In the early days of the Internet, few could anticipate the enormous impact it would have on our daily lives. The way we shop, the way we receive entertainment, and the way we do business all have changed drastically. Connecting with each other via business and social platforms online has completely transformed nearly every aspect of our day-to-day lives in ways that even the most respected experts in the field couldn’t foresee.
That’s why the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) is so exciting. By granting that same level of connectivity to the devices that we use in either a personal or professional capacity, we are going to see a second digital revolution that will bring us into the next era of the information age.
We already have seen the pioneers of the IoT make use of the technology in very innovative and, often, quirky ways. Though it’s still too early to bet on who will be the Google or Apple of IoT, following early devices and applications of IoT and noting which ones find the most success gives us an idea of how we will be using the IoT 10 years from now.
By that time, the IoT, like the Internet, will have found its way into the mainstream and make us wonder how we ever got by without it. These devices undoubtedly will allow us to become more efficient with our time, energy, and money in ways that are both predictable and unforeseen. But how exactly will we use the IoT to achieve this and, more importantly, what will our daily lives look like once the IoT reaches ubiquity?
The Driving Industry Behind the IoT
The automotive industry is often cited as the first, most visible, and most widespread application for the IoT. With many brands embracing the idea of the connected car, many of us have witnessed firsthand the benefits of machine-to-machine communication. By connecting with smartphones, vehicles now can perform simple tasks such as wirelessly and automatically playing our music and making helpful statistics such as commute times, mileage, and fuel consumption easily accessible.
When more things gain the ability to communicate, however, these tasks will seem like child’s play. The next decade likely will see sensors installed in roads, traffic signs, street lights, and buildings of the world’s major cities, all eager to communicate with our vehicles. They will send automatic alerts concerning road conditions, such as ice or congestion, straight to our cars as they occur. In response, our cars will update their suggested routes and point us in the right direction.
By 2026, the IoT no longer will be the exclusive domain of luxury vehicles. As sensors become more affordable and their practical uses more evident, manufacturers will roll out more models with at least basic connectivity.
As the IoT becomes ubiquitous within the automotive industry, regulators will take note. By 2026, we should see something similar to the EU data protection regulations implemented to address the rise of the connected car. We already have seen instances of “car hacking.” As vehicles increasingly communicate with more devices, hackers will gain more points of entry into vehicles. Manufacturers will rush to close any loopholes in security and find themselves working with more cyber security experts, including hackers.
Regulatory bodies will need to define policies and guidelines to govern use of the IoT when it comes to the type of information collected by IoT devices, the granularity, who has access, and how it will be used. These positive actions will allay concerns regarding violations of user security and privacy, making users more confident in the technology and increasing adoption.
Beyond the Road Ahead
By 2026, the reach of the IoT will extend far beyond our roads. We already are seeing startups and established brands injecting connectivity into even the most simple things, including Wilson’s stat-tracking smart basketball; the Pryme smart cup, which tracks and manages your water intake through a smartphone app; and the EmSense smart watch, which records every time you touch an electro-mechanical object.
While some of these devices may seem impractical, they hint of a future in which everything we interact with can communicate with something else. This future won’t arrive as early as 2026, but by that time we likely will understand the practicality of such devices and see their predecessors as being ahead of their time.
The Enterprise of the Future
The impact of the IoT will be felt strongly in the consumer space, but the business world will see the biggest changes. The promises of increased human efficiency, energy efficiency, and cost effectiveness will be most attractive to enterprises, particularly those with the capital to become early adopters.
We already have seen logistics companies start to make use of sensors to measure and adjust how efficiently they handle transport. The same applications will spread throughout many, if not all, sectors. Coupling sensors with advanced algorithms will lead to further progress in automation and all types of efficiency. Much like emerging smart homes, the smart office will automatically control energy-consuming devices such as lights and heaters to achieve better efficiency without human intervention or micromanaging.
Once the business value of the IoT domain is understood, new products, services, and revenue models will emerge to attract investments and create jobs. This new arena also has the potential to increase imports and exports for IoT products and solutions that, in turn, could bolster economies (similar to what IT services have done for India).
The IoT also could lead to an 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.
IoT adoption also will give rise to the adoption of big data and analytics technologies that can provide insight to help you make meaningful decisions. The large number of devices, coupled with the high volume, velocity, and structure of IoT data, creates opportunities in security, storage management, servers and datacenter networks, and data analytics. That means skills such as business analysis, math and statistics, creative design for end-user visualization, big data frameworks, programming and architecting large scalable systems, and knowledge of devices used in IoT ecosystems will be in high demand. In addition, understanding business-specific usage patterns, customer behaviours, and innovative marketing techniques will be necessary. This also could influence the courses and curricula in schools and universities.
While the IoT may seem like an industry full of benefits, it’s important to consider security risks and privacy breaches. The smart home, for example, inevitably will build up an enormous database of personal information. If the records of our movements or absence in the house fall into the wrong hands, our safety could be compromised. Similarly, monitoring the activities of patients or the elderly could be seen as an intrusion into their private lives. This could also lead to unwanted social implications and a change in behavior patterns.
Privacy and security concerns about upcoming technology are not new or unwarranted. We felt the same when email was first made available or when accessing our data from the cloud. How the IoT industry deals with these issues will be pivotal. If use of the IoT can be shown to be consistently safe and secure, it will open up possibilities for cleaner, better, and more productive lives for us all.
Sridhar Iyengar is the vice president of Product Management at ManageEngine, a division of ZOHO Corporation. He is responsible for building IT management solutions for mid-sized and large markets. He has spent over 15 years in the network management industry, building products and solutions for telecom carriers, OEM, enterprise, and service providers.
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