Okay, okay, I might have had some fun with this. As a Bostonian, I have been ingrained with the story of Paul Revere riding all night to warn the Minutemen of the arrival of the British. The history books tell us of the subsequent battle between the ragtag colonist militia and the world-beating redcoats from England. And the rest is history. So what will history say about the story of the internet of things? Some may argue that the coolness of IoT has already been relegated to the history books and that modern conversation revolves around blockchain. But the truth is that IoT really has only begun to creep into our everyday lives.
So let’s pause and look at IoT. What is it really all about? The term internet of things can be traced back to Kevin Ashton, who is from England (see how I tied this back to the American Revolution?), coining the phrase in 1998 while working at MIT. He recognized that we were on the cusp of a movement where devices and objects would soon be connected via digital. But the reality is we witnessed the first steps towards IoT back in the 1970s when Wrigley placed a barcode on a pack of chewing gum. This was the start of industries bringing a digital footprint to an inanimate object. Thanks to Moore’s Law, the cost of computation power diminished and coupled with connectivity technologies such as Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G to light up more objects than ever. Now, wrap all of this up under a cloud-empowered network and you have the perfect storm for modern IoT. The cloud is the crucial element that allows for the storage and analysis of this massive flow of information. According to Intel, we will have close to 200 billion connected things by 2020. So what will this explosion of connectivity mean for businesses and their supply chains?
- There will be an enormous wave of information flowing into our networks. There is already no shortage of data, but as more devices are connected, this pile of data will only grow — and we will need systems in place to handle this deluge.
- Companies must avoid falling into the trap of arbitrarily gathering and looking for more data. The term “analyst paralysis” could take on a whole new dimension in the coming age. There will always be another piece of information to seek before making a decision. Companies must stop and think. Yes, there is more data and yes, it can be helpful, but at the end of the day it is about asking the right questions and collecting information intentionally.
- A new ecosystem will emerge between the companies providing hardware to pull data, companies brokering data and micro ecosystems of IoT. This ecosystem will create new opportunities, but will also present possible hurdles as companies navigate the IoT-driven world.
- IoT will lighten up parts of networks that were otherwise dark. With these sections of their network suddenly coming to life, businesses and supply chains can achieve greater agility.
IoT has already evolved significantly and will be key in how our networks develop to become even more digitally enabled. Companies must approach their IoT strategy with this end in mind. What will they do with the added access to this information? What about security and privacy issues? Can IoT open up new business processes and models for their supply chains?
Despite the hype, IoT remains only as a means to an end. New technology offers as much potential as it does uncertainty. Companies must determine what business value they can expect from investing in IoT. Diving in for the sake of participating in the next “hot” technology will only lead to disappointment.
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