The Internet of Things: Already Here and Changing Industry

Stephen DeAngelis

October 4, 2016

“Everyone is waiting for the Internet of Things,” writes Christopher Mims (@mims). “The funny thing is, it is already here. Contrary to expectation, though, it isn’t just a bunch of devices that have a chip and an internet connection.”[1] What Mims describes as the Internet of Things (IoT) is really just the first, transformational iteration of the IoT. It is a state between the World Wide Web and a fully mature Internet of Things. Eventually, the two (i.e., the WWW and the IoT) will merge so completely that it will become the Internet of Everything (IoE). For now, however, Mims explains, “The killer app of the Internet of Things isn’t a thing at all — it is services. And they are being delivered by an unlikely cast of characters: Uber Technologies Inc., SolarCity Corp., ADT Corp., and Comcast Corp., to name a few.” Eventually, the vast majority of the IoT will be billions of connected devices. Mims indicates one of the latest such devices come from “the Brita unit of Clorox Corp., which just introduced a Wi-Fi-enabled ‘smart’ pitcher that can re-order its own water filters.” Although a number of connected home devices have been released, most pundits predict the home IoT market will be dwarfed by commercial and industrial markets.

Ready or Not the Internet of Things is Coming

It comes as no surprise that most articles published about the Internet of Things focus on how its emergence will affect industries. John Tuccillo (@JATuccillo), Senior Vice President of Global Industry and Government Affairs for Schneider Electric, suggests there are at least six industries on the verge of dramatic transformation thanks to the IoT (or as he calls it the Industrial IoT (IIot).[2] Those industries are: Energy; healthcare; agriculture; transportation; manufacturing; and education. Although education may be an outlier (i.e., not really an “industry” as such), Tuccillo’s list covers a lot of waterfront and underscores why analysts predict the Internet of Things will have such a dramatic impact on society. Tuccillo concludes, “Across every national plan being developed, the potential of IIoT to drive efficiencies and stimulate economic development depends on cooperation. IIoT is not just a technology story. It is a story of wide-scale technology enablement driven by the mutual needs and investments of industry and society alike, a true collaboration between the private and public sectors.” Hal Conick (@HalConick) notes, “The IIoT leverages the interconnectivity of machines and systems with sensors, data and analytics to give businesses a better view of how they’re affecting business. … It has the potential to improve productivity, efficiency and product quality.”[3]

What is surprising, given the impact the IoT is predicted to have on industry, is that most businesses apparently don’t have strategy for implementing Internet of Things capabilities. Conick reports, “Three out of four business executives don’t have an industrial IoT strategy, even though it’s crucial to their success.” At least that was the conclusion of a survey conducted by Penton Research for the Genpact Research Institute and IndustryWeek. The survey uncovered a number of reasons that company executives are reluctant to jump into IoT implementation. “The survey … found that 82 percent of business executives believe successful adoption of IIoT is critical to the future of their company. However, only 25 percent have a clear adoption strategy. … One reason for low adoption may be due to 37 percent of business executives expressing concern about security and 33 percent about privacy of IIoT. About 35 percent of the survey respondents say they are also concerned about the skills of their technology staff while 34 percent are apprehensive about the use of their legacy system and about data quality.”

The IoT and Cognitive Computing

Some of those fears can be allayed by making cognitive computing a part of an Internet of Things implementation strategy. K.R. Sanjiv, Chief Technology Officer for Wipro, observes, “In the near future, an IoT powered by cognitive computing will lead a revolution in increased productivity.”[4] I define cognitive computing as a combination of semantic reasoning and mathematical computation. Cognitive computing systems can handle many more variables than older computing systems, can integrate and analyze both structured and unstructured data, and can, generally, complement rather than replace legacy systems. Sanjiv adds, “While we are still a long way from talking to our operating systems like they’re our friends, cognitive computing has some immediate applications in the IoT that will allow businesses to use their devices to their fullest potentials.” He concludes:

“As more autonomous systems enter the IoT, businesses will need to learn new skills to take advantage of the expanded potential. Cognitive computing’s ability to forecast more accurately means businesses must become more familiar with anticipatory and predictive systems. As the communication abilities of the technology become more robust, users will need to learn how to respond to and interact with the devices’ queries. Businesses will need to train decision makers in interpreting the advanced data models that cognitive computers can produce in order to reap the full benefits of the technology. … Cognitive computing in the IoT presents as many challenges as it solves, but the challenges will be the kind that businesses want. Rather than worry that they don’t have the talent or resources to collect, read, and act upon their data, companies will soon wonder what to do with the bounty of information and analytics at their fingertips. Luckily, cognitive computing power will be there to help them along the way.”

Summary

The IndustryWeek staff observes, “Few new technologies have roiled manufacturing (and most other industries) as much and as completely as the Internet of Things, since, well, the Internet itself. From its inauspicious beginnings, the promise of IoT has captured the imagination of business thought leaders and technologists in every industry.”[5] The IW staff insists “the time for imagining and speculation has past.” Brian Buntz (@brian_buntz), who works at the Internet of Things Institute, would probably agree with that assessment. He quotes William Gibson, who stated, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”[6] Buntz continues:

“There is certainly wisdom in that assessment. It is far more accurate to study the bleeding-edge of technology than to make predictions based on the billions of connected devices that might exist several years from now, and then assume what that world might look like. Skeptics, hearing pie-in-the-sky projections related to the Internet of Things, conclude that the technology is overhyped. Some of them cite the tepid smart home market or the fact that the IoT business segment for tech giants is still relatively small. But companies that write off the Internet of Things risk being disrupted.”

The Internet of Things will continue to grow in the years ahead leaving disruption in its wake. Companies with a clear strategy for adopting the IoT will have a much better chance of surviving that disruption and adapting to the new business landscape that will emerge.

Footnotes
[1] Christopher Mims, “The Internet of Things Is Here, and It Isn’t a Thing,” The Wall Street Journal, 21 August 2016.
[2] John Tuccillo, “6 Industries on the Verge of IIoT Disruption,” Internet of Things Institute, 30 August 2016.
[3] Hal Conick, “Businesses Lack Industrial IoT Strategy,” Internet of Things Institute, 15 August 2016.
[4] K.R. Sanjiv, “How cognitive computing is changing IoT,” Readwrite, 25 July 2016.
[5] Staff, “The Internet of Things Gets Real,” IndustryWeek, 25 August 2016.
[6] Brian Buntz, “5 Things You Should Know to Survive in an IoT World,” Internet of Things Institute, 2 September 2016.