Examining the Internet of Things: What’s hype? What’s real?

The Internet of Things is one of the biggest buzzwords in technology today, and indeed, it does have the potential to be a truly transformational force in the way that we live and work today.Internet of Things

However, if you peel back the “potential” and excitable future-speak surrounding IoT, and look at the actual reality of where it is today, the story is much, much different.  Yes, Internet-enabled “things” ranging from phones to watches to cars are getting smarter by being able to access, share and interpret data in new ways. But in our enthusiasm to embrace a Jetsons-like future powered by IoT, we’re losing sight of the infrastructure required (both at the literal hardware and organizational/institutional levels) to actually elevate this technology beyond buzzword status.

Consider, for example, the hype cycle over “big data” about three years ago when it became the industry’s hot topic without much, well, data to back it up. Hadoop is another example – it too had early adopters, but even now is only being rolled out into Fortune 1000/5000 companies. Organizations are still struggling with how to monetize it.

Like all transformational technologies, IoT’s challenges extend far beyond just IT because they fundamentally change the way that businesses are structured. There are three main areas that need closer examination if the Internet of Things is going to transcend its hype:

  • The sheer scale of the “things” involved. The number of endpoints that could potentially be affected by IoT is staggering. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to aggregate the data in a meaningful way – how do you realistically gather data across millions (even billions) of end points, let alone intelligently process and analyze it?
  • The infrastructure to make it happen. IoT is largely about making devices and endpoints smarter in order to make our lives easier. But doing that requires massive infrastructure investment and development, including network storage, data processing and workflow architecture. How will today’s infrastructure have to evolve to accommodate the explosion of data involved with IoT as well as the analytical intelligence behind it?
  • The tenuous connection to business value. Analysts are throwing around huge numbers when discussing IoT, but how are organizations going to take the data created by IoT, recognize real value from it and enhance their current models accordingly?

All this said, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are several use cases for IoT that are already being adopted on a broad level and present a view into how IoT may further evolve over the next 3-5 years.

Fitness and healthcare: The rise of Fitbits and other activity tracking wearables allow users to gain intelligence about their fitness progress and other metrics. Ultimately, these devices may further evolve to continue helping to change users’ behaviors and make people more proactive and efficient about their health and fitness.

Transportation – Arguably, the holy grail of IoT is the self-driving car. This is already gaining some speed through initiatives at organizations like Google most notably, but there’s potential to take intelligent vehicles a step farther, perhaps having them assist with automated transportation to errands or social activities.

Entertainment and leisure time – Digital and streaming media services like Netflix and Spotify allow a more personalized, custom entertainment experience that is available when and where you want it. The data associated with media and content, including high definition programming, will require media and broadcast companies to reexamine their data collection and storage as this technology continues to scale.

Industrial Internet of Things – There have been some early use cases that have been well-proven here –auto manufacturers that are enabling remote sensor data to get more predictive maintenance alerts in vehicles, for example. This type of intelligence helps improve both product quality and overall customer satisfaction. GE is a particularly strong early adopter in this sector and the area is ripe for transformation.

So how far are we from, say, the promise of smart homes? The real benefit will come when technology is able to automate the more mundane activities that people do every day – household chores like shopping, budgeting, home maintenance and the like – and analyze the data in a way that makes your life easier. Ultimately success here will be gauged in IoT’s ability to free up more time for people to do and focus on the things they love rather than being bogged down by household tasks and upkeep.

At the end of the day, IoT is about how information impacts the way that “things” – devices, machines, gadgets, appliances and more – interact with people, and how people will use that information in new ways.  Data will increasingly become more tailored to the individual’s requests and needs. It’s an exciting time in the data industry, but excitement alone won’t push the Internet of Things forward. Only by critically examining the hype behind IoT and laying the groundwork to make it a reality will this technology evolve beyond being just a buzzword.

About the Author: John Mallory