Machine to machine communication is not a new topic. It has been around and promising wonders for decades - automating processes, optimizing supply chains, monitoring people and much more. For the past couple of years, the same concept has been re-energized and is gaining importance under a new name, the "Internet of Things (IoT)".
This revamp is however not just a marketing trick, it is rather the sign that the trend has matured. Significant evolutions in diverse fields such as smartphone adoptions, widespread of internet connectivity or better battery technology has enabled the trend to finally take off.
Today, IoT is disrupting industries ranging from hospitality and healthcare to manufacturing. It has already started to transform fundamentally the operations, business models and clients interactions of established companies. In addition, start-ups are forcing digital leaders to address the challenge of a world filled with billions of connected devices.
Defining Internet of Things
Internet of Things is not a single technology. It is rather an ecosystem of interconnected hardware and software, things, that can sense and interact with their environment. This short definition encompasses many concepts:
- Things: there are endless different kinds of things. In the consumer area a thing can be a wifi-connected scale or a wearable exercise monitor. In the enterprise world a thing can be a GPS tracker mounted on a truck or a RFID chip on a box of wine. In governmental scenarios a thing can be a sensor monitoring the level of a river or connected traffic light.
- Sense: a thing is aware of its environment through various sensors. They range from measuring temperature, pulse, motion, energy usage, position, etc.
- Interact: to act on its environment a thing can rely on different kinds of actuators. Such actuators can turn on lights, activate industrial equipment, display messages on a screen and much more.
- Connect: Most things connect to networks and to the internet wirelessly, either through well-known protocols such as Wifi of Bluetooth but also using more specialized or proprietary technologies such as ZigBee.
- Ecosystem: By itself a thing is nearly useless. It needs to exist with other things and with a supporting infrastructure that manages and interacts with it. This infrastructure will take care of acquiring and storing data and ultimately build applications. In more advanced scenarios the infrastructure will serve to analyze data or try to predict future events. Furthermore the ecosystem of IoT also includes integration with other systems such as ERPs or CRMs in a secure context.
What enabled the emergence of Internet of Things?
Many technical limitations once hindered the development of machine to machine communication. These impediments have now turned into catalysts:
- Connectivity: Historically, connectivity has always been a key issue. Connecting to wireless networks was costly and very energy consuming. Today however, new generations of wireless networks have arisen such as Low Power Network or Bluetooth Low Energy letting things connect cheaply and efficiently.
- Cheap and efficient hardware: Tremendous progress has been made in battery and chips manufacturing making it cheap and simple to create new innovative things.
- Cloud: Only through the development of cloud technologies has it become possible to easily scale and support continuously millions of connected devices efficiently.
On top of this, the prevail of HTTP and REST protocols has made it easier than ever to integrate things from various providers using standard and open technologies enabling a true Web of Things.
Applications in the industry
Beyond this theoretical definition of IoT, many concrete applications exist in the consumer, business and governmental areas. Smart homes linking temperature sensing to the heating system has almost become anecdotal as much more advanced scenarios have been developed.
Stores and shopping malls are experimenting with ways to blend physical and digital experiences. By using beacons, a special kind of message transmitter, it is possible to push information to smartphones of clients visiting shops. They can for example be informed of special offers but also have access to exclusive content such as videos to raise their engagement. Beacons can also be used to track the customer and further analyze their habits, making it a perfect tool for marketers.
Innovative players in the finance industry have developed usage-based insurance based on IoT technologies. Sensors in cars, or smartphones apps automatically provide insurance carriers with information on vehicles’ driving history and drivers’ performances. They use the data generated to personalize and increase the accuracy of underwriting automobile collision policies. Gamification strategies are leveraged to change and promote lower-risk driver behavior on the road. Although such deployments are still in the early stages, they have shown good results.
Everyday objects such as coffee machines are getting augmented with IoT technologies. Leading companies are adding connectivity and sensors to the products they sell to provide not only additional services but also get more insights on how they are used. A smart object can be capable of re-ordering supplies, asking for maintenance or letting the user interact with it with his smartphone. For coffee machines it would mean re-ordering ground coffee automatically for example. Data can also be extracted in real-time and used by marketers to understand how products are used. Are people drinking espresso or caffe latte? At what time of the day?
IoT technologies are playing a key role revolutionizing the production processes as part of a trend called Industry 4.0. These technologies help to better integrate machines, people, systems and companies together. For instance, new devices let manufacturers collect production data in real-time to improve quality or optimize plannings. The data collected is also used for predictive maintenance by modeling the machine wear.
As these examples clearly highlight, IoT technologies come with many opportunities but also challenges both on the business and the technical side.
Digital leaders are faced with designing and building completely new generations of products while taking into account technical or privacy concerns. They must also tailor their organization to run as a data driven service provider continuously considering feedback from the field and the clients.
Technically, there are many challenges to building an IoT solution, ranging from the choice of technologies to setting up the supporting infrastructure. A major challenge also lies in supporting continuous operations to support the business.
designing and building completely new generations of products
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At Open Web Technology, we help our clients leveraging new technologies, such as IoT, to reshape their business, invent new products or transform their organization. Our experts will guide you through the complexity of this new challenge and define the strategy to adopt in your industry. We will help you get started on your first projects involving IoT technologies and accompany you to scale globally.
Stay tuned for future publications from our experts on this and other strategic topics on our website and on social media channels.
Read more about Internet of Things
If you are curious about Internet of Things we suggest you read Building the Web of Things by Dominique D. Guinard and Vlad M. Trifa. The book is an introduction and a hands-on guide that teaches you how to design and implement scalable, flexible, and open IoT solutions using web technologies. The authors are true pioners in the IoT industry as founders of one of the first start-ups active in this area. Currently, Vlad is Head of the Swisscom Digital Lab.