A Guide to The Internet of Things


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Article ImageAnd so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!

-"The Blind Men and the Elephant," John Godfrey Saxe

Just as the elephant is grasped differently by each of the monks in "The Blind Men and the Elephant," you'll hear a different take on the Internet of Things (IoT) based on whom you ask. That's not surprising because it is really such a wide-ranging subject. Here is an attempt to distill the essence, providing you with a summary and a current snapshot of this behemoth.

The Internet of Things Explained

"Billions of devices" and "trillions of dollars" are often uttered in the same breath as the "Internet of Things." It's important to get this straight: The IoT is not a single application, platform, or even industry.

The IoT is a concept that refers to wirelessly connecting mobile and remote devices/equipment to the internet (or corporate intranets) using low-cost sensors. The main motivation (and hope) to connect everything to the internet is to enhance existing products and services.

Sometimes, machine-to-machine (M2M) is used interchangeably with IoT. Broadly speaking, they are similar. M2M (or industrial internet) is the term used in the context of B2B or industrial applications.

Strictly speaking, the IoT is not entirely new-you can think of it as the internet expanding from being a network of computers to being a network of both computers and things. What's new are the sensors-tiny sensors embedded in devices that can gather almost any kind of data about their surrounding environment (temperature, light, sound, time, movement, speed, distance, and more).

IoT Applications

In a nutshell, IoT solutions can be thought of as involving three core steps:

  1. Collect sensor data.
  2. Transmit data to a central location (usually in the cloud).
  3. Analyze data and generate insights (using Big Data tools and techniques).

By letting you collect rich, real-time data at different points in the distribution chain, the IoT can help you improve customer experience and employee productivity, leading to better asset utilization and optimized business processes. Potential applications abound in every industry, including automobiles, agriculture, home appliances, healthcare, retail, and real estate. Illustrative use cases that are being piloted/implemented include the following:

  • Automotive: connected cars
  • City management: parking, traffic control, and waste management
  • Consumer services: appliances, home automation, security, and wearables
  • Healthcare: hospital equipment monitoring and health checks via body sensors
  • Manufacturing: equipment monitoring and supply chain management
  • Retail: inventory and shelf management and logistics
  • Transportation: fleet management and remote diagnostics for engines
  • Utilities: smart grids and meters and remote temperature control

Challenges

Use cases with tangible ROI-Despite the hype around the IoT and contrary to the expectations it has created, there is no one-size-fits-all app. You cannot simply embed sensors in your enterprise assets and expect to see immediate benefits. Each industry and company has very specific use cases that you need to figure out, pilot, and then widely deploy before you can reap the benefits. In the current state of evolution and maturity, defining the most relevant use cases for your enterprise is the No. 1 challenge (as well as your opportunity for competitive differentiation). 

Lack of standards-Depending on the industry, your job will be complicated by either the lack of standards or having to choose from a variety of competing standards.

Security and privacy concerns-Taking a piece of analog equipment and adding a digital data stream to it increases the potential security risks. It is one more avenue of attack available to the hackers. There are also several privacy concerns that need to be addressed in a business-to-consumer (B2C) context.

Enterprise Implications

In the long term, the IoT can potentially reconfigure industry value chains. The adoption curve, impact, and payoffs will vary by industry; ultimately, that should guide your strategy. When it comes to implementation, approach  the IoT as you would any new technology. First, identify use cases with the maximum bang for your buck. Second, you should prototype, implement, and refine. Rinse and repeat with other use cases.

It is not difficult to see that the IoT is the culmination of enterprise technology shifts already underway-mobile, analytics, and cloud (MAC) to be specific. If you are geared to handle those changes, you are off to a good start for the looming IoT journey. If not, start by building your enterprise competencies in MAC domains.

Conclusion

The adoption of the IoT will happen in waves, and the pace will vary from industry to industry. The impact of the IoT will be felt across marketing, operations, the supply chain, customer service, and its great enabler, IT. There will be stumbles along the way (e.g., the retrenchment of Google Glass in 2015), but there will be successes as well (e.g., Nest thermostats). To position your business for IoT success, pick relevant use cases, use an iterative implementation approach, and build on your existing digital enterprise skills.