The Revolutionary Journey of The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) has evolved with the progression of Internet in the past two decades. For starters, IoT is essentially the internetwork of physical things such as sensors, devices, vehicles, buildings, and other objects which are embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enable these objects to pick data, assemble and exchange the data. With IoT, the communication is extended through the Internet among all the things that surround us.

In the twentieth century, computers were essentially the smartest brains but without senses. Then came machine-to-machine (M2M) communications that allowed wired / wireless system to communicate with the devices of same ability. M2M uses a device which could be sensor, meter etc. to capture an ‘event’ like temperature, inventory level, moisture in soil,   

which is transmitted through a wireless, wired or hybrid network to a software application that translates the captured event into meaningful information. In the twenty-first century, because of IoT, computers are not only smarter, but can also sense things for themselves. The fact that IoT has the ability to form the interconnection of multiple M2M applications, makes it distinctive from M2M.

Today, life is all about digitized interactions, both business and social, thanks to the increased use of converging technologies such as IoT, mobility, cloud, artificial intelligence, machine learning and more; complemented by the falling prices of sensors, storage and enhanced computing power and processing speeds. IoT enables collection and exchange of data across multiple industry sectors, for example, it has the ability to manage traffic flow, reduce pollution and improve health by combining data from a range of transport, healthcare and environmental sensors. According to Statista, the global IoT market is expected to grow to 212 billion U.S. dollars in size by the end of 2019. The technology reached 100 billion dollars in market revenue for the first time in 2017, and forecasts suggest that this figure will grow to around 1.6 trillion by 2025. 

The disruption created by the converging technologies, especially IoT, cannot be explained any better than the one given in the Harvard Business Review article written by management guru Michael E. Porter and James E. Heppelmann, president and CEO of PTC on “How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition”. According to them, the smart, connected products are changing how value is created for customers, how companies compete, and the boundaries of competition itself. These shifts will affect virtually every industry, directly or indirectly. But smart, connected products will have tremendous multidimensional impact. They will affect the trajectory of the overall economy, giving rise to the next era of IT-driven productivity growth for companies, their customers, and the global economy at a time when the impact of earlier waves of IT has largely played itself out and productivity growth has slowed down. Supporting this is the fact that IoT connects 5.7 million devices every day and promises additional revenue potential of up to 36%, depending on your ecosystem role (Ericsson).

Worldwide, there are numerous examples of the governments, businesses, and consumers using IoT technology for introducing new business models (product-as-a-service, pay by the minute) and improving the service delivery. Initiatives such as, Platform Industries 4.0 in Germany, the Digital Single Market Strategy of Europe, the U.K. Digital Strategy, the Smart Nation initiative of Singapore, the Digital India, Smart Cities and Digital Villages programs launched by the Indian Government etc., explicitly describe government commitment to helping make firms more competitive through better use of IoT technologies. Much of this effort has, however, been geared toward using IoT within business operations, such as, manufacturing operations- embedding sensors within products to make them more appealing and useful for consumers. 

Father of IoT, Kevin Ashton said, 'if you think IoT is a buzzword, your business will fail'. No doubt that progressive businesses, especially in developed countries, understood the consequences of not using technology to scale up productivity and increase efficiencies and were quick to seize the potential of IoT. A story in the New York Times in 2016 by Steve Lohr about the evolution of GE from a manufacturing company to a digital one, describes IoT/industrial internet as “the next battlefield” as companies fight to develop the dominant software layer that connects the machines. In sectors such as transport, environment, water, and energy there are numerous examples of applications and programs where IoT serves as a central stitching element for government and business. Sensors mounted on lamp-posts that measure and share environmental or pollution data (Chicago and Barcelona), GPS devices that track and provide real-time updates on transit (Mississauga in Canada), smart meters that monitor energy consumption (Amsterdam, Seoul), and sensors that detect volumes in garbage bins (Milton Keynes in the United Kingdom), Tractor-as-a-service for small landholding farmers enabling pay by minutes of use (Africa) are now fairly mainstream or extensively piloted.

IoT is now moving from a position where it delivered incremental efficiency improvements, to one where it positively impacts new business models and processes. For example, IoT is now enabling technology aggregation platforms for extending the concept of uberisation of cars to anything which can be rented on-demand. Many enterprises have already embarked on a journey to transform from being ‘product centric’ only to ‘product + service centric’ solution providers, by harnessing the built-in connectivity of connected devices and machines. IoT has helped save hugs costs, efforts and even prevented dangerous accidents by moving away from reactive to predictive maintenance in the manufacturing sector. While many cities are deploying IoT solutions, going forward, we will see fully integrated and collaborative ecosystems being developed by IoT players to provide next-gen solutions all under one roof to run most complex IoT applications. Governments will be able to run manage nationwide citizen services, provide good governance and transparency to connected national and international travel systems to fully autonomous anti-terrorist and border security systems with predictive science, eliminating loss of valuable human lives.

By contrast, despite the fact that IoT is producing truly disruptive and innovative products and services, unfortunately, the IoT market still remains underdeveloped and fragmented. One of the reasons for uneven maturity is that the IoT technology has been developing differently in each region of world such as USA, Europe, India, China and South Pacific. As globally acceptable standards are not available, services are being provided majorly on proprietary standards. This has implications on data privacy as different laws apply in different jurisdictions. Another cause of worry has been IoT security due to the increased number of cyberattacks. Hackers have cleverly targeted connected devices, such as, smart baby monitors, home automation systems, web cameras, and even smart printers for executing lethal DDoS attacks. Home intrusions and remote vehicle hijacking are real and scariest threats because IoT bridges the virtual space with the physical world.

In conclusion, while the governments, businesses and consumers are already feeling the heat of disruptions with IoT, its full potential is yet to be realized. Like I always say, the technology will only play the role of an enabler, we need to be clear what we wish to achieve with it. The future of IoT is bright as digitization has opened the avenues for progress using technology. There is a huge price-sensitive market in the developing and underdeveloped countries ready to be tapped with right-sized and rightly priced IoT solutions. A collaborative environment among established IoT players, regulatory bodies, academia and startups is essential to bring up truly successful use cases and economies of scale to meet this demand. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house