Is the Internet of Things all it's cracked up to be?
29 October 2015
If you have a remote interest in technology, you will be aware of the huge amount of excitement surrounding the Internet of Things (IoT) - connected objects that communicate with other objects in an intelligent way. It's thought to be on the verge of widespread adoption, whilst its potential impact to disrupt industries and improve lives is considered by some to be similar to the internet.
With big money industries such as retail, healthcare, transport, utilities, defence, and oil and gas driving the change, it's more than your kettle talking to your toaster. Influential technology research firm Gartner thinks there will be 25 billion "connected things" in the world by 2020, whilst others think this is a gross underestimation, suggesting there will be 75 billion!
However, there is an air of despondency in some courts due to the slow uptake of IoT - techies admittedly have an elaborate history of making things just because they can! So, how do we make sense of all of this? Is the industry all it's cracked up to be? To answer this question, we need to look at the different perspectives from both the hopeful camp and the more sceptical camp, before trying to paint a picture of reality.
The large and differing "connected things" projections stated above are hardly surprising when you consider how difficult it must be to measure the number of connectable "things" in the global marketplace. If the IoT industry does manage to disrupt whole industries, perhaps even the 75 billion estimation will be on the conservative side.
IoT proponents point to current industry disruption taking place to argue for increased disruption in the future. A good example of this widespread industry disruption is the Amazon Dash Button, a small device with one button that when pressed, instantly orders the product it's programmed to order. This one straightforward device could disrupt the whole retail industry. Run out of bin bags, press a button. Run out of washing up liquid, press a button. You get the point! As this technology evolves and becomes readily available to consumers, we could have more purchase buttons around the house than light switches.
Another technology being championed by IoT proponents is wearable health trackers. A simple wristband that measures sleep pattern, heart rate, calories burned, steps taken and stairs climbed is completely changing the way people control their health.
Those who foresee the IoT having a global impact justify their excitement by pointing to the huge investment being poured into it by the world's leading technology firms. In January 2014 Google paid $3.2 billion to acquire Nest Labs, a connected thermostat and smoke alarm. Since then, they've had thousands of developers working to enhance the product. Similarly, in March 2015 IBM announced it was investing $3 billion and hiring 1,400 workers for a new department dedicated to IoT. Closer to home, Cisco announced earlier this year that it is releasing $150 million worth of venture capital money for IoT technology companies in the UK. If these guys are taking it seriously, surely we should too, right?
Despite the excitement around the industry and the huge investment being put into it, there are some sceptical voices emerging. For example, Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, recently addressed a global business conference saying, "I feel it (the IoT industry) is kind of a bubble, because there is a pace at which human beings can change the way they do things." Wozniak makes a good point; widespread adoption of IoT is ultimately down to the consumer. This has been a significant problem for the IoT industry over the last decade. There is no shortage of IoT products on the market but they're hardly commonplace in most homes. At the same time, they've not really been adopted by the workplace either.A recent survey of 565 enterprise IT decision makers from global organisations revealed that only 12% were actually implementing an IoT solution.
There are a number of factors that have contributed to the delayed uptake of IoT products. Firstly, IoT providers have been unable to translate their product features into valuable solutions that solve business problems. Secondly, many IT infrastructures are unable to support IoT systems. Thirdly, there are security issues around connecting devices together, which have made a lot of noise in the media and generated a lot of scepticism.
Considering the huge amount of investment and media hype around the IoT industry combined with the slow consumer adoption rate, we can assume that the IoT industry has the potential to be all that it's cracked up to be, but it's not there yet.
Industries like healthcare, transport, utilities, defence and oil and gas have been the biggest movers and shakers in the IoT industry so far. Health organisations have invested millions into virtually monitoring patient's health which has had a very positive impact on A&E attendances. Transport companies have invested in smart parking meters to provide consumers with real time updates on available parking spaces. Innovations like this have proven the value of IoT to increase efficiency and improve productivity. However, the industry can't afford to rest on its laurels and just expect consumers to buy in. In order to meet expectations it has to produce the innovation that will drive consumer engagement. Let's get brainstorming!