If this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show was any indicator, the Internet of Things (IoT) has made the transition from fascinating concept to increasing reality. Companies are developing and launching all sorts of useful products for consumers: connected lightbulbs, health sensors, parking space finders, snow monitors, smart toothbrushes, self-watering flowerpots … and just about anything else you can dream up, and probably a few you can’t.
What remains to be seen, perhaps, is what’s in it for consumers beyond the cool factor. As devices become increasingly wired and consumers become more reliant upon them, the IoT inevitably faces some real challenges. Most importantly, consumers use a broad range of electronic devices developed by different manufacturers. Because no standards currently exist, there is little interconnectivity among these devices, creating islands of potentially interesting and useful data, but virtually no causeways connecting them.
Relatedly, these devices may produce heaps of interesting data that, ultimately, is just that – interesting data. The hard work is gleaning meaningful insights from the data. Many of us can (and do!) share our step counts with anyone within our Facebook reach … but we’ve made no inroads into losing those 10 pounds we gained over the holidays.
And then there’s the issue of data security. Just who owns or has access to all of that data that is produced and just what are they going to do with it. It may seem reasonable that the company that made the device can use the data to improve their product offering, but when it comes to specifically targeting us in sales campaigns, that seems like another line we may not want them to cross.
It just may be that the challenges with the lack of standards that would cause a consumer to have to learn how to manage multiple systems and the uncertainty around the data issues may stymie the growth of IoT with consumers.
The other IoT “consumer”
An IoT “consumer” that gets much less attention is the commercial enterprise, which is unfortunate, because there’s a lot of potential there. Enterprises are better positioned to take advantage of the IoT because they don’t face the same challenges as regular consumers do in making use of IoT outputs.
For example, organizations are accustomed to hiring systems integrators to build custom solutions to integrate across their products. They are, therefore, much more able to build the causeways to connect the islands of data that the IoT produces.
Furthermore, many enterprises have, or can hire, the resources necessary to manage the resulting data. And beyond data management, a significant proportion of organizations understand the value of collecting and analyzing data of all types, and have teams dedicated to the exercise. Ultimately, many organizations are well positioned to derive meaningful insights from the data they can collect through connected devices.
And (the recent Sony situation notwithstanding) they may be better able to control and manage the IoT data outputs, so privacy is less of a concern here than it may be for consumers.
Ultimately, though, the financial benefits offer the greatest opportunity for the enterprise consumer of IoT data. While most individual consumers can’t anticipate significant financial gain from optimally watered plants, every commercial organization can benefit by eradicating waste, speeding product delivery, and/or identifying competitive advantage.
Potentially then, the greatest short-term benefit of the IoT will go to enterprises that aggressively embrace the opportunity by leveraging the resulting data to differentiate from competitors.