The Internet of Things: It's Big and It's Here to Stay
The Internet of Things isn't just a buzzword -- it’s a thing and it’s here to stay. So what exactly is the Internet of Things and why should you care?

Most people still don't have a firm grasp on this concept or a clear idea of how it will affect not only their business, but their everyday life. However, I believe that five years from now, the phrase “The Internet of Things” will be as common as the words “digital” or “social media.”

The Internet of Things Is Coming Sooner Than You Think

Financial Times does a good job explaining what the Internet of Things is, comparing it to everyday processes that we are familiar with:

Just as the ordinary internet connects people over fixed or mobile, telecoms networks including satellite, GSM and WiFi, the internet of things connects devices to one another thanks to machine-to-machine ‘modules’ that have a sensor and communications electronics,” writes the Financial Times. “The sensors can detect things such as temperature, pressure or movement and a single module can perform multiple functions, from monitoring throttle notch settings on freight trains for fuel efficiency, to slowing or stopping a train if there is an obstruction on the line."

I’m not the only person who believes the Internet of Things will catch on quickly. With numerous vendors and analysts, including McKinsey and Gartner, touting a bright future for the Internet of Things, it would be foolish not to give it some serious consideration.

By 2020, 50billion [devices] will be connected to the Internet in the developed world, according to Netherlands-based NXP …. Within five years, most homes will have 200 devices linked to the Internet from light bulbs to washing machines, NXP says.”

Now, if that doesn't paint a picture of the Internet of Things, I’m not sure what does.

Within 11 years, McKinsey estimates the potential economic impact of the Internet of Things as $5 to $7 trillion -- per year. And in its September 2011 report, The Internet of Things is Coming, Gartner recommended that companies develop an outline strategy for the Internet of Things. This plan includes working with the enterprise executive team to build an understanding and an appetite for action. It also recommends companies launch at least three pilot projects or services to explore and demonstrate these ideas in the context of their enterprise. While 2025 seems a long way off, trust me, it’s not.

The time for organizations to start planning for the Internet of Things is now.

The concept behind the Internet of Things is so compelling because it confirms the notion that all devices, not just your iPhone or PC, will have the ability to collect, synthesize and analyze data about themselves to help make more informed decisions.When will your washing machine break and require maintenance? Which light bulbs in your home will burn out first? What parts of your car are going to need maintenance soon? The Internet of Things could answer these questions.

This is real and it’s happening now. Companies such as GE are adding sensors to many of their products, which enables both the company and the user to determine how these devices are being used -- potentially saving millions of dollars per year through the collection and analysis of data. Not only does this save large sums of money, it will dramatically transform (in a positive way) the relationship between businesses and consumers.

Anticipating Tomorrow's Challenges Today

So where does Big Data come in? I’ll give you a hint: everywhere. In fact, Big Data is the very reason that companies need to care about the Internet of Things.

When we’re talking about Big Data, we’re talking about really big data, and that’s part of the reason you need to be aware of how your company plans to implement the Internet of Things. Think you’re chewing up storage fast now? Just wait. As just one example, it’s estimated that a single self-driving automobile will generate a gigabyte of data per second. What happens if part of your job is to maintain data on your company’s fleet of self-driving delivery trucks? Where are you going to put all that data?

Learning Opportunities

Storage requirements for the Internet of Things is just one aspect to be concerned about. In a world where we already have conflicts between devices sharing data, how are we going to reduce interference when sitting in a room where all the things are constantly emitting data? How much bandwidth is this going to take up? How much is that much bandwidth going to cost?

Plus, if you've ever had trouble getting a printer and a computer to talk with each other -- and who hasn't -- you have to wonder how hundreds or thousands of different devices are going to figure out how to communicate, even if the industry does define standards for communication between two devices.

In the same way that you can follow your mom’s recipe exactly but your food just doesn't taste the same as hers, two vendors can each comply with the standard perfectly and yet their devices are not able to communicate with each other -- which we discovered in the early days of the Internet and TCP/IP, and which the intelligent medical device industry is now learning.

Similarly, consider how much time and effort you spend now managing your corporate network. How will you manage it when it contains millions of these sensors? How will you track down problems? Maybe the sensors will each have to have sensors.

Moreover, adding a computer-based control to a device can increase the security risk by making it more hackable. Do you want burglars who can automatically blow out light bulbs or security cameras just before they come through?

Don’t get me wrong, the Internet of Things brings excitement, opportunity and a means to evolve our society. However, as both consumers and service providers, we must approach it carefully and deliberately, and most importantly, we must start planning now.

Title image by Mopic (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more from Kimberly in The Meta Community of Practice: Storing Context with Records