Today, the Internet of Things (IoT) is fast emerging as a way to connect machines and systems together via sensors and actuators, so that meaningful information from these systems can be collected and actions taken to enhance human productivity and efficiency.
While IoT promises a way to reduce waste, cost and inconvenience while increasing efficiency, one of the major appeals of this technology trend is for its ability to lead to an environmentally cleaner, productive and a better quality of life.
Examples of these benefits include:
- Smarter homes and offices that can save energy costs, or modify the inner ambiance of a building to suit the requirements of the inhabitant, or offering better security by offering constant surveillance and taking proactive action (such as alerting the local police) in case of a security breach.
- Better healthcare via remote monitoring of patients and even remotely administering medication
- Reminders of mundane tasks such as payment of utility bills and parking meters
- Smart lighting of streets or automatic sensing and control of traffic signals
- Remote monitoring of assembly line and production systems to maximise operational efficiency, reliability and safety in a manufacturing facility
- Smart automobiles that can summon assistance if required, and assist in controlling vehicle speed based on traffic and environmental conditions
The possibilities for today and the future are limitless and that's what everyone is excited about - the possibilities it holds for the future.
Why IOT now?
While many of us have harbored science-fiction and futuristic dreams of residing in smart homes and offices and the freedom of living and working from anywhere irrespective of location, technology to enable this did not exist. Today, the availability of the following technology solutions is helping to make IoT a reality:
- Technologies to transport, store and process 'big-data' generated by IoT. This requires high computing power, distributed processing frameworks and storage along with high-speed networks deployed in private data centres or on-demand cloud-based infrastructures. Most of these are already a reality today or nearing it.
- Capability to perform business and data analytics to give insights into the information received from the IoT environment.
- Emergence of mobile technologies and apps that provide instant access to data and actionable events to users via personal mobile devices
- As usage grows and IoT networks become more pervasive, the costs of the sensors and such connected devices will drop. Development of low-bandwidth, low-power consuming devices will further drive the costs down.
Impact on Business, Economy, Job Skills and Society
The proliferation of connected devices from one per person today to say 10 devices per person in the future, will open up a plethora of new opportunities for startups and will create an ecosystem around the IoT area.
Once the business value of the IoT domain is understood, new products, services and revenue models will emerge which will attract investments and therefore create jobs in the IoT area. This also has the potential to increase imports or exports for such products and solutions, which in turn could push up economies similar to what IT services has done for India. It could also lead to emergence of ancillary or supporting industries such as manufacturing of smart and connected devices, monitoring and measurement systems, decision control and analytics systems, and security solutions to ensure safe use and address privacy concerns when it comes to usage of IOT.
Regulatory bodies will need to define policies and guidelines to govern usage of IoT when it comes to the type of information collected by IoT devices, its granularity, who has access to it and how it will be used. Such positive actions will boost user confidence in the technology and increase adoption.
The popularity of IoT will also give rise to the adoption of big data and analytics technologies that can provide insight to take meaningful decisions. The large number of devices, coupled with the high volume, velocity and structure of IoT data, will create new business opportunities especially in the areas of security, data, storage management, servers and the data centre network and data analytics.
This means new skills such as business analysis, mathematics statistics, creative design for end user visualisation, big data frameworks, programming and architecting large scalable systems, and knowledge of devices used in the IoT ecosystems will be in demand in addition to understanding business specific usage patterns, customer behaviour and innovative marketing techniques. This could also influence the course and curriculum currently on offer in schools and colleges.
Concerns around IOT:
However, along with all these benefits arise concerns of security risks and the potential breach of privacy. Smart meters improve energy usage by monitoring movements or presence of inhabitants in a house and shut down energy-consuming devices when no one is at home. However, if such records of ourmovements or absence in the house falls into the wrong hands, security could be compromised. Similarly, monitoring the activities of patients or the elderly could be seen as intrusion on their private lives. Such intrusive monitoring of people could also lead to unwanted social implications and a change in behavioural patterns. Then there are concerns about the privacy of the information being gathered, who has access to it and how it will be used.
Having such privacy and security concerns about an upcoming technology is not new or unwarranted. We felt the same when internet based email systems were first made available or accessing our data in cloud based infrastructures. How the industry promoting IoT deals with such issues will be important. If it is able to consistently demonstrate the safe usage of IoT, it could really open up possibilities for a cleaner, better and productive lives for all of us.