Human ability in developing technology is mind-boggling. In 1903 the Wright Brothers flew the first airplane. By 1969, just over 60 years later we were able to go beyond our atmosphere and make the first lunar landing. Perhaps just as amazing was the launching of the World Wide Web in January 1991. Since then, the WWW has expanded at an unbelievable rate to the point where it is almost a necessity of life. However, now, it is becoming clear that it is time to kick start the next phase of the WWW. More specifically, it is time for the Internet of Things (IoT).
What is the Internet of Things ?
I am sure that most of you may have read or heard this term at least once. However, you aren’t quite sure what it means. The IoT is not necessarily a conversation starter- unless you are amongst a bunch of tech-junkies, but it is more integrated into your life than you can ever imagine. What’s more, it has the potential to (just like every other revolutionary piece of technology) bring about new changes to the world of business.
When the WWW first came about, it was almost all about the increase in connectivity and globalization. However, just like everything else around us we started using the WWW to make some cash. For example, Amazon and Ali-baba took shopping to a whole new level by offering unlimited products to consumers without spending a cent on shelf space. Web browsers like Google and Social Media sites like Facebook, provide their services for free, but they earn millions of dollars by targeted advertising and collection of user data.
Although this digitalization is quite widespread, scientists, researchers, and engineers believe there is much more potential in the WWW than we first realized. Today, almost all your personal communication devices, like your mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and computers are inter-connected via the Internet. However, there is quite a large separation between the physical world and the digital world. After all, it is not like your toaster can communicate with your mobile phone. It is this very separation that the IoT is trying to reduce.
The IoT can be the bridge that will lead to a world where the digital world corresponds with the physical world. Simply put, your mobile and laptop won’t be the only ‘smart’ devices around you. Your coffee machine, toaster, car, and even your house would all be ‘smart’ enough to communicate between themselves.
So how does this relate to businesses?
The first step in capitalizing the Internet of Things boils down to the supplier manufacturing ‘smart’ products. This is where existing technology is fitted with additional components like sensors, an internet connection, and cloud based data analysis. This will provide the consumer with the ability to not only enjoy the object’s physical function but also an additional range of digital services.
Let’s start with a light bulb. Today when buying a light bulb, we will look into its power rating, efficiency, and price. Since the function of a light bulb is quite straightforward we don’t have much to consider.
However, when the IoT enters the picture this scenario will change radically. It is as simple as adding a small PIR sensor to the existing bulb. Now, along with the function of emitting light we also have additional digital functions. For example, the ability to detect the number of occupants in the room or even the ability to act as a burglar alarm.
Let’s consider one more example before moving on. On Sunday morning, you have to open the refrigerator and the pantry to determine what needs to be bought for the upcoming week. Because you are a little busy you decide to order online and get the groceries delivered to your door. The connection between the physical world (your pantry and refrigerator) and the digital world (online shopping sites), is you.
However when IoT enters the picture, you no longer have to be the middleman between the physical and the digital world. The refrigerator and the pantry can detect which of your normal groceries are missing by themselves. They will then compile a list, connect to your favourite online shopping site and order the groceries to arrive on Sunday morning.
Creating a new line of jobs
To utilize the Internet of Things to its best potential, we no longer require the industrialist and the techie separately. We require a middleman between the industrial engineers and the computer specialists. Someone with enough knowledge on both sides to allow smooth transitioning into the world of IoT. This ultimately means a new range of jobs, a new set of employment opportunities and ultimately new methods of making money.
The connection between manufacturers and digital service providers will have to strengthen. The value amongst developer communities and business eco-systems will be of strategic importance. This means in the future, mergers between tech giants and service providers may actually be common. If world leaders play their cards right, the IoT can provide the opportunity to boost their national economies.
When will it happen?
The shift towards the IoT will happen. However, we cannot predict whether that transition will be fast-paced or slow. Will it be over a few years as it did with the mobile phone revolution? Or will it take over half a century as it is with hybrid car technology? One thing is clear and that is, the transition is already happening. Watches that keep track of your heart rate and self-driving cars are already on the market. What does this show us? If the IoT can be easily integrated into our lives people will start using it. So whether it is a burglar system that comes in the form of light bulb or if it is a health and fitness monitoring system in the form of a watch, Internet of Things can be easily utilized.
However it is only when we are well and truly comfortable in using the IoT will we be able to then start capitalizing on it. New business models and new entrepreneurship opportunities are bound to pop up in such times.
Whilst I talked about this quite optimistically, I cannot deny that a number of issues do linger in my mind. Collection of data is a big part to the success of IoT, but who will ultimately own the data? How can we handle threats to privacy and security?
All in all, the Internet of Things can definitely be the next big thing. Even if you don’t believe it, most tech giants and university researchers are already working to make it so.