Do you have devices other than phones and computers connected to the Internet at home or at work? Like most people, you probably answered yes. That is because the Internet of Things (IoT) is here and it does not seem to be going anywhere soon. In fact, by 2020 the number of devices connected to the Internet will grow from about 10 billion to 34 billion. With so much growth it is important to know what IoT is and what kinds of impacts it has on our personal and professional lives.
What is IoT?
"A global infrastructure for the information society, enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on existing and evolving interoperable information and communication technologies."
The Internet of Things Global Standards Initiative IoT
Essentially, the Internet of Things is the state of everyday items being connected to the Internet. These can be things like watches, cars, printers, TVs, video game systems, lights, and a variety of other items. The Internet of Things has become an effort to connect everything to the Internet so that it can send and receive data and make life for the user easier.
Why is IoT important?
The importance of IoT draws from the fact that it is everywhere. Understanding it means understanding innovation in technology and being better prepared for the exponential growth in innovation. People and businesses risk losing growth opportunities and new ways of living or doing business by not understanding the importance of this technology. IoT is changing all aspects of our lives, often in ways we may not even imagine.
How IoT is affecting us all
When looking at how IoT impacts society, there are two main areas of importance: businesses and consumers.
Leaders and researchers have predicted that IoT will reduce costs, increase productivity, improve efficiency, increase market share, and increase profits. It is probably safe to say that all businesses want those things. Most businesses do this by taking advantage of all the data these devices share. They allow business to do two main things:
- Improve data collection - By connecting machines, a server can collect and organize data much faster than when it used to rely on human intervention.
- Speed up data analysis - As machines are able to communicate through IoT, they analyze faster. This means that companies can use the information to change business practices and connect with consumers in a more profitable manner, faster than they would have before IoT.
These uses of data are noticeable in two main aspects of business, retail and manufacturing, through:
- Predictive maintenance - Companies who have machines and operations that require maintenance could use data from sensors to predict when they need to do maintenance. Workers are then able to adjust their schedules to work in a more efficient and productive manner.
- Tracking systems - Many retailers use radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to track merchandise in their stores. The tags transmit data back to the store network allowing them to achieve 99% inventory accuracy and a 2-7% increase in sales.
Businesses have not yet reached the full potential of how IoT can impact consumer goods and services. For many, this is just the beginning. Currently, IoT is best known to those who use:
- Wearable Technology - Consumers can buy various products like watches, wristbands, and glasses that can transmit data. Apple Watch, Fitbit, and Google Glass are wearable devices that can connect to the Internet to track and share data, alert users to various alarms, or simply to access the Internet in various ways.
- Health products - Many products are available or soon to be available that help consumers track and monitor their health. The Fitbit, mentioned above, is not the only health-related wearable. Consumers can also buy IoT insulin pumps and bathroom scales. In the not too distant future, we will also be able to have smart mirrors that are connected to the Internet.
- Home products - Consumers can purchase products which create a home network, sometimes called a hub. Using this hub, consumers can control lights, cameras, doors, kitchen appliances, TVs, and other items with a smartphone app.
- Finances - Many banks are using apps on mobile devices and wearables that allow consumers to pay for goods and services or access account information without access to a bank or even a bank card.
As many businesses are investing more into IoT, they are able to see that it has huge potential for their businesses and customers, but they also need to be aware of some of the challenges that can arise.
The challenges of IoT
In order to make IoT a beneficial aspect of society for everyone, there are many concerns that leaders need to address. Many of the challenges of IoT need oversight by governments and businesses, as they are things that no individual consumer or company can handle alone. These include:
- Scalability - There is very little research into how scalable IoT is. It is also difficult for businesses to predict how far the technology will go and how much it will impact them. This can make it difficult to plan for changes and updates to current products and services.
- Standards - While IoT expands, many businesses have their own set of standards they use. Communication between devices could become more difficult if there are not a set of universal standards in place to ensure that devices are able to communicate with each.
- Waste - With phones, computers, and other devices becoming obsolete faster, consumers and businesses have created a large amount of waste when those devices are not reused or recycled. Unfortunately, less than 20% of electronic waste is recycled. As IoT creates more waste by making non-IoT devices outdated, consumers and agencies need to work on managing the increase in waste.
- Energy - Increasing the number of IoT devices in the market means that Internet services will need upgrades in order to provide reliable service and data centers will need larger servers to handle all the data. The increase in the number and power of the various devices will result in higher energy consumption.
- Privacy - Given that IoT devices produce a large about of data concerning people and their activities, when this data travels between different devices, agencies and governments can collect the data and use it to track people and their habits.
- Security - In an effort to make devices user-friendly, many companies have scaled back on complicated security measures. While the consumer may be happy to be able to use the device so easily, it can leave them at risk for hacks.
Despite this, there does not seem to be anything stopping IoT at the moment. With practical standard and effective consumer education, many of the challenges can be overcome so that we can all benefit from the easier life that IoT has the potential to provide us.