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The Internet of Things — a life-changing trend

by John Burton, NPI

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a new twist on an old idea that is starting to play an important role in both our personal and business lives. The old idea concerns measuring and analyzing activities to discover ways to improve performance or reduce expenses. The new twist on this trend adds the lightning speed of Internet connectivity from anywhere to everything, along with a dash of cheap microsensors.

Billions of Connected Devices

IoT is driving us toward a world where most machines are connected to the Internet to facilitate data gathering, monitoring, and controlling. Cisco Systems estimates there are now more than 10 billion connected Internet devices, and predicts this number will jump to 500 billion by 2020! Examples in our personal life include the proliferation of health and exercise devices, thermostats, smoke alarms, and even devices reporting the status of our pets. Businesses are heavily investing in this trend by adding new Internet-connected devices on both the factory floor and in the office.

Do you know where your cows are?

Some companies are experimenting with wearable sensors for employees to monitor interactions and gauge social interactions. This could improve understanding how work gets done across business units and provide a dashboard to benchmark performance, measure success, and learn how information flows. The IoT involves a variety of applications ushering advanced automation into many fields. Other examples include heart monitoring implants, biochip transponders on farm animals, automobiles with built-in sensors, and field operation devices to assist firefighters. Consumer examples include smart thermostats and washer/dryers monitored over Wi-Fi. The near future even includes an explosion of wearable tracking devices.

The IoT shopping experience

As the IoT grows, costs will plummet, leading to even more applications for Internet-connected automation. The volumes of data generated will reveal trends and improvements we can’t yet imagine. Data collection will include everything from natural ecosystems to new buildings and entire factories. As IoT advances, it will lead to sensing devices that perform actions rather than just gathering data. Intelligent shopping systems may monitor purchasing habits by tracking shoppers’ mobile phones, creating personalized offers for favorite products based on what home sensors have automatically conveyed to the phone. Additionally, IoT devices can monitor and control lighting, HVAC equipment, appliances, communications systems, and security systems to improve our business day.

IoT will strengthen small businesses

Around your town, sensors will assist by monitoring air or water quality, atmospheric or soil conditions — even monitor wildlife movements. Monitoring and controlling of bridges, railway tracks, and wind farms to sense changes compromising safety will become commonplace. Control and management of business equipment and process controls will bring the IoT to small and large industries alike. This will enable rapid manufacturing of new products, dynamic response to product demands, and real-time optimization of manufacturing production and supply-chain networks.

Big changes ahead

It is likely that IoT will soon penetrate most areas of our lives and may well determine business success in the coming decades. IoT can intelligently connect all parts of the value chain to quickly and easily share information with every department, employee, partner, and customer. Hold onto your hats as it is likelythat IoT will fundamentally change how we invent, make, sell, and ship everything. •

John Burton is president of NPI, a technology management company in South Burlington, www.npi.net.

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