It’s hard to go very far, especially if you work in the IT or telecom sectors, without hearing or reading about the Internet of Things. The IoT seems to be everywhere.
And that’s a problem.
Right now we’re at a transitional point in the history of the IoT and, indeed, communications in general. Overlapping trends – including virtualization, machine-to-machine, high-speed networking, mobility as well as very inexpensive processing and storage – have opened the gates to ubiquitous computing.
It’s redundant at this point to say that the Internet of Things will be big. For folks who want a review of the pretty astounding numbers, check out Business Insider.
In an ironic way, this isn’t so great. The vision is getting ahead of the reality. Two clichés come to mind: “Be careful what you wish for” and “It’s possible to have too much of a good thing.” At this point, it seems that the IoT is so broad and wide that it defies meaningful classification.
The IoT crosses virtually all verticals. It’s in healthcare and finance, education and retail. Each of these sectors has its own peculiarities that demand a level of customization. The IoT also goes from big to small. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is either a part of the IoT or a closely aligned discreet platform. If it’s also thrown into the mix, the IoT stretches from the core of the factory floor to a consumer’s refrigerator. That’s a long distance, both literally and figuratively.
In essence, the IoT is sort of a shadow of all telecommunications. This raises a lot of questions and challenges. Here are three key issues which the industry must deal with:
Standards Are Vital – But a Long Way From Being Set
The challenge of setting standards for the IoT is a major one. Its ubiquity means that one standards family won’t cover everything.
However, there are pieces of data that must be available across the board. For example, a typical IoT function is to keep tabs on the Smith family’s refrigerator. If the compressor is operating outside of parameters, an alert will be sent to the appliance store, the family or the vendor. If a replacement compressor is needed, a chain of events is set in motion that impacts the manufacturer and distribution chain of each part that will go into that compressor as well as the finished product.
The bottom line is that different standards apply to different stages. Regulations for what happens on the factory floor don’t necessarily match those for the supply chain or the Smith household. And yet an automated umbrella must exist to tie these worlds together in order for the full efficiencies to be realized. That level of concerted and organized action seems to be nowhere near happening.
Data Proliferates – But is Big Data Ready?
The fridge in the Smith household generates data. So does, theoretically, the microwave, the dishwasher and the stove. That’s just one kitchen in one house. There’s also the home entertainment network, the home office, the heating and cooling system and so forth.
Taken as a whole, the data generated by the IoT and the IIoT is a treasure trove. It can be used by marketers, by public health officials, law enforcement and dozens of other entities.
In addition to data about specific people and households, insights can be gained on neighborhoods and other subgroups. For instance, smart medicinal dispensers use the IoT to track whether patients are taking their pills. In addition to ensuring that the patient is getting what he or she needs, sophisticated data mining may use the application to determine if the incidence of a disease is higher in a particular area.
The question is whether the platforms exist to extract this useful information. To some extent, the answer seems to be that they do. IBM Watson, for instance, aims at digging deeper than any human can. Clearly, however, there is a long way to go.
Rules and Laws Are Needed – But They’re Not Here Yet
The Smith family data is as potentially valuable to criminals as it is to refrigerator manufacturers. Suppose, for instance, a team of hackers found that the IoT-connected air conditioning system in the Smith home has been off for three hot days in the middle of July. This would be an indicator that the family is at the shore and the house is a good target for a burglary. Recently, concerns about security of self-driving cars have risen. The bottom line is that the laws aren’t there yet.
It’s virtually impossible to track the IoT in the manner of other industries. It’s too broad and deep. At this point it’s safe to say that the ability to extract and transmit data very inexpensively and without human intervention is ahead of the ability to control or fully harness that technology. That’s exciting – and a bit dangerous.