The “Internet of things” (IoT) is becoming an increasingly growing topic of conversation both in the workplace and outside of it. It’s a concept that not only has the potential to impact how we live but also how we work. But what exactly is the “Internet of things” and what impact is it going to have on you, if any? There are a lot of complexities around the “Internet of things” sticking to the basics, lots of technical and policy-related conversations are being had but many people are still just trying to grasp the foundation of what the heck these conversations are about.
Although you probably haven’t heard much about IoT until recently, the terminology dates back to 1999. Kevin Ashton, co-founder of MIT’s Auto-ID Center, is credited by most sources with coining the phrase “Internet of Things.” (The acronym, IoT, appears to be a considerably later innovation; Wikipedia did not use the abbreviation until starting in 2009, although it contained an entry for Internet of Things since July 2007.) Once introduced, the term quickly entered widespread use, as this Google Ngram shows. (The result there suggesting that the term was used once in 1979 is an anomaly apparently based on erroneous metadata; the publication in question actually appeared later than Google thinks.)
The history of the phrase is significant because it shows that, although the concept of IoT may only have reached the masses in the last few years, it had a wide following among experts that stretches back to the early 2000s.
What is Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.
A thing, in the Internet of Things, can be a person with a heart monitor implant, a farm animal with a biochip transponder, an automobile that has built-in sensors to alert the driver when tire pressure is low — or any other natural or man-made object that can be assigned an IP address and provided with the ability to transfer data over a network.
IoT has evolved from the convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), microservices and the internet. The convergence has helped tear down the silo walls between operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT), allowing unstructured machine-generated data to be analysed for insights that will drive improvements.
How does it work?
Devices and objects with built in sensors are connected to an Internet of Things platform, which integrates data from the different devices and applies analytics to share the most valuable information with applications built to address specific needs.
The IoT device will typically be connected to an IP network to the global Internet. Commercial IoT, where local communication is typically either Bluetooth or Ethernet (wired or wireless). The IoT device will typically communicate only with local devices.
These powerful IoT platforms can pinpoint exactly what information is useful and what can safely be ignored. This information can be used to detect patterns, make recommendations, and detect possible problems before they occur.
For example, if I own a car manufacturing business, I might want to know which optional components (leather seats or alloy wheels, for example) are the most popular. Using Internet of Things technology, I can:
- Use sensors to detect which areas in a showroom are the most popular, and where customers linger longest;
- Drill down into the available sales data to identify which components are selling fastest;
- Automatically align sales data with supply, so that popular items don’t go out of stock.
The information picked up by connected devices enables me to make smart decisions about which components to stock up on, based on real-time information, which helps me save time and money.
How Does This Impact You?
The new rule for the future is going to be, “Anything that can be connected, will be connected.” But why on earth would you want so many connected devices talking to each other? There are many examples for what this might look like or what the potential value might be. Say for example you are on your way to a meeting; your car could have access to your calendar and already know the best route to take. If the traffic is heavy your car might send a text to the other party notifying them that you will be late. What if your alarm clock wakes up you at 6 a.m. and then notifies your coffee maker to start brewing coffee for you? What if your office equipment knew when it was running low on supplies and automatically re-ordered more? What if the wearable device you used in the workplace could tell you when and where you were most active and productive and shared that information with other devices that you used while working?
On a broader scale, the IoT can be applied to things like transportation networks: “smart cities” which can help us reduce waste and improve efficiency for things such as energy use; this helping us understand and improve how we work and live. Take a look at the visual below to see what something like that can look like.