The buzz around the Internet of Things (IoT) over the past couple of years in a way resembles the dotcom buzz of the 90s. This time, however, the promise is far more real, with the potential for IoT to deliver massive societal transformation through intelligence and automation. This intelligence will extend beyond humans and web browsers, to the edges of the network and every machine around us. Several factors are converging to make this transformation possible, including the availability of ubiquitous and reliable connectivity, hosted cloud-computing platforms that offer software as a service, and a steadily maturing ecosystem of connected devices and applications across every aspect of life, from cars to coffee makers.
We are already seeing M2M (machine-to-machine) and M2X (machine-to-everything) interactions becoming a reality, with billions of devices connected to the Internet and talking to each other. While many IoT discussions focus on consumer solutions like the connected home, the implications of IoT are wide ranging and will affect the future of every business and change how software and services are deployed.
It is important to remember that data and information, not technology, will ultimately drive the future of IoT.
Businesses that can collect, analyse, and interpret data to improve their services, to build better products and applications, and to anticipate changing customer needs will flourish. Taking this one step further, companies that can create a more productive, automated, and ultimately smarter world will transform our lives in profound ways.
Nonetheless, a connected ecosystem comes with many challenges. Traditional M2M technologies used for IoT are typically purpose driven, proprietary, and expensive due to custom design and low volumes, and are often confined by the restrictions of the enterprise firewall. Also, there is always the threat of current technologies becoming obsolete quickly. In India, local challenges must also be addressed, such as sluggish Internet speeds, expensive devices, and the looming potential for security breaches, privacy intrusions, and data theft.
As IoT solutions begin to replace proprietary and inherently closed M2M technologies, it will be critical for businesses to carefully assess their present and future requirements.
New business models
Over the next decade, IoT will become mainstream. It will lead to the emergence of new business models and
innovations that fundamentally change the global economy and the quality of our lives. For example, today, we need to take our cars in for scheduled maintenance services. With IoT, however, automakers can remotely diagnose software glitches in cars and provide software downloads that fix issues, with no effort on the part of the user. Car maintenance becomes proactive rather than reactive, reducing costs for automakers and making life more convenient for consumers. This ability to deliver over-the-air software updates is equally applicable to the maintenance of white goods in every home.
In 2014 the government announced its ambitious plan of 100 Smart Cities and Digital India. IoT can play a vital role in enhancing quality of life overall, whether it is in healthcare, education, energy usage, safety, or transportation. For example, Hiranandani Hospital in Mumbai recently implemented a mobile telemedicine application, developed by UST Global and BlackBerry India, that allows medical professionals to remotely monitor a patient’s health and provide care from a distance. The application provides access to qualified doctors and affordable treatment without the need for patients to travel to cities, and without requiring the physician to be at a special telemedicine centre.
This is but one example of how IoT could be of benefit to India, where a sizeable part of the rural population needs access to basic healthcare facilities.
With the completion of the Golden Quadrilateral in 2012, India’s major cities are connected but the distance between them remains substantial. For Indian businesses that depend on just-in-time delivery to reduce operating costs and overhead, like the best-in-class supply chains in the West, accurate time-of-arrival estimates become critical. The ability to monitor the security and environmental status of goods also becomes important. IoT asset tracking solutions can deliver on these promises.
Seeing the potential
What truly fuels the imagination is the potential for IoT to become ubiquitous through low-cost devices, connectivity, and hosted cloud services. What if, upon entry to a port, cargo ships pushed a digital waybill for all goods on board to the port authority for pre-clearance? What if at the same time all the inland distributors were notified of the cargo arrival? What if that same notice cascaded to the mobile devices and navigation systems of independent drivers? If every transport truck is connected then the entire system becomes poised for meaningful change.
It is also possible to imagine a world where Mumbai, Bangalore, and Kolkata no longer have the greatest traffic congestion in the world because our automobiles are self-guided and our transport systems are monitored and managed for efficiency. Imagine also if power usage in homes and factories could be monitored, at a granular level, through smart meters and a cloud-based IoT platform.
The above are but a few examples. The possibilities are bounded only by our imagination. It took close to two decades for the smartphone and Internet revolution to sweep the country. It might take a few more years for the IoT revolution to have a significant impact.
By Sandeep Chennakeshu
The writer is president, BlackBerry Technology Solutions