“The potential for the Internet of Things is huge,” writes Thomas Wadlow. “From water sensors that remind you to water your plants and smart home thermostats through to large scale initiatives like connected cars, water pressure systems and smart cities, IoT projects can make life better for individuals while also providing information to companies and public sector bodies.” Wadlow goes on to predict by the end of next year 40 million connected cars will be traversing the world’s roads and, in less than five years, the Internet of Things (IoT) will be connected to 2.5 billion devices. How one defines connectivity makes a big difference in how important statistics like those are. Already millions of cars are connected to manufacturers’ service sites; but few of them are connected to each other. When they are connected in some kind of motor vehicle grid and are freely sharing data, the driving world will change forever. The same holds true with most other “connected” devices. Once they can freely exchange data (or at least communicate through an intelligent hub) the world will change forever. Bruce Schneier (@schneierblog), Chief Technology Officer of Resilient Systems, reminds us there will only be tangible impacts if “things” connected to the IoT have both “sensors” and “actuators.” “The sensors will collect data. The system’s smarts will interpret the data and figure out what to do. And the actuators will do things in our world.” The “system’s smarts” will be provided by artificial intelligence (AI), most likely some form of cognitive computing, connected to the cloud.
Although it may sound like hyperbole to predict a fully mature Internet of Things will change the world, I believe that statement to be true. So does James Kobielus (@jameskobielus), Big Data Evangelist at IBM. He explains:
“The Internet of Things (IoT) is on track to become the most diverse, widespread and pervasive global network of all. Someday, IoT endpoints will not be restricted to consumer, business, governmental and scientific uses but will span all arenas of human endeavor. Indeed, in the insight economy, the Internet of Things is poised to become the biggest big data analytics cloud by far. But although big data is integral to the Internet of Things, it is far from being the only piece of the IoT fabric. In particular, the Internet of Things is central to the notion of a smarter planet. In the coming global order, every human artifact and every element of the natural world — even every physical person — could be networked. Everything will be capable of being instrumented, given data-driven intelligence and perpetually interconnected to drive all desired human outcomes.”
As Kobielus notes, the Internet of Things will affect almost every aspect of our lives. Bill McBeath (@BillMcBeath), Chief Research Officer at ChainLink Research, lists some of the sectors (and activities within those sectors) that will be impacted by the IoT. They include:
- Agriculture (Precision Planting, Smart Irrigation, Animal Health, Harvesting)
- Healthcare (Mobile Health, Smart Prosthetics, Personal Monitoring, Telehealth, Surgical Equipment, Asset Tracking, Drug Dispensing, Emergency Response)
- Smart City (Transit Systems, Traffic, Waste Management, Parking, Utilities, Security, Safety)
- Oil & Gas (Wellhead Telemetry, Safety & Environment, Smart Pipes, Rig Instrumentation)
- Smart Home (Smart Appliances, Entertainment System, Security and Access, Lighting, Pets, Utilities)
- Factories (Instrumentation, Connected Robots, Worker Safety, Predictive Maintenance, Smart Racks and Conveyances, Monitoring, Process Control)
- Retail (Signage, Kiosks, Smart Dressing Rooms, Item-level RFID, Video Systems, Point of Sale Systems, Smart Mirrors, Personal Shopping Assistants, Security, Shrink Prevention)
- Vehicles (Autonomous Driving, Predictive Maintenance, Entertainment Systems, Safety, Self-Fueling Systems, Fleet Efficiency and Optimization)
- Smart Buildings (HVAC Systems, Security, People Moving, Energy, Lighting)
- Smart Grid (Smart Meters/AMI, Crew Safety, Communications, Phasor Measurement Units, Automation)
One thread running through all of those areas is supply chain operations. Adam Robinson, who oversees marketing strategy for Cerasis, observes, “Ultimately, the IoT Supply Chain will enable greater accuracy and identification of potential issues throughout supply chain processes.” Ann Grackin, from ChainLink Research, adds, “The Internet of Things will create profound and irrevocable changes to traditional supply chain management.” Grackin recommends companies ask themselves a series of questions to help them better understand how the IoT could affect their business. Questions to answer include:
- How will we transform our products to smart products?
- What platforms are needed to harness data generated from smart products?
- Will this be an internal-only initiative?
- Are we building a new business unit or spinning out a new enterprise?
- How will our support structures — plants, logistics and service chain — change?
- What investments will be needed to adapt to this new world?
- Do we need to forge partnerships to enable these changes?
- Once you place smart products in the market, an always-on organization will possess a new level of awareness and must respond. How will internal processes and the supply chain then need to change to become more agile and responsive?
As noted above, another thread weaving itself into every aspect of the Internet of Things is artificial intelligence (primarily in the form of cognitive computing). In fact, without artificial intelligence the IoT, as envisioned, will never emerge. Theo Priestley explains, “There is no way that current analytical solutions will be able to manage that level of information across that size of connected landscape. Of course, no singular platform needs to, but all solutions in the immediate future will require artificial intelligence capabilities.” Mark Jaffe, CEO of Prelert, adds, “We need to improve the speed and accuracy of big data analysis in order for IoT to live up to its promise. If we don’t, the consequences could be disastrous and could range from the annoying — like home appliances that don’t work together as advertised — to the life-threatening — pacemakers malfunctioning or hundred car pileups. The only way to keep up with this IoT-generated data and gain the hidden insight it holds is with machine learning.” Like me, Kobielus believes that cognitive computing will be the most important AI systems put to the task. He explains:
“For the Internet of Things to intelligently drive next best actions in mobile and other applications, cognitive computing fabrics need to consider the full geospatial and temporal context for all events. In this new cognitive era, mobile devices that collect sensor readings are also feeding real-time information, context and guidance to users. As mobility becomes the default mode for every aspect of life, the Internet of Things will become an organic extension of biological sensation and locomotion.”
I’m not sure when a fully mature Internet of Things will emerge; but, I am sure that it will eventually form the nervous system of a connected world.
 Thomas Wadlow, “[Infographic] What the Internet of Things will Look Like in 2020,” Business Review Europe, 4 November 2014.
 Bruce Schneier, “The Internet of Things Will Be the World’s Biggest Robot,”Schneier on Security, 4 February 2016.
 James Kobielus, “The Internet of Things and the evolving role of big data analytics in the insight economy,” IBM Big Data & Analytics Hub, 19 October 2015.
 Bill McBeath, “What Is This Thing Called the ‘Internet of Things?’,” Chainlink Research, 14 October 2014.
 Adam Robinson, “The (Internet of Things) IOT Supply Chain Benefits Now Coming Clearer,” Cerasis, 14 July 2015.
 Ann Grackin, “Now is the time to explore the IoT supply chain,” TechTarget, 26 February 2016.
 Theo Priestley, “A Series Of Unfortunate Tech Predictions – Artificial Intelligence and IOT are inseparable,” Forbes, 8 December 2015.
 Mark Jaffe, “IoT Won’t Work without Artificial Intelligence,” Wired, 12 November 2014.