The Rise of the Internet of Things Age

Stephen DeAngelis

January 17, 2014

Chet Namboodri predicts that 2014 is going to be a big year for the Internet of Things (IoT) or, as his company (Cisco) calls it, the Internet of Everything. “You heard it first here,” he writes. “In 2014, the Internet of Everything (IoE) will accelerate the growth of manufacturing industries to outpace overall U.S. GDP growth by >3x.” [“Predictions 2014: Wager on the Internet of Everything,” Cisco Blogs, 17 December 2013] Most articles that discuss the IoT define it as a network over which machines will communicate. Ericsson, the Swedish technology firm, envisions it as a network over which 50 billion devices will be continuously connected and communicating. The Cisco vision of the Internet of Everything is a bit more expansive. It includes “people, process, data, and things.”

 

McKinsey & Company analysts Markus Löffler and Andreas Tschiesner offer a more traditional definition of the Internet of Things. They write: “It’s called the Internet of Things, where our physical world is becoming a type of information system — through sensors and actuators embedded in physical objects and linked through wired and wireless networks via the Internet Protocol.” They are in agreement with Namboodri, however, when it comes to the effect that the IoT will have in the manufacturing sector. “In manufacturing,” they assert, “the potential for cyberphysical systems to improve productivity in the production process and the supply chain is vast.” [“The Internet of Things,” Fabricating & Metalworking, 8 November 2013] They continue:

“The Internet of Things has already set in motion the idea of a fourth industrial revolution — a new wave of technological changes that will decentralize production control and trigger a paradigm shift in manufacturing. … Most companies think of physical flows — meaning the flow of material components through the supply chain — as separate from information flows, and then consider how and where to coordinate and synchronize them. After the fourth industrial revolution, there will no longer be a difference between information and materials, because products will be inextricably linked to ‘their’ information.”

Although the upside benefits of the IoT are enormous, Bridget Botelho warns, “Internet-connected devices, cheaply available data collecting sensors and other technologies are rolling up into the wave of ‘Internet of Things’ that is about to come crashing down on data centers.” [“‘Internet of Things’ data deluge to impact data centers, IT market,” TechTarget, 14 November 2013] It’s not just the amount of data that will be collected that worries some people, security and privacy are also issues that need to be addressed. Businesses are obviously concerned about proprietary information that could be revealed if IoT networks are breached. Individuals are more concerned about the personal information that hackers could obtain from their “smart” products. Amadou Diallo writes, “From the popular Fitbit wristbands to smoke detectors and home energy systems that can be adjusted via a phone app or web browser, the ability of devices to collect, store and share personal data is only going to increase.” [“Do Smart Devices Need Regulation? FTC Examines Internet of Things,” Forbes, 23 December 2013] He points out that by next September “all new cars and SUVs sold in the U.S. will be required to include Event Data Recorders (EDRs), which have long had the ability to collect a wealth of information about location and driving habits.” Although most people experience discomfort knowing that data is being collected about them, they also appreciate some of the benefits that machine to machine (M2M) communication can provide (like accident avoidance).

 

Despite any discomfort that might be created by proactive machine to machine communications, Andrew Milroy, vice president of the ICT practice at Frost & Sullivan Asia-Pacific, predicts that the IoT is going to grow rapidly. “The explosion of IoT activity over the next few years,” he stated, “will be driven by the nexus of low-cost sensors, cloud computing, advanced data analytics and mobility.” [“‘Internet of Things’ poised to be catalyst for ICT industry next year,” The Nation, 30 December 2013] The article continues:

“Plenty of opportunities will emerge as more and more data is generated by machines (things) than human beings, such as to analyse and use big data; store data and source application functionality in/from the cloud; create, manage and support applications that enable the operation and management of IoT implementations; and provide high-speed connectivity between objects and the people who work with them and use them. The IoT will create much more data than is generated by people, the global growth consultancy believes. Powerful analytical tools will allow this additional data to be optimised, potentially allowing organisations to increase efficiency and effectiveness, innovate and transform the way they do business – and generate revenue. As organisations prioritise big data and seek to improve evidence-based decision-making, demand for these tools will increase.”

Debarati Roy agrees that the IoT, thanks to the technologies mentioned by Milroy, is going to be the next big thing. [“Internet of Things: The Next Big Thing after Cloud, Mobility and Big Data,” Computerworld, 4 December 2013] She writes:

“Imagine a world so connected. As you lock the doors of your house to leave for work, your car heats up by itself to ensure you have a cosy comfortable ride, enroute your car monitors your drive and can alert you of possible routes for traffic jams or any speeding vehicles coming your way. As you park your car in the office basement, your desktop boots up and the coffee machine has your cappuccino ready. Sounds like a StarWars world? Well the Internet of Things( IoT) makes all these possible and that is why it is being labeled the next big thing in the tech world after Cloud, mobility and Big data.”

Manufacturers and individuals are not the only entities that are going to benefit from the Internet of Things. Dawinderpal Sahota reports, “A survey carried out by Harris Interactive on behalf of software firm SAP found that almost 30 percent of IT decision makers believe smart cities will be the most important outcome of the deployment of M2M technologies.” [“Smart cities key to M2M,” Telecoms, 30 April 2013] If you don’t believe that your life is going to be impacted by the IoT, you might have to rethink your position. Christopher Mims asserts, “Most of us don’t recognize just how far the internet of things will go, from souped-up gadgets that track our every move to a world that predicts our actions and emotions.” [“How the ‘internet of things’ will replace the web,” Quartz, 15 December 2013] He continues:

“Objects on our bodies (health monitors, smart glasses) and in our homes and businesses (smart thermostats, lights, appliances and security systems) can all be programmed to interact in complicated and unexpected ways once the internet knows that we’re present and what our intentions might be. … These pro-active actions are all part of what some call ‘anticipatory computing.’ Invisible buttons and other contextual information about you will allow the internet to do more than facilitate your needs. It would actually anticipate them.”

As I’ve noted in previous posts, too much “anticipatory computing” can be perceived as creepy rather than helpful; but, as consumers get used to having information served up to them, I suspect the creepiness factor will diminish. We may never settle on a single name for the Internet of Things (e.g., General Electric prefers the term Industrial Internet while Cisco talks about the Internet of Everything), but most pundits agree that, regardless of what you call it, the Internet of Things is on the rise.