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19 Sep 2016

What is the Internet of Things and why does it matter?

Do you have a smartphone or a tablet? If yes, then welcome! You’re officially part of the internet of things, which has turned into a very popular topic of late. Let’s delve in a little deeper and take a closer look at this concept and figure out why we’re all so entranced by it.

The internet of things or IoT as its more commonly known has actually been around for quite some time. Tech companies have been discussing the idea for years, creating the first IoT device back in 1989, in the form of an internet-connected toaster!

At its heart, the Internet of Things is really quite simple: It’s a system of all kinds of network-connected devices that are able to communicate with one another as well as communicate with us and different applications.

A popular example is the new smart fridge - imagine a fridge that can alert you via text message when its internal cameras detect you’re out of milk...creativity at its best!

For now, however, we seem to see this type of technology more frequently used in appliances linked to home heating and energy usage.

For example, you can now download an app to your smart device which allows you to turn on, turn off or turn down your heating remotely, no matter where you are: work, shopping or at the gym.

It’s pure genius, especially in the winter months. Some more advanced applications can even take it that step further, by being able to detect when a change is needed in your home, by using motion-sensor cameras, or simply by seeing that your smartphone (and therefore you) has left the building.

IoT as a whole, however, is much more than just smart homes and connected appliances.

This technology has now progressed to include smart cities and industries, for example, think about things such as connected traffic signals, or smart bins that signal when they need to be emptied, industries can use smart connected sensors to monitor their crops and store stock levels, helping them stay on top of their workload and save money.

But even with all the above benefits people still want to know why does any of this matter?

Now let’s just think for a moment, taking the Government as an example. There is a reason why they are encouraging more and more big energy giants to provide homes with smart meters.

The ease of automated use and the amount of data that comes with using a smart meter means that consumers can be more energy efficient, leading to less energy usage and more cash savings for both consumers and the big energy companies.

So how will the internet of things affect business and work?

As you have probably seen in the news there has been quite a lot of speculation in terms of how IoT will impact the way we do business and manage our workloads.

One such argument starts with: will this new technology, machine to machine, empower us or in fact increase our isolation at work?

The answer to this can be broken down into three key ways of how the continued development of IoT can affect the office...

Improved Workplace Alliances

Controversy to the above argument, that IoT will cause more isolation within the workplace, is the potential that the speedy development of new useful technologies will actually help advance the ease of collaboration within the workplace instead. 

IoT has the power to simplify the collaboration process and this will form a very important role in office technological advancements, with such things as wearable technologies already bypassing traditional means of communication in favour of a more immediate and personal connection.

Change and Growth

In the near future, many businesses may find that IoT paves the way to finding new revenue streams and creating better and more efficient ways of operating their business model. 

One of the most noteworthy ways that this will potentially occur is through the analysis of data collected by IoT devices when they are used by business members, customers and clients.

Having IoT items that are connected to the internet consistently, creates a huge opportunity to collect and analyse various data streams. Just picture it in terms of a product, your product, it will allow you to gain an ample snapshot of the ways in which your customers or clients are using your product.

In turn, this will create an opportunity for alterations and improvements that may otherwise have been almost impossible for your business to identify.

 In addition to this, you will gain an added level of connection to your customers and clients meaning businesses should be able to create stronger relationships with the people who use their products, pre-empting potential problems and devising new revenue streams based on automatically collected feedback.

As it is, however, there is one major problem that stands in the way of fully realising some of these incredible benefits and that is our general lack of ability to analyse this data as fast as these technologies gather it.

As a consequence, the majority of this data is sadly not useable, but with greater investment already feeding into this area, it shouldn’t be too long before we see a rebalance, which should fast-track IoT uses for business.


Smart Offices

IoT technologies bringing you the “office of the future”?

Maybe not quite yet, but it will most definitely bring some useful alterations to the modern work environment, and the way that we interact with it.

Now that we’ve taken a look at how our business can be affected by IoT, let’s have a look at a few of the devices that are currently on the market or in development, to give you a sense of the direction that things are moving in...

  • Printers that know when they are low on ink or paper and automatically order more.
  • Automatically adjusting heating, air conditioning and lighting that can detect workers' personal preferences.
  • Networked security cameras that stream directly to any internet connected device.
  • Window blinds that automatically adjust their position with the track of the sun to prevent employees being dazed by glare.
  • Handheld text scanners that will automatically transfer text from a page to a computer programme in a heartbeat.

Now you may be thinking these seem a little basic for such an advanced technology, but they give us a sense of how the continued growth of the IoT is likely to have a major impact on even the smaller areas of our working lives.


What about the security side? Is IoT secure?

You have to remember that with everything new and shiny it will have its early downsides or bugs that need to be fixed, and security and privacy are the greatest challenge of all for the IoT.

After all, these devices collect an incredible amount of personal data on a daily basis.

Smart meters, for example, know when you’re home and what electronics you use when you’re at home and this information is shared with other devices and held in databases by companies all over the world. Scary stuff!

Some security experts are also currently arguing that not enough is being done to build security and privacy into IoT and to prove their point they have even gone out of their way to hack a whole host of different devices, from automated lighting to smart fridges, as well as city-wide systems such as traffic signals.

Hackers, in general, haven’t yet paid much attention to IoT, perhaps due to the fact there aren't enough people using connected appliances as of yet, but as ever, as soon as a financial benefit arises, there will be a cybercriminal or 10 working away at it.

So I suppose for the time being the answer to this question is that we simply don’t yet know the true potential of the risk posed by IoT devices.

We do however know that by having things such as Smart Fridges and internet-connected toasters you are ultimately providing these hoodie wearing hackers with more entry points; openly inviting them into your network, which in the long run equals a greater risk of being attacked.  

Are there any IOT devices you just couldn't live without? Let us know by leaving your comments below.

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