Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 24 seconds

Connecting Everything

adafruit 67A few months back, we slogged through predictions for trends that would affect businesses in 2013. Many or most of them have already impacted us, particularly those related to mobile technology and the cloud. But the most powerful of all didn't appear on many lists and seems to be getting traction in the business and technology press a bit ahead of the hype curve. 

What do you get when a number of recent tech developments and crucial trends converge? What happens when you combine cloud technology, wireless networks, standardized communications protocols, RFID, worldwide IP networks, Big Data, miniaturized sensors, and cheap storage and computing power?  It’s called the Internet of Things (IoT), a.k.a. Internet of Everything, Industrial Internet, and M2M (machine-to-machine).  It’s here and it’s ramping up.

As you can imagine, there are many different definitions of IoT.  One I like a lot is SAP’s: “A world where physical objects are seamlessly integrated into the information network, and where the physical objects can become active participants in business processes. Services are available to interact with these 'smart objects' over the Internet, query and change their state and any information associated with them, taking into account security and privacy issues.”  

The concept of IoT originated in the Auto-ID Lab at MIT in 1999 and was based on RFID, but has been expanded since to include pervasive sensor devices that enable machine to machine communication and autonomous event-driven decision making. Those of us in electronic commerce, EDI, and IT understand event driven processes, but what’s exciting about IoT is the potential for those same types of ‘hands off’ decisions and actions to take place throughout every aspect of our work and home lives.

From a practical standpoint, you see the beginnings of IoT in many places. Traffic signals that ‘learn’ patterns and adjust their cycles, sensors that control light fixtures, and push-button start automobiles are simple examples. The future state is almost dream-like: your house knows when you’re home and adjusts utility usage automatically, your refrigerator restocks itself by auto-ordering groceries when needed, you zip to work because your car understands traffic patterns and routes you accordingly, weather predictions are hyper-accurate so you’re never unprepared, and at your job in the supply chain you’ll never lose track of a shipment or experience a stock-out and robots automate most DC processes. Pretty nice, isn’t it? General Electric is particularly active with work on their Industrial Internet initiatives, with development taking place to automate their hospital-based business operations and improve sustainability across their organization.

Big Data, itself the product of many of the same trends, is a major factor in IoT, and even bigger data will result. Advanced analytics will tell us where sensors are needed and what decisions need to be baked into processes, and the data resulting from the new network nodes will be an order of magnitude even larger.  By 2020, Gartner estimates over 30 billion nodes on the IoT, while Cisco guesses 50 billion. Either way, it’s a really big number.  Storing, managing, and analyzing the data will be one of the many challenges of IoT. But the end result for those in the business world sounds like nirvana: better business intelligence, predictive analysis, and real-time decision making.

I’ll be very surprised if IoT isn’t on almost every list of ‘hot’ trends in 2014. Although in its relative infancy, it’s that powerful. And with all the stars in alignment on the technical side, you’ll see some real progress in the coming months and years. 

This is obviously an extremely superficial view of a very serious subject. You can go deep by clicking on the links below.  Keep an eye on this topic and think about not only how it can affect your business and home life but what you and your team might need to do to support IoT-based projects.

Read about IoT in these sources (click on name for link):




McKinsey & Company


General Electric


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