Ask the Experts: The Internet of Things

October 8, 2015 Nicole Klemp

Internet of Things 7

The Internet of Things (IoT) is at the peak of the Gartner Hype Cycle, meaning it’s among the most talked about concepts in emerging technologies today — and CIOs and business strategists should take note. The possibilities of the IoT are expanding everyday, with no signs of slowing down. As we gear up for the start of football season, you can even expect the presence of the IoT on the field, as every NFL player will be equipped with RFID sensors and receivers that will allow the league to track data on every play.

So what does this all mean for businesses, and what actions should CIOs take? We decided to bring these questions to 2 of our innovation experts to weigh in on the hype, the reality, and the future of the IoT.

Meet the experts:

KbowKyle Bowerman leads a small team of Community Architects who run crowdsourcing challenges on topcoder. He has an Engineering degree from the University of Illinois and lives near Chicago with his wife and 3 kids. In his spare time, he can be found tinkering with microcontrollers and other IoT devices. Learn more at his IoT blog.

 

MTMatt Twomey is a Community Architect at Appirio, focused on crowdsourcing enterprise software solutions. He has a background in network, systems, and software architecture playing various roles in the telecom and service provider industries. He spends his free time in the Chicago suburbs working on electronic projects, playing boardgames, and kayaking with his wife.

Given that the IoT is at the peak of the Gartner Hype Cycle, how should CIOs separate the hype from the reality in this technology?

Kyle Bowerman: If you sell products that plug into the wall or require batteries, you should be thinking about the IoT. And if you’re not, your competition probably is. This doesn’t mean we should put an IP address on everything. For example, it would be silly to make a “smart toaster,” just so you can make toast from your mobile device. However, for just a few cents (literally) you can add the capability for customers to get an alert when a part needs replaced on that toaster, before it goes out completely.

If you sell products that don’t require power, you should also be thinking about the IoT, but in a different way. You should be thinking about any indeterminate data that may affect your business. For example, you have a storefront with a window display, and as you change the display’s contents, you may consider collecting data on the number of people that stop to look at the display, for how long, and if it drives more people into the store. This can easily be accomplished with simple proximity sensors or even light sensors. This stream of information can then be pushed to the cloud and aggregated to something meaningful — thus making indeterminate data determinate.

Matt Twomey: The IoT, although being hyped, is not “hype.” It’s real, it’s here, and it’s become so easy to participate that there’s practically no barrier to entry. We’re definitely in the innovation phase of the IoT, and opportunities for new and creative ideas are everywhere.

A lot of “things” are already connected to the Internet. The question becomes, where do we go from here? Most of us have heard earlier examples of IoT — like your refrigerator adding milk to your shopping list when you’ve run out — but there is still so much more to do. What if my budgeting software told me I could save $300 a year if I’d just remember to turn off the hall light when I leave the house? When I ask my phone for directions to “that dry cleaner my wife uses,” I want those directions. “I don’t know which one it is, but she goes there, her phone goes there, and her car goes there — so if her “things” know, so can mine.”

What industries will be most impacted by the IoT?

Kyle Bowerman: I think manufacturing, consumer electronics, transportation, and logistics are the obvious industries that are taking advantage of the IoT right now, but I really can’t think of an Industry that won’t be impacted by it.

With today’s DIY electronics movement, sites like SparkFun, and Instructables show everything from creating blinking LEDs to automating heavy machinery or even 3D printing. And with services like Amazon Prime, you can shop for parts and have them delivered the next day. I really think it’s the DIYers who have fueled today’s IoT revolution.

Matt Twomey: Like Kyle said, it’s hard to think of an industry that won’t be impacted. Direct support of the IoT through manufacturing, technology development, and software development will certainly be impacted heavily, but beyond that, there are unrealized opportunities for the IoT-connected consumer and business products in nearly every industry. So many “connected things” have already been created that I think the IoT, conceptually, will soon simply become the norm.

What skills do organizations need to develop to get the most out of IoT?

Kyle Bowerman: A simple understanding of how digital and analog sensors work is enough to get you going, but I think what’s more important is to understand how to make REST calls to cloud services. Luckily, it’s not really much different from what organizations have already been doing. We are now just moving the client from a browser to some other, smaller intelligent device. The good thing is that the intelligence built inside these tiny devices are analogous to the computers and web browsers we have been using for years.

Matt Twomey: Larger companies need to invest or continue to invest in internal programs that promote new product ideas. Look for ways to take advantage of services that are available now, with your existing product set. Smaller companies or startups should be thinking about the IoT potential of their products from the start. All companies need to think about the question, “What aren’t my competitors doing?” This may provide a chance to do something no one else has thought of.

As far as skills go, a lot of focus will be on software and integration. A good amount of the hardware work is already done, and is getting smaller and cheaper. Strong development teams focused on emerging cloud technologies will be a very strong asset. But the ways in which companies make people’s lives more productive, satisfying, and fun is what will set them apart.

Matt Twomey: Nod to Kyle above, who showed me my first microcontroller 15 years ago. I don’t miss bit banging serial connections — things have come a long way since then. (Okay, maybe I miss it a little.)

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