time, whilst the car is connected to your mobile device that is tracking you via GPS and can receive a message to tell you the quickest route home.  Another example is data aggregated from weather stations across the country can be used to estimate the water needed for your garden and tell you the best time to turn on your sprinkler to minimise evapotranspiration and water wastage, a benefit for farmers and growers.  And another one: the local council has connected all parking spaces which means you can find the closest vacant parking spot instead of driving around aimlessly, receive notification when your paid time is about to expire, and extend the paid time if you’re not ready to leave – all from the one app on your phone. 

There are lots of statistics about the magnitude of IoT such as the following:

IoT devices connected to the Internet will more than triple by 2020, from 10 billion to 34 billion. IoT devices will account for 24 billion, while traditional computing devices (e.g. smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, etc.) will comprise 10 billion.

Nearly $6 trillion will be spent on IoT solutions over the next five years.

Businesses will be the top adopter of IoT solutions because they will use IoT to 1) lower operating costs; 2) increase productivity; and 3) expand to new markets or develop new product offerings.

Governments will be the second-largest adopters, while consumers will be the group least transformed by the IoT.

But how will it impact on MY small business I hear you say, and what do I need to do? With IoT devices connecting consumers in new ways with more interactions, they’ll have greater access to that data than ever before. Smart devices will be able to track and record patterns of consumer behaviour, and possibly even learn from them, making intelligent product recommendations and customising searches in new, innovative ways. That helps consumers to buy from you, and you to market directly to their desires and interests. Companies can start taking advantage of this by using these data-based insights to come up with more effective advertising, and get to know their target demographics on a more specific, qualitative level. If you are using Facebook or Google advertising, you are already taking advantage of the data capture from consumers.

IoT will likely revolutionise how businesses track and manage their inventory. If you’re a business that relies on warehousing, manufacturing, or storage, you probably use remote scanners and similarly high-tech devices to help your workers keep track of inventory item by item. In the near future, smart devices should be able to measure and monitor inventory automatically - freeing up your workers for more important, smarter tasks. This is where IoT is creating the smart office and smart warehouse. Smart move.

If your business doesn’t directly deal with any physical inventory – you’re a knowledge worker or provider, the IoT will open up a world of new possibilities for remote work. (For more on remote working, see the Digital Ready fact sheet here). With multiple devices all wired into the same network, your remote working employees will be more connected than ever before, and may be able to accomplish new types of tasks from remote locations by tapping into devices in your office or factory floor. Remote workers have been measured over time to be happier and more productive - so the arrangement will likely also help improve your bottom line.

The technological evolution of IoT favours efficiency, meaning as a business owner you can accomplish large-scale tasks faster and with greater precision, including data analysis and management. You may find you’ll be able to scale operations in new areas that allow you to expand your business, or predict and avert issues that would lose you time and money. IoT has moved from buzzword to reality, it’s already here, and we are only at the beginning as business owners and consumers of tapping into its massive potential.