EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT IOT
“The internet of things (IoT)” is possibly my least favorite slice of tech jargon. It’s 100% uncool, and saying it out loud makes you sound like a dweeb. I would know, I can sense my own. Perhaps it’s just my OCD acting up, but I have always felt the term a little confusing due to the dance being played in both the singular and plural. It actually hurts my brain.
As much as I hate the term, IoT is a rather perfect descriptive term for these device(s). IoT devices are things that connect to the internet, or another network of some type, for one reason or another. The idea is simple but the results can be truly profound.
Any device that is connected to the internet can also be controlled, monitored, accessed, etc. via the internet; and that means you can use it anywhere from anywhere. When you consider you also connect these devices to each other, it means we can expand our own capabilities exponentially as well. In strict business terms, that is a LOT of extra productivity with fast access to information on your operations.
The IoT (you see how this singular-plural thing happens) is one of the strongest accelerators of digital transformation and is also the primary factor responsible for industry 4.0. These devices allow us to capture data from literally everything, and that leads to digital transformation. Consider what is going on right now throughout the world with regards to the COVID-19 crisis. It’s the fast access to on site testing information delivered from an IoT infrastructure that enables us to track the virus as fast as testing can be done. In the future, IoT and industry 4.0 in general could do a lot of things for the supply chain problems everyone is currently experiencing, but we will talk about those issues another time.
IoT in the Consumer Space
IoT devices… ughh… are everywhere and they form an ecosystem that any business or consumer can tap into. It seems like everything created now has become an IoT device, it’s not all automation sensors, pressure valves, and flow meters anymore. Seeing the market potential for IoT devices, many companies jumped in, especially in the late 2000’s, and began creating new and creative ways to capture data and connect inanimate objects to the world wide web.
The consumer IoT market is particularly fun, you will find any product you can think of, and several you wouldn’t, are connected to the internet. Want a coffee cup that tells your phone what temperature the coffee is at? We got that… how about a water bottle that knows how often you drink water and sends your phone alerts to remind you to drink more? Yep that too. Useless but kinda cool.
Your cell phone is IoT, your “smart TV” is IoT, your coffee pot (likely now), and all of them, therefore, are connected to a network. Want to know how many cups of coffee you drink in a day or set up your home to turn off the lights or heating in rooms you are not in? The use cases range from the seemingly useless to some genuinely inspired works of personal benefit.
IoT in the Commercial Space
There are more impressive ways to utilize these devices in the commercial market, especially considering how vast and all encompassing the market is becoming. These connected devices are the workhorses of industry 4.0 and enable all the benefits we have previously mentioned in our other sections in this series.
These benefits grow in direct relation to the number of devices out in the market and the number of applications they can be applied to. The projections vary wildly, but some estimates put the number of IoT devices at 41.6 billion devices by 2025, generating approximately 79.4 zettabytes of data. That is 79,400,000,000,000 Gigabytes of data per year or, put more scientifically, a giant amount of data.
It’s one of the reasons that a robust and growing data science industry is emerging, there is a lot of value in being able to intelligently manage, review, breakdown, and glean actionable insights from the data that is being produced. Each day, companies are using business process insights, collected by assembly line or office tracking IoT devices, to streamline and automate expensive production bottlenecks, remotely manage systems and people that would have required duplications of labour in the past to manage. The point is, today you can cheaply stick a sensor on anything to learn more about what that thing is doing… and that gives you power.
A Simplified Use Case
The simple applications of some general IoT devices are pretty cut and dry both with regards to value and implementation. As an example, if you are required to check the pressure in collection tanks in a remote location due to a governmental regulation, you could send someone to check on the tank status and thereby paying for salary, travel time, vehicle operation and maintenance, etc. to retain compliance. The other solution? Attach IoT devices to monitor tank level, pressure, flow, temperature etc. remotely for a small one time cost and be able to check and generate reports on the tank anytime you want, with as much specificity as you want
What is really happening here is a shift in fundamental management strategy, proactive in lieu of reactive management. Reactive management usually comes at the tail end of an expensive mistake, proactive management is about predicting what is going to happen and making small, intelligent, and inexpensive changes to avoid significantly more costly missteps.
The Internet of Things may have a horrible name but it is the driving force behind the crazy improvements we have seen over the last 20 years in productivity. You can’t make a system more efficient if you can’t collect data to baseline what that system is doing right now. If industry 4.0 were a person, then the IoT devices would be that person’s 5 senses, feeling out the world so that the brain can make sense of it and optimize the body’s position within that world.
That brain is called Artificial Intelligence, the subject of next week’s section.