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Are We Entering the Internet of Things Age?

April 16, 2021


As human beings, we are programmed to name things. Naming things helps us make sense of the world around us. In Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Adam and Eve, Adam gets upset when Eve starts naming things before he gets the opportunity. Adam laments, “I get no chance to name anything myself. The new creature names everything that comes along, before I can get in a protest. And always that same pretext is offered — it looks like the thing. There is the dodo, for instance. Says the moment one looks at it one sees at a glance that ‘it looks like a dodo.'” It’s not just individual things, or groups of things, that we name. We also like to name the times in which people live; for example, the stone age, the iron age, and the age of enlightenment. How would you label the age in which we now live? Journalist Jessica Bennett writes, “We are living in the age of the Internet of Things (IoT). It’s not just our phones, tablets, and computers connected to the Internet anymore. Now our cars, thermostats, refrigerators, doorbells, and light switches can act on their own or on our command no matter where we are. IoT gives people unprecedented control over the objects in their lives, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. IoT is also dramatically affecting the way businesses function, the products and services they provide, and how they interact with their customers.”[1]


Rise of the Internet of Things


Bennett reports the term “Internet of Things” was coined in 1999 by the technologist Kevin Ashton. He described it as a “growing network of physical objects that are connected through the Internet and communicate without human interaction.” About the same time, and before the term Internet of Things became ubiquitous, my friend Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett wrote, “The defining achievement of the New Economy in the globalization era will be the Evernet, a downstream expression of today’s Internet, which most of us still access almost exclusively through bulky desktop personal computers anywhere from a few minutes to several hours each day. Over the next ten or so years, this notion of being ‘online’ versus ‘offline’ will completely disappear.”[2] Although the term “Evernet” failed to go viral, Barnett’s depiction of the connected future was spot on. As Bennett observes, “In the year 2000, 200 million devices were connected to the Internet. In 2020, that number is now an astounding 34 billion. And yet, this is only the beginning. IoT is still in its infancy, and as it continues to grow, businesses need to pay close attention to the benefits and opportunities the IoT can offer.”


Most of the business benefits to which Bennett refers are derived from data. She reports, “IoT devices produce: approximately 2.5 quintillion bytes per day. Businesses that tap into this big data source can streamline their internal processes, engage their employees more efficiently, and proactively serve personalized products to their customers.” When people discuss the IoT, they are generally referring to the entire ecosystem associated with the IoT. That ecosystem consists of sensors that gather and transmit data on one end, then transfer that data through the IoT to advanced analytics systems on the other end. Most of the value from this ecosystem comes from the analytics that are often embedded in cognitive technologies (aka artificial intelligence).


Because the IoT is a machine-to-machine network, it is often referred to as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Peter Fretty (@pfretty), technology editor at IndustryWeek, believes the Covid-19 pandemic secured the IIoT’s role as the backbone of the new normal. He explains, “As the new normal pushes digital transformation efforts into fast forward, IIoT can serve as the backbone. … As manufacturing and other industrial facilities continue to adapt operations in response to the ever-evolving COVID-19 and public health guidelines, IIoT solutions can prove instrumental to both increase safety and improve efficiency. Because of its ability to provide data and information to users remotely, IIoT can help managers and operators implement social distancing measures for workers by reducing the number of people working on-site at any given time, thus increasing the safety of everyone’s health.”[3]


The IoT Age


The editorial team at insideBIGDATA appears to agree with Bennett that we have entered the IoT Age. The team writes, “The ever shifting, restless nature of the data ecosystem is most acutely demonstrated in contemporary developments in the Internet of Things. The IoT is no longer a macrocosm of the Industrial Internet with distant fancies of smart homes and autonomous vehicles. Today, it’s powering the remote workforce, underpinning distributed collaborations, and continuously expanding the scope, focus, and definition of what this term means to the enterprise — and to critical concepts like edge computing.”[4] Although the benefits provided by IoT ecosystems are numerous, privacy, standardization, and security issues have plagued many IoT projects.


In spite of the challenges, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) analysts observe, “The Internet of Things is fundamentally changing the way businesses behave.”[5] They go on to note, “The IoT market is projected to grow more than 30% annually over the next few years, driven in part by the continued popularity of predictive maintenance but also by improvements in sensor and device capabilities, increasingly reliable connectivity, new advances in data processing and machine-learning techniques, technologies such as cloud and edge computing, and emerging tech such as blockchain. … The next wave of growth in IoT will likely see leading companies break away from the pack — and in unforeseen ways. Businesses should ensure that they have the foundational components in place — components that will allow them to imagine the ‘art of the possible’ and reap the growing benefits of IoT.” Bennett adds, “Don’t let the IoT and all the information it produces go to waste. Use it to develop your business’s IoT capabilities or streamline your existing products and systems. Connect products and experiences and capture relevant data from billions of events per day. Use IoT to glean the information you need to better serve your customers, create new demand, improve the efficiency of your business, and solve your biggest logistical challenges.”


[1] Jessica Bennett, “How Will the Internet of Things Impact Business?” Salesforce, 22 July 2020.
[2] Thomas P.M. Barnett, “Life After DoDth or: How the Evernet Changes Everything,” USNI Proceedings, May 2000.
[3] Peter Fretty, “Embracing IIoT in the New Normal,” IndustryWeek, 28 December 2020.
[4] Editorial Team, “What the Internet of Things and Edge Computing Really Mean Today,” insideBIGDATA, 5 March 2021.
[5] Akash Bhatia, Zia Yusuf, Nipun Misra, Phillip Andersen, Julia White, Shawn Nandi, Jaishree Subramania, and Nikhila Bhat, “Pioneers Are Pushing the Boundaries of IoT,” Boston Consulting Group, 31 May 2019.

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