What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?
It seems to be a modern trend to talk in acronyms and especially when it comes to technology. One of the ones that get bandied around is the IoT (Internet of Things). This is a term which is a huge subject and this article is intended to give a very basic idea, hopefully in fairly plain English, what this term means and how it affects not only peoples’ everyday lives but especially how businesses can use this new technology.
A basic definition of IoT is a variety of physical devices that connect and communicate with other devices, usually using the Internet. This means obvious things like computers, tablets, and cell phones that we are all familiar with, but increasingly more everyday objects have connectivity embedded in them, which means they can communicate with other devices and also be remotely controlled. Remote control of many devices in our homes has become a reality.
Some examples of the thousands are:
- Smartwatches like Apple Watch alert the wearer to emails and messages, monitor health and sleep patterns, and can upload health data to medical insurance companies.
- Televisions that connect to the internet are the norm.
- Refrigerators have built-in shopping lists that upload to a cell phone and cameras inside so we can check what is on the shelves while we are shopping.
- Amazon Echo (Alexa) is another example. It is a smart speaker which can act as a home automation hub.
- Delivery drones, which send messages notifying when the parcel has been delivered and to where.
It is estimated that by 2021 an average North American will own 13 internet-connected devices. It is estimated that there are currently about 26.66 billion IoT devices and this is predicted to rise to about 30.37 billion by 2020.
The other term that comes up together with IoT is Big Data. This simply means all the data that is being generated and stored by all the devices connected to the internet (IoT) and which may include data stored in older databases that predate the advent of the internet. The thing about Big Data is that there is a huge amount of it (hence the word big) and that it is expanding exponentially. It is also comprised of structured, unstructured, and semi-structured data which makes working with it a challenge. However, the ability to work and analyse this Big Data has unlimited possibilities, applications, and uses.
Without getting too technical, Big Data Analytics essentially allows the identification of patterns, trends, consumer preferences from data derived not just from in-house databases of customers, etc. but from other external sources as well, such as social media, texts from customers’ emails, web servers and mobile phone records, essentially all the IoT devices. The analysis is then done using complex applications with elements such as predictive models, statistical algorithms, and what-if analysis all delivered by complex analytics software systems.
The above is an extremely basic description of Big Data as it is a huge subject and not one that can be adequately covered in an article such as this.
IoT and Business
IoT devices and technology have a big role to play in how businesses and organisations operate. Not only can it improve internal processes such as manufacturing in a factory environment but it can enable businesses to gather information about their products once they have been sold. It can provide the ability to forecast sales and to recognise market trends. In fact, the uses are endless.
Below are just two examples of the type of technologies already used by IoT
- RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). This is a system where RFID tags embedded into objects communicate with an RFID reader device using radio waves. This RFID reader can potentially be connected to the internet. It is also possible for RFID readers distributed globally to pick up information from these embedded RFID tags. These RFID tags can also contain sensors that pick up environmental changes. The ability to have a cost-effective method of tracking and its location has huge possibilities. Just some of the endless examples of the application of RFID technology are:
- Tracking shipping containers passing through a port.
- Switchgear and Power Distribution. Monitoring signs of wear and tear and sending alerts of potentially dangerous situations.
- Monitoring location and information about raw materials and goods in a factory or a warehouse.
- Making stock takes easy and efficient.
- Access cards on public transport
- Tracking medications in hospitals
- Monitoring goods in transport for temperature changes
- NFC (Near Field Communication). This technology has its root in RFID. It uses electromagnetic fields in embedded chips to communicate with other NFC chips. There are two types of NFC chips, active and passive. Active chips can both send and receive information and passive can only send. NFC communications often use encryption to secure
- information being shared. Some examples are:
- Mobile wallets such as Apple Pay use NFC technology.
- The Tap-and go functionality (e.g. using a credit card)
- Hotel room access. Using a downloaded app on a mobile phone, you can use it to open your hotel room door.
- Easy ability to connect devices.
- Animal and wildlife tracking.
IoT is being used by countless types of industries and businesses, such as:
- Fleet Management
- Supply Chain Management
- Healthcare Industry
- Customer and Field Service related industries
- Inventory and Warehouse Management
- Retail and Wholesale businesses
IoT and ERP
From the glimpse of possibilities and the rapid expansion of IoT, it should become clear that businesses should not ignore this new reality and it is important for business owners and entrepreneurs to become informed about how IoT can benefit and will impact their business.
What is clear is that in order to take the first steps in taking advantage of Io, a business needs to have an existing Enterprise Resource Planning ERP software system in place. The volume of data that is generated as well as the need to have a centralised fully integrated system as a foundation arguably of vital importance.
This article merely scratches at the surface of the whole Internet of Things (IoT) subject. It is by no means comprehensive and is intending to try and demystify the topic in some small way.