Internet of Things Isn’t About Devices
The IoT trend is for real, but applications, not hardware, live at its core, opening the way to a ‘brave new world’ of rich data and actionable intelligence.
By Larry Walsh
Cyber Monday is finally upon us, which means tech publications will start touting how the growing list of portable, wearable, and connected devices is expanding the number of IP-enabled devices and contributing to “the Internet of Things” — a trend some companies peg as a $19 trillion market opportunity.
Devices are an important part of the IoT equation. And networks, made up on sprawling data centers and increasingly powerful infrastructures, are too. But IoT is more about applications, the data they produce, and how interlinking applications can generate more impactful data.
For the past two years, vendors such as Cisco Systems, Juniper Systems, and Hewlett-Packard have pushed the notion of IoT as justification for selling more of their hardware products. As the argument goes: More devices connected to the Internet creates the need for bigger, faster, and more reliable networks.
For us here at 2112, the notion of a $19 trillion opportunity has been difficult to get our arms around. How does anyone write a business plan to capitalize on such an immense total addressable market? The stark reality is that there’s no one company that can command a market segment that’s equal to the total annual economic output of North America.
Truth: IoT is a myth based in reality. Or, as they say in Hollywood, a true story based on actual events. In this case, IoT is a marketing term used to describe something that has always existed. This is along the lines of “cloud computing,” a term invented by marketers to capture the concept of hosted infrastructure and applications.
At least that’s what we thought. Devices are important, given that the Internet of Things will consist of more than 50 billion connected devices, most of them autonomous sensors and machine-to-machine systems, such as automobile telemetry systems sending piles of data back to manufacturers, and heating systems, such as Google’s Nest, informing homeowners of their energy consumption. Even Fitbit health monitors are an example of IoT devices.
Translating the IoT opportunity is challenging. It’s easy for a networking vendor, such as Cisco or Juniper, to say that bigger and faster networks are needed to accommodate the onslaught of data. It’s equally easy for IoT proponents to point to interconnected televisions, refrigerators, and heating systems as evidence of the market opportunity.
The reality, though, is that IoT is about applications, and not a single grand application that can change the world. Rather, it’s about many applications designed by developers that anticipate other applications and resources available to expand the richness of the output value and user experience.
Years ago, before cloud computing and mobility became trends, former Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz talked about how unnecessary it should be to bring laptops on business trips. He thought that computers, applications, and data should be ubiquitous and that, regardless of location, a person should expect a computer to be present to access those resources. Think of it as a Star Trek-like vision, in which computer terminals are everywhere and can do anything.
Schwartz missed the entire cloud and mobility revolution whereby devices got lighter, more powerful, and persistently connected. But his vision wasn’t too far off on the application level. Software vendors and solution designers should be able to anticipate that complementary resources will be available to expand their product’s capabilities. This is precisely the idea behind Salesforce.com’s Force.com, but on a different level.
In the Salesforce.com context, applications are written to augment the capabilities of the Salesforce.com CRM platform. Outside of that context, the complementary applications are fairly useless. But that’s OK, because few applications can interact natively. The entire point of having APIs is to guide the integration of disparate systems.
IoT will go beyond just APIs, integration, and interoperability. It will include knowing how to leverage the data that other applications generate. If cloud computing and mobility are two legs of the IoT stool, Big Data – or data analytics – is the third. IoT systems will take advantage of the vast amounts of data generated by all types of applications to create more refined, actionable intelligence.
So, at the beginning of this holiday season, we can safely say, “Yes, Virginia, there is an Internet of Things.” But there’s a caveat. IoT isn’t a product or a technology; it’s a concept, a model, and, in many ways, a philosophy, that will allow vendors and solution providers to bend their minds around the vast capabilities of the broad technology landscape and create new value by leveraging all the resources at their disposal.