The Internet of Things: a buzzword or will it change the world?

There is always hype around one thing or another in technology, but some things generate more hype than others.

The Internet of Things certainly is one of them and – in this case – the hype is justified.

It is more than a buzzword. It can and will change the world.

The Internet of Things, or IoT, will have an impact on everything we do, everything we touch and everything we use – at home and at work. It has a potential use across all industries and levels of government. The areas where IoT will have significant impact are in customer engagement and cost optimization. Entities that adopt the strategy of IoT in their business will see significant advantages on their P&L.

In the world of technology we are used to change; there is always something new happening or evolving. However, there has never been a more exciting time in the world of technology.

The IoT will have an impact on us all.

What is the Internet of Things?

The IoT is where a sensor monitors a “thing”. The information collected is transferred to a computer or computerized solution that then interprets the information and provides some valuable insight about it. If you are wearing a Fitbit on your wrist, you are using an IOT device!

Think of it as having a software-enabled sensor embedded into devices or things. That sensor collects, stores, sends or exchanges data and allows the device to be monitored and/or controlled remotely across network infrastructure such as the cellular mobile, wifi or low power wide area (LPWAN) network.

Put simply, the IoT is the monitoring, collecting, sending, interpreting and use of data to help people and organisations make better decisions, deliver cost savings or create, transform or improve a service.

How can it work?

An insurance company might use devices implanted in a car to monitor driving behaviour. If you hardly ever use the car, you might pay insurance only for the times when it is not in your garage – and the devices inside your car provide your insurer with an accurate account of your driving habits.

You are at a restaurant and fancy that Blue Mountains wagyu steak. But how do you know where it really comes from? The IoT could allow producers to prove the provenance of food, tracking it literally from paddock to plate. You could tag the product at its origin and follow it through to final consumption.

The Internet of Bins

There are local councils in Australia – including the City of Melbourne – who are early adopters of the “Internet of Bins”.

These councils have installed electronic tags inside their street garbage bins. These are monitored remotely and issue an alert when bins are almost full.

Instead of conducting routine inspections, to check if bins might be full, the councils can schedule collections for when they know they are needed.

The data they collect allows them to determine patterns around which locations have bins that fill up the fastest and need to be emptied more regularly. They can also identify areas that need more bins to be installed to cater for different usage patterns. The data can also determine the times of day that bins fill up fastest and schedule pickups so they are less likely to impact traffic flows.

The use of the IoT in this case ensures bins are not overflowing in the streets but it also means councils are using their time and money more effectively. Something that all ratepayers care about.

Why suddenly all this talk about IoT?

While the term “internet of things” was first coined in 1999, it has really only been gaining traction as a reality since about 2010. It has picked up pace considerably in the past two years.

There are three clear reasons for this:

  1. Cheaper technology
  2. Cloud technology
  3. A ubiquitous network

Cheaper technology means it becomes more accessible. So, for example, the sensors that you put into a garbage bin are now cheap enough that it makes sense for local authorities to use them to help create efficiencies.

Cloud computing has been emerging for several years. This technology is now mature enough to offer instantly scalable data storage solutions for companies and organisations of all sizes.

If a company has a device capturing real time data, and potentially hundreds of thousands of these devices in use, there is an enormous amount of data that needs to be stored. Today there are around 700 different IoT Cloud-based platforms out there. Developing, deploying and operating these solutions is getting easier and more affordable. This will continue to encourage start-ups, business and government to seize the opportunities.

A ubiquitous network is the third aspect necessary for an IoT eco-system. A device that is on a remote farm or a truck in the middle of the Nullabor is only useful if it can connect to a network. Recent technology developments have made this a reality.

In 2014, RoZetta took part in a project with the University of Tasmania. It involved putting sensors around farms to monitor soil temperature and moisture, as well as a range of other environmental factors. In those days, the sensor devices were immature, the networking was immature and the system required customized software to consume and analyze the data. How things have progressed … and RoZetta has stayed at the forefront of a rapidly evolving technology landscape.

Today, the ability to deploy devices and have a system up and running very quickly, complete with a consumer-friendly analytic dashboard, would be straightforward and cost effective. The beauty of the IoT is the ability to transform business processes, drive new business models and disrupt existing industries.

What are the real consumer benefits of IoT?

Two words: Convenience and Cash.

Take an example of IoT potential and apply it to an everyday household reality. In today’s environment-focused economies, the need to minimize energy waste resonates with many households. Smart Buildings utilizing IoT reduce energy costs significantly just by monitoring consumption habits and adapting usage. Clearly IoT will have the maximum adoption when organisations can provide significant monetary or efficiency benefits with minimum behavior changes required.    

IoT could also help cut household bills such as insurance and rates. It could also reduce energy consumption, with appliances that switch off when you are not home, monitor your health just as your Fitbit is already doing, and send appropriate warnings and alerts or know where your next meeting is and have a driverless car to take you there.  Successful retailers have learnt how to blend both their digital and analogue retail experiences.

Whilst beacon technology sounds intrusive, if implemented well consumers can gain by having the right offer sent at the right time and the right place. IoT, combined with real time analytics, enables an improved consumer retail experience with smart personalized shopping.

Public transport is another area where governments are increasingly under pressure to deliver a superior service and reduce costs. How many times have you waited for a bus that never arrived?  Displaying real time notifications and schedules allow people to complete their trips more quickly, improves satisfaction and delivers greater transparency. Data from connected vehicles and existing data sources can be analyzed in real time which allows operators to optimize traffic flow and improve schedule accuracy. Efficiencies and performance increase while energy consumption is reduced.

There are some exciting opportunities ahead for consumers and the IoT.

The smart buildings and smart public transport story goes along with the need to evolve cities, building and transport systems to respond to the challenges of climate change, population growth and access to clean water and energy. All of these challenges will be addressed by the evolution of technology to enable individuals, businesses and governments to better manage their consumption and carbon footprint. 

What are the real business benefits of IoT?

There are clear benefits to business from the IoT. These include, but are not limited to:

  1. Cost and Environment Optimisation
  2. Staffing efficiencies
  3. Identifying future revenue models
  4. Tailored products and services

To use the garbage bin example from earlier, without the IoT the local authorities just send out garbage trucks on regular runs, regardless of whether bins are empty or full.

Using IoT to tell them when bins are almost full means trucks only go to bins that require emptying. Local authorities can use the data collected to determine which bins require emptying the most often, where new bins are required as well as schedule their staff and routes accordingly.

A trucking company could monitor tyres, engine components and routes so they can plan and schedule maintenance at times that best suit the business. They could also monitor driver alertness to increase road safety.

Open government data initiatives are one channel to allow innovative existing and new startup businesses to harness and derive information from a sea of raw data to support the macro-economic global imperatives discussed earlier. An example of this is making sensor data from all forms of public transport and transport card usage (Opal in NSW or MYKI in Victoria) to be freely available to the market to drive development of products and services by new start-up businesses. The technology

components are sufficiently mature now to make these a reality.

Will consumers push back against Big Data?

The IoT is here and, in many cases, you are already wearing it, it is already in your home or in your business. It is collecting and storing your data. Lots of it.

Consumers and businesses are starting to see real value in the IoT. That value will not be diminished unless trust is broken. For businesses attempting to understand the benefits of IoT for their business, they need to evaluate four things:

  1. What problem am I solving?
  2. Can I disrupt or transform industry (as external disrupter or incumbent innovator) and do I have a strong value proposition?
  3. Can my brand support the data trust equation that is needed?
  4. Do I have the expertise to manage, execute and continue to operate a system and with whom do I partner to succeed?

The IoT industry is maturing – quickly. It recognizes that security is a prerequisite in order for people to trust it. Protocols and rules are evolving so they become more secure. Participating from the sidelines will not prepare your business for evolving technologies. IoT is as much about internal transformation as it is about your customers, business partners or tax payers. Embrace it. Fundamentally it is customer-centric, so there is inherent value along multiple points in this interesting and exciting journey.

IoT is one of our specialties. To find out more about what we do, click here.