One way of attracting attention in a blog is to start out with a contentious statement, so here goes… just because something appears to be happening, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is, especially in IT where new technologies and products tend to be hyped out of proportion to what they can actually deliver. More than that, developments you see on the surface will often be dependent for their long-term success on fundamental change, hidden away behind the scenes in the supporting IT ecosphere, which can take a lot longer to surface.
With me so far? Maybe not… so what exactly am I talking about?
Well, for those who haven’t guessed already, it’s the Internet of Things (IoT). According to many, this is the next big thing, and set to usher in the most disruptive era in the history of IT to date.
Which begs the question—is it really that massive, and what else might be needed to secure the future of the IoT beyond putting intelligence into washing machines, room thermostats and myriad other—otherwise dumb—devices?
Living the Hype
The evidence in support of the hype surrounding the IoT is there, certainly, with all kinds of smart devices hitting the streets to the acclaim of an increasingly receptive audience of industry analysts, press, and assorted experts—a collective I like to refer to as the “IoTocracy.”
I’ve already mentioned domestic appliances (everybody mentions domestic appliances when talking about the Internet of Things), and thermostats, like NEST for example, but there are lots more, such as prototype autonomous vehicles, already on the road, and advanced robots in both the home and at work. We’ve also gotten used to virtual personal assistants and smart advisors, aka Siri if you’re an Apple user or Cortana for those that prefer Windows.
All of these already exist, in at least basic form, and are evolving rapidly along with a myriad other smart devices and smart apps, ushering in what looks like, on the surface at least, a brave new world of machine helpers able to talk to each other, and us, via the Internet of Things.
Behind the Scenes at the IoT
Beyond these touchables, wearables, and usables, however, a lot more is needed to enable the brave new world promised by the IoT. Not least because there are limits when it comes to the amount of processing power and “intelligence” than can be built into so-called smart devices. More than that, the future of the IoT is dependent on the proliferation of not just smart devices, but relatively simple sensors able to collect and deliver up data by the bucket load for more detailed analysis.
Sensor proliferation, in turn, calls for deep analytics allied to an understanding of the context in which that data is collected to be available at some level within the IoT—analytic intelligence able to process and interpret large volumes of information in real time to enable the promised world of smart machines and smart apps to function.
And that’s not all. The ability to share data between applications using secure APIs is yet another IoT pre-requisite. As is the orchestration of action based on advanced algorithms to allow systems to understand their environment, learn for themselves, and act autonomously. Or, at least, appear to have these abilities.
The good news for the “IoTocracy” is that these enabling technologies are being developed and deployed, but—and to end on another, possibly contentious note—I would argue that they have some way to go still. Partly because data analytics, process automation, and other essential technologies lack the glamour of shiny new smart devices, but equally, because they are much harder to get right.
But get them right is what we have to do if the brave new world of the Internet of Things is to truly live up to its hype.