A year ago, people were mostly talking about the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) — what companies and government entities might do in the future to take advantage of this widespread network of connected objects.
While we're still in the early stages of IoT, today it's looking like more of a reality, with a number of implementations in the works. And while many issues still need to be sorted out — data security and privacy for one — a growing number of companies are exploring how they can leverage IoT-related technologies.
IoT is clearly on a growth curve. A March 2014 Gartner report estimates that the Internet of Things will include some 26 billion Internet-connected physical devices by 2020. By that time, IoT product and service suppliers will generate incremental revenue of more than $300 billion, according to Gartner.
"IoT is rapidly moving from the fringe of the Internet to the mainstream," says Tim Murdoch, head of digital services at Cambridge Consultants, a U.K.-based technology consulting firm.
The number of anecdotes about the "connected fridge" are abating, Murdoch says, and the number of actually connected and commercially available cars, electricity meters, street lights, wearable technologies and so on is growing rapidly.
Gartner is getting a lot more inquiries from enterprise clients on the IoT, says Hung LeHong, vice president and Gartner fellow, Executive Leadership & Innovation at Gartner. "Most of them are about getting started," he says. "Either getting started from nothing or IT getting started in working with operational technology counterparts to deliver a true IoT strategy."
Developing and deploying IoT projects isn't without challenges. These include choosing the best architectures for each use case, a lack of connectivity standards, a lack of systems integrators with a track record, and delivering ease of use for consumers and enterprise users, LeHong says.
"A big issue is standards and interoperability," adds Daniel Castro, director of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation's Center for Data Innovation in Washington. "Building the IoT will require massive amounts of cooperation and coordination between firms."
Fortunately, companies are getting better at recognizing the benefits of working together to develop common platforms that they can each use. Castro says, "We do not want the IoT to be a closed system — it should be an open system for innovation," he says.
Another issue is figuring out what business problems or domains you're trying to address. "Otherwise, you throw so much data out there it's hard to scope through," says Chris Curran, chief technologist at the U.S. advisory practices of consulting firm PwC in New York.
"If you don't have a business problem or domain to begin with, it will be hard to scope out a manageable set of projects," Curran says. Companies will need to learn how to deal with all the data collection, storage and management involved, he says.
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