Many IT leaders I've spoken with are well aware of the changing mobile landscape as the "Internet of Things" transitions from concept to reality. However, many question the applicability of IoT to their company or more broadly to enterprise IT. While much of the underlying technology is complex and rapidly changing, the real revolution of IoT will come in the form of applications.
The original iPhone shipped without an App Store, and while the device and its legendary usability created a great deal of interest, the ability to easily download anything from productivity applications to Candy Crush is what created a smartphone revolution. IoT is in a similar early stage of development, with companies offering connected devices that solve a focused problem, much like the early iPhone. Rather than attempting to build devices and infrastructure in a world of "things," the great opportunity lies in the applications that leverage IoT in new and compelling ways.
In the early days of the iPhone, people had heard of Rovio, the company behind Angry Birds, before the App Store made it available to every iPhone user. Similarly, IoT opens a broad new channel for applications that integrate IoT data in novel ways. Inside the enterprise, companies that were early adopters of smartphone and tablet technology gained competitive advantage by integrating these new assets into their companies. At the highest level, smartphones and tablets merely allowed new methods for gathering and accessing data, functionality that is at the core of the IoT, especially the data gathering aspect.
The app future: Aggregation and integration
For enterprises considering IoT technology, there are two main areas of opportunity: aggregation and integration. Most of us have seen the studies showing massive exponential increases in the amount of data that will be generated in an increasingly instrumented world. Where an ability to gather data once produced an advantage, in an IoT world, the ability to aggregate and make sense of massive amounts of data will be the key to success. You and your competitors will likely be able to access terabytes of data on your consumers, supply chain, and business environment. The company that can aggregate these data and produce an actionable decision from all this "noise" first is the one that will win.
Early applications on the major smartphone platforms focused on the cool and silly, from neat games to the infamous fart app. Later generations of apps integrated with existing systems and created something even better by taking that data and functionality mobile. IoT is following a similar path, with initial devices solving a "cool" problem. The main challenge is that many of these solutions lack integration with other systems. In the consumer space, for example, there's great hardware and software to control your thermostat and talk to your alarm system, but there are few solutions that can talk with both devices and do intelligent things like turn your heat off when the alarm detects an empty house.
Read more about the Internet of Things
Embedded IoT-style sensors in the corporate environment can report their status and monitor various environmental factors, but few integrate with existing corporate applications. Sensors that report a fault are relatively common, but integration that initiates a work order, creates a PO for parts, and dispatches a technician are still generally in the realm of custom software.
While your company may not be in a position to produce a complex, connected device, that doesn't mean you should ignore the emerging IoT. The smartphone market has dwindled to a handful of OS and hardware companies, but it's spawned thousands of app and accessory makers who have built impressive businesses atop these platforms or gained on their competitors by leveraging these technologies internally. Look for opportunities for your company to do the same, and the army of "things" may propel your results upward.
What is your organization doing to take advantage of the IoT? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.