The Internet of Things is coming in a big way (literally) and expectations are high that it will transform not just IT and enterprise data operations, but business models, the economy and perhaps all of human culture as well.
That’s a pretty tall order, of course, and anyone who has been around the computing industry for a while has seen this all before: a new technology that shows tremendous potential in the lab but fails to live up to all the breathless hype once it hits the field.
Success is rarely total in science or business, of course, so we can forgive the IoT for not making all of our dreams come true. But the question remains: What can the IoT realistically accomplish, and in what timeframe?
According to a recent survey from CompTIA (registration required), expectations for the IoT are running high in the enterprise. With more than 50 billion connected devices anticipated by 2020, organizations are allocating significant budget dollars toward positioning themselves for the wealth of new data. About half, in fact, are either deploying or piloting IoT programs, while more than 80 percent are either creating new budgets for IoT or are shifting funds away from traditional IT to IoT technologies. On the return side, 64 percent are expecting substantial ROI in the form of new operational efficiencies, data and worker productivity, and improved visibility and monitoring of worldwide assets.
Are these expectations real, or are we simply caught up in the upswing of what Gartner calls the “hype cycle”? While it may be too early to assess the long-term prospects for the IoT, the short term, at least, seems to be pulling its weight. According to a recent report by Current Analysis, more than 70 percent of existing IoT projects have already met their ROI targets, and about half of executives in charge of emerging initiatives expect to meet their ROIs within a year. But as the company’s Jerry Caron points out to ReadWrite, businesses have little time to waste on speculative investments, so for the moment most IoT objectives will only move forward if they support clearly defined, and profitable, use cases.
There is also growing doubt as to how pervasive the IoT will actually be. A 50 billion deployment target in a little over three years is an aggressive run for any technology, but most surveys tout that figure, or even higher ones, without much question. As TheStreet’s Eric Jhonsa notes, however, Gartner has already cut its initial 2020 forecast by more than half, expecting about 20 billion devices rather than the 45 billion it projected last year. And while more than two-thirds are expected to be consumer devices, it is unclear how much of that base will be things like smartphones, tablets and other devices that are already connected.
But while targeting the IoT at consumer-facing applications can be a bit of a shell game, it seems that business and industrial applications are on more solid ground. Linux.com’s Eric Brown reports that industries like utilities and manufacturing are already steeped in sensor-driven technologies and are rapidly applying the advanced analytics and artificial intelligence needed to kick their businesses into high gear. As well, fields ranging from medicine to shipping are starting to realize the benefits of broad visibility and data collection in a wide variety of use cases, which is lowering costs and improving performance, in some cases dramatically.
There seems little question, then, that the IoT is on the cusp of going mainstream and its effects will be transformative. But exactly how connected the world will really be, and how quickly this will manifest itself, is still an open question.
For the enterprise, the IoT represents a significant opportunity but only for programs with clearly defined strategies and objectives. In the past, you built the infrastructure first and then figured out what you could do with it. In the IoT, it’s best to start with the use case and work backward from there.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.