The Internet Of Things: Embracing it or Staying away from it?
Discover in this issue what is the Internet of Things, its fields of application along with its benefits and potentials threats to both organisations and society in general.
What is the INTERNET of THINGS exactly?
To keep things straight, the “INTERNET of THINGS” (IoT) is all the objects or machines which have the ability to independently communicate within a computer network. They are designed to make our lives easier and their endless fields of applications can include:
Urbanisation with the emergence of smart cities
Health with heart monitoring implants or medicine reminder and pill tracker
Transportation with autonomous cars
Sport with activity monitoring wearable devices
Retail with beacons to receive special offers or guidance in shops
Safety with house intrusion sensors
Energy with smart thermostat
Agriculture with soil analysis sensors
and the list goes on…
What is the adoption so far and the forecast for 2020?
According to Gartner, we should have by the end of this year 2015 around 4.9 billion connected things (up by 30% against 2014) for a global population of 7.3 billion inhabitants; which represents less than 1 device per person in average. By 2020, we should reach according to their forecast 25 billion connected objects worldwide. With a projected global population of 7.9 billion in 2020 (according to the UN), it means that each inhabitant will possess in average more than 3 connected objects in 5 years.
By referring to the same analysts, we should expect to see major changes in 3 principal areas such as: Utilities fuelled by investments in smart meters, Mobility services with 1 in 5 cars on the road with some wireless capabilities, and in third position, the Governments which will invest in Smart Street and area lighting for energy saving purposes.
What does the IoT means for a consumer?
If we look at the advantages associated with the Internet of Things, these objects combined with the use of a Smartphone most often enable us to: save time and money, plan our lives better as we can anticipate more, share resources with the like of Uber, Bla Bla Car or Bitlock - which respectively allow us to share a car ride or our own bicycle, take more control on our own health and obtain personalised and relevant services based on our context and the information that we share.
However, we must not forget that these perks we receive as consumers can only be achieved because we exchange our personal information (voluntarily and sometimes not) with third party companies or institutions. Thus, without always fully understanding or being aware of the implications at stake. The not so far away revelations from Edward Snowden about the mass surveillance program held by the NSA on the American population is a reminder of the excesses which can be generated out of this technology. « Big Brother is in the neighbourhood! »
What does the IoT means for a company?
Companies and institutions alike are on the dawn of a vast amount of opportunities but also challenges. Starting with the good prospects, they now have the ability to know more about their customers/users in a very granular fashion with details going from: people’s whereabouts during leisure and work activities, media consumption habits, conversations on social media, preferences for food and goods to even more intimate topics.
All this information that they can now collect round the clock, creates what we call Big Data. It means that the organisations are able to shape the products and services that each of us wishes to have with a high level of customisation and provide us with a great Customer Experience.
As for the challenges, I see at least 5 different levels to which we are only scratching the surface today. A likely scenario is that companies will be forced to learn, adapt or simply re-invent themselves if they wish to remain attractive for their customers.
A first level of change is on the people’s side because new technology means new skills development requirement, new hiring policy with for example staff able to make meaningful interpretations of all this data, amended job descriptions to fit with the new needs of customers. A second level of change is the internal organisation with: Who does what? This touches upon processes and department organisations. A third area is on the strategy; and since companies possess more meaningful customer information, they should be able to re-think their overall business and customer strategy.
Technology belongs to the fourth level, with increased online security risks to address and choosing a platform able to use and merge seamlessly all this customer information coming from so many different sources. The fifth and last one touches upon managing the public perception of what is being done with the personal information they share and its relative weight compared to the benefits they get in exchange for doing so.
There are major and countless benefits in embracing this new technological revolution such as: increased personal healthcare or saving the planet resources. But it also comes with its share of downfalls with for instance the transfer of individual privacy into the hands of governments or private companies.
Therefore, should we democratise areas with no connectivity at all, as with some restaurants who offer discounts to their customers who accept to leave their phone aside while entering the restaurant? Should businesses include these privacy components as part of a Corporate Social Responsibility policy which aims for the well-being of its employees and fellow citizens? Should we re-learn how to simply live in the present moment without assisted anticipation made on our behalf? Or should we aim to find a compromise where the technology remains at our service but under our own terms with accurate control and understanding of our own privacy rights?
I believe that these questions will become more and more prevalent as the technological trend continues developing and it should be a joint responsibility between consumers, organisations and governments to define and shape the context in which we wish to live our lives.