Right now, the Internet of Things (IoT) is made up of 1.9 billion devices. By 2018, that number will reach 9 billion, made up of a combination of smartphones, tablets, PCs, wearable computers and smart TVs. Today, IoT produces about $1 trillion (£600 billion) in revenue, and that figure is expected to double by 2015.
The Internet of Things, much like big data, is creating an impact across industries, simply because virtually every industry has a device or product that can be further utilised to boost profits or cut costs. For example, research for the GSM Association found that an additional $30 billion (£18 billion) in revenue could be made through the introduction of a smart parking-space management system. In addition, Beijing has placed sensors in its water infrastructure in order to reduce leaks.
The possibilities of IoT are certainly enough to spark the imagination, but many businesses feel ill-prepared for this new technology. After all, many companies' IT infrastructure isn't built for connecting hundreds of devices, and like any new technology, there are many options out there with few set standards.
Before jumping into an IoT project or selecting a partner to help with the technical aspects of it, business executives should consider the following:
Define your objectives
Remember that the purpose of IoT is not to adopt a particular technology or put a sensor in every imaginable object, but rather to help your organisation get increased value from the tools you already have. Thus, the first step to starting an IoT project should be defining the business objectives you want to reach or problems you want to solve. Once those objectives are clearly defined, it will become much easier to lay out a plan for the changes and investments you need to make, without worrying about spending money on a useless project.
Think internally and externally
Business executives may want to start thinking internally when trying to incorporate the Internet of Things, because coming up with ways to boost efficiency in this way is fairly easy. Things like predictive maintenance or streamlining processes are good ways to start getting immediate value from IoT. However, executives should expand their application externally as well, because data can be extremely useful for consumers too. In agriculture, for example, John Deere placed sensors in its equipment to not only better manage maintenance, but also to help farmers become more efficient. The company expanded this platform by also providing data on the best time to plant and where to get the best yield. By doing this, John Deere is no longer just a provider of equipment, but also a valuable resource for farmers looking to boost their profits.
Impact on storage infrastructure
Data storage is certainly not the sexiest part of the Internet of Things, but without the right framework, no project that involves as much data as IoT will run smoothly. The volume of data that your network of objects is producing will be a large factor in determining the type of infrastructure you need. In some cases, turning to big data technology may be a necessity, but many companies will want to consider tiering their data instead. Some data may be useful to read in real time, while other data may be used later. In this case, current data could be kept on flash array storage, and data that will be used at a future date would be stored on a low-cost option such as hard disk.
As executives consider changes to their data storage systems, they should also remember that every sensor they use equates to another device that needs to be kept secure. The degree of security a network will require depends on the type of data being collected, as well as whether a particular object is being controlled by the computing system. In order to protect their investment, consumer privacy, and to avoid any potential harm, companies should consult a risk manager to both determine the level of risk and employ the appropriate security measures.
The Internet of Things is an exciting opportunity for every industry, and by thinking creatively and getting the right infrastructure in place, businesses can start to see returns quickly.
Rick Delgado is a freelance writer with an interest in new technologies and what they can do for us and our planet.