The Internet of Things is one of those things you’ve heard of if you have a taste for technology. It’s the vision we’ve had for the future for decades. Here’s what the experts are saying:
● "Simply, the Internet of Things is made up of devices – from simple sensors to smartphones and wearables – connected together." - Matthew Evans, IoT program head at techUK
● "It's about networks, it's about devices, and it's about data." - Caroline Gorski, head of IoT at Digital Catapult
What we can gather from this is that it’s a ‘network of connectivity’ with machine-to-machine communication. From cell phones to washing machines, it’s connecting devices to the Internet and/or each other.
The Internet of Things provides the best value when it can be used to connect devices. Think of an app that controls everything in your home, your washing machine, dryer, lights, TV, sound system, everything. That’s the dream…for consumers. For enterprises, which is where the real value lies, automation is key. As a matter of fact, it’s estimated that business-to-business applications will account for 70% of the value that will flow from IoT. Consider a solution that automates a specific task, just one. Well, as it happens the automation of that one task increased production by 1%. To the average consumer that may be negligent, but to an enterprise that operates in a different ballpark altogether, it could mean millions, even billions of dollars.
One of its biggest draws is its ability to gather information from connected devices. Once gathered, it can be analyzed and put to use. Instead of surveying thousands of consumers, an enterprise can pull information directly from devices and receive more accurate data. Picture a retail chain that wants to combine real-time location data with customer information to produce real-time personalized offers. In a simplified solution, this chain would first need to analyze the customer’s browsing and shopping history and demographics. Next, they would utilize sensors in their stores to send personalized offers via push notifications to customers when they approach said sensors.
The broad reach of interoperated devices means that different industries will have differing goals, benefits and standards. Similar to the retail example in the previous section in which real-time location is used, whereas cloud-based features and short-distance connectivity are of value in smart home applications, long-range connectivity is preferred for agriculture and aquaculture. It all depends on the industry.
Sometimes a gift is a curse. In our case, the same interoperability that characterizes IoT is what makes it vulnerable to security risks. Because it’s tied to data, normal cybersecurity issues are involved; because it can include millions of connections between devices, security risks exponentially increase. Let’s use an analogy. Imagine a hallway of locked doors. Some are impenetrable from the outside, but once inside, all can be unlocked. Now picture a stealthy thief breaking into one of the doors, possibly the one with the least security; the proverbial weakest link of the chain. This thief now has untethered access to all doors. The same can be applied to connected devices. You attack one, you attack all.
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Not counting phones, tablets or desktops, there’s an estimated 6.4-9 billion IoT devices around the world, and by the end of 2017, there will be 9-15 billion. With this high number, it makes sense that security is a big concern. Something that can be done, especially by consumers, is to turn off unnecessary features on your devices. These can be anything from remote administration to unused protocols and services. For the enterprise, on the other hand, the cybersecurity solution remains much more complicated.
Putting security aside, IoT also takes the guesswork out of the equation and allows for informed decisions. For a manufacturer, sensors can be used to predict when machinery is wearing down or needs replacement. For a retail chain, sensors can instead be utilized for inventory tracking and management.Whatever the industry, everyone can benefit from the Internet of Things.