The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of those buzz-terms that’s found its way into almost every industry and is thrown around by companies. But what is IoT, and how does it impact our lives, both at work and at home?
In short, IoT refers to devices connected to the internet. Specifically, it covers devices connected over a closed network that communicate with each other and share data for improved performance. Although this broad definition covers many aspects, the best example would be your smartphone connected to a smartwatch.
To understand how IoT is revolutionizing every aspect of our lives, it’s first worth delving a bit deeper into how it works. In this non-exhaustive introduction to IoT, I will attempt to do just that.
The Technical Side of IoT
While it’s entirely possible to explain IoT using highly technical language, it can be broken down in much simpler terms. According to IBM, IoT is an interconnected network of devices that use sensors and mini processors to capture, use, and share data.
These devices obtain data relating to their function and use machine learning to better improve their performance. Machine learning, in a nutshell, is the process of machines learning and adjusting in much the same way we do. This can be something as simple as your smart speaker remembering your preference for news sites or a self-driving car acknowledging new environmental hazards.
Devices that use IoT are usually referred to as “smart devices”, such as your smartphone, a smartwatch, or even smart home appliances. But IoT has had a significant (if not as widely publicised) impact on things like manufacturing, sales, transport, and more.
To understand the concept a bit better, watch this video for a more visual explanation.
Here are some general examples of how IoT works in different industries.
Example 1: In retail
You own a shop that sells homeware, among other things. Using IoT technology, you could:
- Use sensors to determine the busiest spots in the store (and therefore put the best products there);
- Quantify sales data to know which products sell best, allowing you to prioritise these;
- Combine sales data with order management systems, automating the process, so you never run out of stock.
Example 2: Manufacturing
IoT holds so many benefits for manufacturing, but imagine you run a company that produces high-value products. IoT technology allows you to:
- Track assets and centralize your data in real-time, accessible from any connected device;
- Use sensor data to quickly diagnose and repair equipment issues, leading to reduced downtime;
- Manage logistics in real-time, tracking driver location, vehicle performance, and fuel expenditure, among many other factors.
The uses of IoT technology are, in practice, almost limitless. At the very least, these examples should give you a rough idea of how it can be applied in different industries.
The main benefits of IoT include:
- More widely available data, which can be shared autonomously between devices.
- Greater efficiency through machine learning and process improvement.
- Reduced costs in business thanks to data analysis and streamlined operations.
The Pros and Cons of IoT Technology
While IoT technology might seem like the future of business and manufacturing, it’s not entirely without its drawbacks. However, the technology is still relatively new, particularly in its industrial rollout, and these issues will inevitably be addressed as our understanding of IoT’s potential improves.
The Pros of IoT
1. Vastly improved efficiency
The main advantage of IoT technology, particularly in industries like manufacturing, is improved efficiency. Devices communicating with each other removes the human element, meaning no more manual audits of business processes. So not only can devices optimize their processes, but they can do so without being told to.
2. More data
Data is king regardless of what industry you work in. Connecting devices that capture data means you have more and that it’s available from a central location. As mentioned previously, this allows you to do things like optimize your business or automate stock management, among many other possibilities.
3. Better customer experience
Whether you’re selling products to a customer or your IoT device is your product, the technology vastly improves customer experience. IoT devices offer better customer engagement through omni-channel strategies. According to Statista, there will be a predicted 75.4 billion IoT devices worldwide by 2025, giving you some idea of their ubiquitous nature.
4. Cost reduction
From a business perspective, IoT devices have the potential to massively reduce costs. Their impact ranges from automating tasks (reducing the number of staff you need) and optimizing processes to minimizing downtime through repairs due to early detection. A study by DataProt found that 83% of organizations that implemented IoT devices reduced their overheads by doing so.
Cons of IoT
1. Data security
The main disadvantage of IoT devices is that they are vulnerable to hacking. Considering they can store and manage personal data, this is a major concern. However, combining IoT devices with blockchain technology overcomes this issue, leading to much more secure networks.
2. Fewer jobs
As with any industrial automation, the reduction in jobs is an understandable concern. However, implementing IoT devices frees up available workers for tasks that still require a human element and that aren’t repetitive and undesirable.
3. Complex networks
Diverse IoT networks can be vulnerable to failures across the network. Similarly, building a new, company-wide IoT network can be very expensive initially, although it doesn’t take long to recover these costs.
Industries Seeing the Most Growth from IoT
While IoT technology has permeated every aspect of our lives, some industries have seen a greater benefit from its implementation than others. In fact, its use in some areas has led to previously inconceivable advancements. As an introduction to IoT in industry, here is a brief roundup of the areas that have seen notable growth due to this technology.
By now, the introduction of IoT to manufacturing should be fairly obvious. It’s led to better asset tracking through the use of RFID sensors, smart transport vehicles that track location and performance, and has even improved production. Cloud computing allows manufacturers to centralize this new swathe of data to manage their company from a central location while providing clearer and faster insights.
Healthcare has benefitted in much the same way as manufacturing. Importantly, high-value assets such as medication and vaccines can be tracked with much greater accuracy, including location and shelf-life data. But even things like patient health have been improved thanks to the introduction of smart wearable tech. For example, a hospital patient wearing a smart device can have their vitals checked remotely, which vastly improves hospital productivity.
Although not as widely implemented as in other industries, IoT technology is making an impact on agriculture. Sensors can track soil composition for better crop productivity, track and manage livestock, and monitor moisture levels. IoT drones can also be used for various processes, including spraying crops and surveying land.
Public transport networks benefit from IoT technology in simple applications such as real-time data. For example, tracking buses using IoT technology keeps users updated about when the next bus will arrive, and can also adapt schedules based on events like crashes or traffic jams. Similarly, weather reporting can be used to update schedules, such as snowfall impacting a train timetable.
What Does the Future Hold for IoT Technology?
The potential applications for IoT technology currently know no bounds. Importantly, too, security concerns will likely be addressed as a primary issue, meaning we’ll see better, more secure networks. But what is IoT going to look like in the near future?
One of the main areas we’ll see IoT technology in are autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars already exist, but we’ll soon see the rollout of autonomous aircraft too. Dubbed urban air mobility (UAM), these aircraft will essentially function as air taxis and will rely on IoT technology for route planning, weather data, and more. Companies like Airbus are staking much of their aircraft’s functionality on IoT technology that doesn’t yet exist.
The term “smart cities” is about as vague as it gets, but as IoT technology improves, we’ll see more cities automate processes and data capture. This will include everything from bike rental kiosks and taxi ranks to CCTV systems and transport networks.
IoT technology is a fundamental backbone of AI, along with machine learning. In the near future we’ll see AI take over things like home management, production lines, and more. Intelligent devices will need to communicate with each other to adapt and grow.
Conclusion – IoT is here to stay
This introduction to IoT only scratches the surface of what this technology is and how it applies in different industries. Even so, it offers a broad explanation of this incredibly complex and useful concept.
Almost every business can benefit from IoT technology, no matter the size and age. Being able to automate processes and improve efficiency leads to greater productivity and reduced costs, even if it’s something as simple as stock management.
The importance of IoT technology in our everyday lives cannot be overstated. While still in its early stages, it’s already clear to see how this is one of the most important revolutions of our time.