The other day I was having a conversation with a friend and somehow we chanced upon the topic of the Internet of Things. When I asked her what she actually understood about the concept, she replied,
‘Well, it’s just things talking to each other, right?’
First off, I would like to applaud her for the clear and concise definition, but upon further questioning, it readily became apparent that was all she knew about it. And this was after she had done some reading online. A brilliant idea then struck me at that moment and I thought to myself,
Surely I could shed some light on this new world-changing future-altering trend!
Voila! A new article is born!
So what is it?
Basically, it’s a network of physical objects that can gather data and transmit the collected information from and to each other, using a mix of sensors, networks and software. This is a watered-down definition taken directly from the Internet of Things Global Standards Initiative. Essentially, it’s about the increasing sophistication of machine-to-machine communication.
Wait a second, that’s exactly what your friend said!
Okay, people, put down your pitchforks! Specifically, I would like all of you to focus on the keyword ‘sensors’. This is the crux of the Internet of Things. While all the other components, such as cloud computing, the increasing power of networks and software, are important in enabling the Internet of Things, the sensors are the main point of the whole trend.
The concept of IoT isn’t something that is radically new and has actually been present in a number of capital-intensive industries, such as manufacturing. For example, factories have a large number of sensors tracking their processes and machines that feed data back to the people managing the factories, who can then act on the data. Unfortunately, sensors were expensive and thus limited to these capital-intensive industries.
In today’s modern world, however, sensors have become extremely cheap, making it practical to employ and embed them into everyday devices. That’s when the Internet of Things really took off.
Machines talking to other machines is a quaint explanation of IoT, however, that really only captures half the story. With that explanation, people think of being able to control devices through other devices. For example, controlling the lights, checking the status of the washing machine or switching the channels on the TV through the use of a mobile phone or a computer.
When you throw sensors into the mix, however, the picture then becomes whole and complete. This time, it isn’t just humans that use devices to communicate data to other devices, it’s devices that communicate data to humans. That distinction is what makes the devices ‘smart’.
It is about temperature and smoke sensors in buildings that inform the fire stations of potential fires even before the call comes in. It is about traffic conditions informing the traffic lights when to go green, yellow or red. It is about sensors collecting data on customers within retail stores and then communicating promotions to the correct customer profiles right when they are next to the product in question.
What is required?
Sensors and other devices collect and create massive amounts of data. While this is a good thing (in fact, it’s the whole point of jumping onto the IoT bandwagon), the organisation needs to be prepared to handle this data. What this calls for are robust and scalable data management policies with the underlying infrastructure to support them. Companies will need to put into place systems and infrastructures to be able to store massive amounts of data.
Furthermore, it’s not just about collecting data. Business analytics need to be performed on the data and trained monkeys ain’t gonna cut it. All the information in the world is useless if you can’t actually do anything with it.
In short, companies need to develop the infrastructure that can store data in one place (or multiple places that are connected with each other). The database must be able to easily communicate with various devices through a common interface in real-time. The team must then be able to run analytics on the combined dataset to present a whole, unified picture across its operations and various departments.
If your company is already there, great! You’re ready to ride on the next big wave of technology. If not, perhaps it’s time to seriously think about strategies to consolidate data across silos and making it easily accessible to both man and machine.