What is the Internet of Things and How Does it Relate To Small to Medium Sized Business?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a modern, conceptual idea that has tremendous implications for end-users, small businesses, and large enterprises alike. The IoT connotes a network of interconnected smart devices, all with access to each other (via a network intranet) or the public Internet, which allows users and businesses to share, capture and use data in unprecedented ways. Though the phrase was coined in 1999 by technologist Kevin Ashton, it has only recently become a technological buzzword in the last decade as smartphones and smart devices are increasingly built with Wi-Fi capabilities.
Traditionally speaking, an IoT technology/device is a sensor-enabled computer or appliance that is connected to other devices via any network (not necessarily the Internet), including a private LAN or intranet. However, the phrase later came to conceptually contrast the totality of individuals who were connected (via computers) specifically to the largest global network on Earth - the public Internet - versus the much greater number of devices that are now connected to the Internet - hence an Internet of “things.”
As devices (“things”) that are connected to the public Internet has greatly surpassed the number of people connected to the Internet, businesses have a remarkable opportunity to capitalize on the now evolving-technology in order to develop new business models, automate novel workflows, capture and analyze large amounts of data, create new corporate marketing strategies, and even use the captured Big Data to feed Artificial Intelligence systems for in-depth development of robust “bots” via Machine Learning.
In addition to above, the IoT revolution not only allows for companies to communicate and interact with customers in an unprecedented way, but also can transform B2B (Business-to-Business) models and transactions. The core crux of IoT technological use in the business world is easier and more feasible data-collection, which equates with the ability to make better business decisions, all of which coincides with the current increase in data analytics workflows for small and large businesses.
While it may seem that only large enterprises have the opportunity to take advantage of the new technological development, SMBs (small and medium-sized businesses) have the ability to do so as well. Essentially, utilization of the IoT technology (from a business perspective) is simple in that it is a technology that can be used to improve corporate processes and workflows in a scalable fashion.
This means that IoT technologies can be applied on a small scale for smaller businesses, and on a large scale for larger enterprises. Financially, since IoT devices allow for collection of data all over the world, this allows for several existing workflows to be transformed into automated, more efficient processes, which helps improve the bottom line by increasing overall procedural and operational efficacy.
New technologies also mean the evolution and development of new products and offerings, which - along with innovative ideas - can help a company grow exponentially. Upgrading IT infrastructure to harness the power of IoT devices is often regarding as an expensive process, yet with the decreasing cost of smart sensors, any SMB will be able to harness the power of IoT devices to improve their bottom line.
The Internet of Things Definition
In a literal sense, the Internet of Things denotes any device with the ability to connect to the public Internet. Such networking-enabled “smart” devices use sensors and the standard TCP/IP protocol just like computers, and typically use IPv6 (due to the large number of IP addresses required to accommodate so many devices) along with the ability to connect to private intranets, etc. The possibilities associated with the types of smart devices being put on the market are nearly endless. More than just smartphones, computers, and even smart watches are now connected to the public Internet - smart refrigerators, smart houses, smart cities, etc. allow everything to be connected via the Internet.
There are several types of sensors, though many typical sensors fall into the audio and visual category, while more business-oriented sensors can measure temperature, altitude, pressure, light, vibrations, motion, time, and more. Such detailed measurements can be utilized in many industries that innately rely on technology but are not directly tied to IT, including Public Health, Emergency-Relief efforts, and even the automobile industry. For the latter, it is important to note that smart cars and autonomous vehicles can benefit from IoT technology, as sensors also give smart devices a sense of “awareness” of external environments.
Thus, IoT is also a core factor not only in the automation of processes, but also in the development of autonomous systems. This allows for everyday devices to become “smart,” which - along with artificial intelligence - allows such objects and devices to be programmable so they can interact with humans on a greater scale more so than ever before.
The History of the Internet of Things
As noted before, though the Internet of Things is seen by most as a very recent trend that has grown within the last few years (the phrase not becoming popular until 2010), the phrase and concept was coined and created in 1999 by a British technologist. Before that, in the 70s, the idea of interconnected devices - or “embedded Internet” devices - was already formed. However, Kevin Ashton coined the more known phrase - and concept - when the Internet had become a global phenomenon. As an MIT technology pioneer and inventor, Ashton was behind the development of several standards and systems related to sensors and RFID technology. Thus, the “Internet of Things,” as a phrase, was specifically coined to promote RFID technology in 1999.
As a concept, the IoT allows the vast interconnected systems of computers worldwide to have a platform by which such systems can interact with the world via sensors and actuators. As such, though computers are widely believed to be the first product to gain access to a network, in the 80s a coke machine was built to connect to the Internet as one of the world’s first known Internet-enabled appliance, while John Romkey invented a toaster that could be turned on and off via the Internet. In 1997, LG began to design an Internet-connected refrigerator with a LAN port, the LG Internet Digital DIOS (which indicates that, as has been mentioned, the basic idea for IoT technology existed before Ashton coined the phrase “Internet of Things”). Essentially, IoT technology began as a loose concept of connecting appliances to the Internet.
In current times, the Internet of things has grown vastly as a field. One factor that has influenced the growth of IoT technology greatly is the development of Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technology, which is a core principle of IoT systems. M2M represents data communications between different computing systems over wireless of wired networks. Along with M2M technology, another core technology that has made IoT technology possible is Cloud technology. Cloud storage and cloud computing provide both the infrastructure to store large amounts of data, along with providing the necessary computing power for complex data analysis and computational operations associated with IoT data that has been collected. More technological advances have resulted in IoT technology evolving as well, such as: cheaper and more efficient sensors, more powerful and smaller computer processors, faster networks, data science tools to parse feedback data from IoT devices, advances in nanotechnology (allowing the development of nanoscale sensor-enabled smart devices), and the development of IPv6 protocols (allowing a much larger number of IP addresses than the IPv4 protocol). Today, IoT technology has advanced past being a simple system for allowing basic sensors to connect the virtual Internet to the physical world, and is now a system that can revolutionize virtually every day-to-day device and daily life as a whole. Now, everything from Internet-connected smart glasses, to smart clothes, to smart weapons, to smart cities is possible with IoT technology.
Several statistics show just how much IoT technology has grown, and how much it is poised to grow in the coming years. Different industry analyses offer differing insights on the future IoT market, but essentially, the industry is expected to grow in the billions by 2020. While IHS indicates that, in 2015, there were over double the amount of Internet-connected devices compared to the human population (about 15 billion devices connected to the Internet), their studies indicate that there are 20 billion devices connected to the Internet in 2017, and that there will be 30 billion Internet connected devices in 2020, and 75 billion by 2025. Intel offers different numbers, suggesting that, by 2020, there will be 200 billion devices connected to the Internet.
Internet of Things Products
As has been noted, there are a myriad of devices now connected to intranets, or to the public Internet. These include everything from video game systems, to glasses, to kitchenware, to rifles, to cars, to thermostat systems, to buildings, to clothes, to watches, phones, shoes and more. The market of IoT technology is growing as companies create novel products that can help to evolve their business model - such products often have little competition due to filling a unique corporate niche. Reportedly, according to IDC and SAP, 60 percent of corporations seek to integrate IoT sensor-based data analytics into their business operations, and according to the Business Insider, by 2020, 75 percent of cars will be connected to the Internet via IoT-based Internet-connectivity systems. Essentially, IoT is now the technology of innovation, and the corporate technology of the future.
Per above, there are many consumer products on the market that utilize IoT technology. As the market grows, more advanced applications of IoT technology are developed, leading to more (and cheaper) products on the market. As of now, typical IoT applications and products include:
- Smart ATMs: smart ATMs expand on traditional ATM machines by giving end-users more options based on additional features that are offered. Smart ATMs are feature rich and give customers the ability to transfer money, cash checks, and even receive money deposits. IoT technology is used by such ATMs in order to link with the user’s smartphone, and thus, to identify the user using a variety of wireless standards.
- Smart watches: smart watches are essentially wearable computers attached to a bracelet in the form of a watch. Such smart watches allow for typical watch applications, along with the ability to run mobile apps, connect to Wi-Fi, alert users of emails, and even be used as a smartphone, etc. Two major smart watch technologies are the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Gear.
- Smart refrigerators: smart refrigerators are an evolution of the standard fridge in that they utilize an Internet connection - along with advanced sensors - to both determine the contents of food products that are stored inside of them, and to ensure that such food is kept at the optimal temperature and thus does not become spoiled. The Samsung smart refrigerator is an example of IoT technology being incorporated into a refrigerator.
- Driverless cars: Multiple companies are using advanced IoT technology to fuel the rise of smart cars, which use both sensors and Internet connectivity to allow for autonomous, self-driving car service. Such companies include Tesla, Google, Uber, and more.
- Amazon Dash/Single-click purchase button: Amazon’s single-click button system allows for Internet-connected appliances to host “purchase” buttons that allow an end-user to purchase additional products with the push of a button. Such appliances are linked to customer-accounts and thus utilize both advanced sensors and Internet connectivity. The advanced Amazon Dash and Amazon Web Services IoT system(s) allows for programmable cloud-enabled smart-technology, which gives users the ability to open cars, garages, or even one’s house with the push of a button. Such technology can be incorporated into infrastructures such as smart homes and smart cities.
- Smart Manufacturing Lines and Sensors: Several companies, such as Smart Sensors Inc., manufacture sensor technology for use in IoT technological applications, including sensors that measure machine performance, sensors that measure temperature, etc. Such sensors are typically utilized to optimize system processes.
Internet of Things Projects
In order to capitalize on IoT opportunities, businesses must understand the types of devices that can utilize IoT technology. While the possibilities are nearly endless, there are three classes of smart devices that could take the greatest advantage of IoT technology:
- Anything with an on/off switch: All electronic devices that utilizes on and off switches can benefit from IoT technology. By connecting the appropriate on/off circuitry with underlying networking systems in a device, a smart device can remotely be turned on or off via an Internet connection. Alternatively, specific features of a device can be turned on or off via a network connection.
- Anything that collects data: Utilizing sensors and an Internet connection, any device that collects data (e.g. electronics that take measurements and record data) can benefit from IoT technology. Such devices can collate data and send such data to back-end servers via the network connection. Along with cloud computing, rapid measurements and calculations could be sent back and forth between the device and the server, allowing for “smart” alterations in device operations based on data and server-feedback.
- Anything that can be controlled remotely: Utilizing actuators and sensors - along with Internet connectivity - devices that can be controlled remotely can also be controlled via an Internet connection. This can allow for “smart” machines and other “smart” devices that end-users can operate via the Internet. This type of technology is the basis of smart homes, e.g. smart thermostats, smart ovens, smart refrigerators, and even smart TVs.
IOT and Other Advanced Technology
IoT and smart technology is not only used for basic or advanced Internet-connected devices, but is often used in conjunction with other advanced technologies to create novel, completely new systems that have never been seen before. The Internet of Things can be seen as a base concept, or even as a foundational concept. Upon such a foundation, scientists and engineers have been able to envision complex technologies of the future. Such technologies include the combining of nanotechnology with IoT technology to create a global system of Smart Dust - a network of nano-sized particles blanketing the Earth to capture and send data to back-end servers.
Such a technology could be used for emergency purposes, military operations, geological and scientific experiments, and more. An alternate form of smart dust technology is Neural dust, which could be used to embed smart dust into a patient’s brain in order to collect data (via the Internet) from the dust about a patient’s neurological condition, for instance. There are other uses of IoT technology when the IoT is combined with other technologies to create a greater system, such as the use of smart chips and sensors that collect data associated with smart contracts, in order to use Blockchain technology and digital currency to automate the processes of transparent, peer-to-peer or business transactions.
Scientists have even started to develop a global blanket of IoT devices that would encompass “skin” for the Earth - called the Central Nervous System for the Earth (CeNSE) - to collect environmental and atmospheric data to better protect the Earth from natural disasters and space-based threats (e.g. meteors).
As can be seen, IoT technology has become much more than the simple action of connecting an appliance to the Internet, it has become a technology that can transform the future.
IoT technology is largely linked to Big Data analytics at its core. One of the major purposes of IoT technology is utilizing sensors that collect data, which businesses can use in profound, unprecedented ways for gaining feedback that can allow executives to make better business decisions and optimize corporate workflows. The use of IoT devices is important since obtaining and collating large amounts of data is not comparatively feasible without devices that incorporate data-collecting sensors into their infrastructure.
If companies add such sensors to all of their products then an entire data-feedback loop can be setup, and a system for tweaking the product (command outputs from the corporate server) based on the data (inputs) can be created. Based on such large data sets, unique patches can be applied to individual products over a network, and the security of devices can be enhanced using remote updating over the Internet as necessary. Using such smart devices along with cloud storage and cloud computing for data parsing and storage, businesses can also glean facts on how to alter products or create new ones that fill a previously unfilled niche.
Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence
General artificial intelligence (AI) indicates a system that utilizes human-like intelligence and sensory-systems. In a word, AI is a computational system that is “smart.” That said, IoT technology is directly linked to AI systems as the sensors and actuators that make up IoT devices can also be used in designing AI systems that mimic humans (e.g. robots). One significant factor of IoT technology is the input-output loop, where data can be collected by sensors and sent to back-end servers via an Internet connection. After cloud computing and parsing/processing of the data, commands can be sent back to the sensor-enabled smart device in order to tweak or alter its operations. Such a system could be of a great benefit to AI systems which rely not only on sensors in order to interact with the physical world, but also on data to modulate or determine an AI system’s actions (based on programmed parameters). Lastly, analytics AI systems can use the data collected from IoT devices in order to be programmed initially, so the system can become “smart.” Such “smart” AI systems can analyze business data and utilize predictive analysis in order to generate reports that can help executives make better business decisions.
Internet of Things and Machine Learning
While Artificial Intelligence can be described as a technological system that is “smart”, Machine Learning (ML) is a subset of artificial intelligence (AI) in that it focuses on allowing technological systems to “learn” based on programmed parameters/algorithms and actual experiences. In other words, machine learning results in a neural network-based system becoming “smarter,” and not just being “smart” due to engineers programming it in such a way. That said, in order for a system to become “smart,” it must receive a massive amount of data to “learn” from. IoT technology can provide the “Big [raw] Data” that can be fed into a ML system to allow it to learn. However, IoT technology isn’t necessary simply for the initial learning stage, but can be used to continuously feed data to a ML system. Such a system can continually output novel business strategies, models and optimization reports due to continued “learning” and powerful data analytics. Such reports and novel strategies can help with company growth and efficiency, and ultimately can greatly increase the corporate bottom line.
The Internet of Things is one of the most influential and significant technological inventions of modern day, with the power to completely change the landscape of all businesses on a global scale. The ability to integrate sensors and actuators, along with Internet-connectivity, into smart devices, allows for the development and deployment of novel business strategies, products, and services. Combining IoT technology with other advanced technology allows engineers, scientists, healthcare workers, etc. to use never-before-seen systems that can greatly improve corporate bottom lines, and better the overall quality of life of people all over the world. It is important for businesses to understand the benefits of IoT technology, and to take advantage of the opportunities that the evolving technology presents to corporations worldwide.