The future has arrived, and it’s fast, embedded and connected. Key influencers are talking about the almost infinite potential of the Internet of Things (IoT), which promises the advanced connectivity of systems, embedded devices and services within the internet that leave behind simple machine-to-machine communications in favour of automation in nearly all types of fields and applications, such as the smart electrical grid.

Let’s take a look at what the IoT could mean for businesses, both now and in the near future.

It’s big: the scale of the Internet of Things

Internet Of Things BI Intelligence
Estimated Number of Installed IoT Devices by Sector – Source: BI Intelligence Estimates

As you’d imagine, the ‘things’ part of ‘Internet of Things’ refers to quite a lot beyond computers, tablets and phones. From bio-chips in farm animals to radio-frequency ID tracking tags on shipping crates to disease-fighting medical implants. It’s as specialised as — and as personal as the smart thermostats, washing machines and other WiFi-connected utilities in our houses that we can maintain remotely.

In five years it is estimated there will be between 25 and 50 billion IoT devices and billions of messages per hour. Clearly this is a discussion everyone wants to be a part of.

According to BI Intelligence, IoT devices will add trillions of dollars to the world economy in less than 4 years. Global industrial, technology and electronics companies are working together to create a set of standards and security protocols that will make IoT devices compatible, easier to use and more secure.

But what could this mean for businesses, specifically?

Smart cities – how the IoT will help service providers and commuters

Many companies are already envisioning smart cities, where sensors are able to alert operators of malfunctioning systems, such as broken water mains, and how the damage is affecting public access in the streets or subways. From there, open messaging technology could inform public transportation and private cars of alternative routes.

In other words, the streets themselves could provide traffic updates and adjust their stoplights accordingly instead of relying on sensors to regulate the flow instead. Social networks would also allow commuters and residents to interact with each other, exchange advice and provide feedback on the situation.

Streamlining information collection and emergency responses

The days of manual data collection, where environmental officers, for example, will need to hand-collect air pollution readings from around town, are reaching their end. Wired and wireless networks will communicate all sorts of earth-bound and satellite data to computers, often using the same IP address (the unique string of numbers separated by full stops that identifies each computers) without any human intervention.

Robots will be also deployed to clean up hazardous waste and networked vehicles will be driven in coordinated patterns at higher speeds, which will reduce the number of unnecessary traffic jams caused by small disturbances that cause bottlenecks.

Businesses are already using the IoT

The Internet of Things offers many opportunities for businesses to improve their planning and day-to-day operations. Automobile manufacturers such as KUKA Systems are already incorporating IoT devices into their factories, connecting 60,000 devices and robots to a central data-management system.

Other companies such as Advanced Technology Services have begun to use SAP systems (Systems Applications and Products, an app that uses the client/server model to manage accounting, production, personnel, plants and archived documents on a number of platforms, including Windows 2000) to track the supply of parts, and logistics companies are quickly following with automation of warehouses and shipping. SAP allows companies to makes their processes more accurate and quicker, saving them vital time and money in a number of stages of manufacturing, from production to accounting.

What’s next for IOT ?

Overall, the IoT promises to raise efficiency and lower costs and put control back in the hands of the user, giving businesses greater power over the technology they use and the costs involved. It will be easier to create consumer profiles and adjust marketing through presence-based advertising.

Data-collecting sensors will be added to all kinds of objects, such as factory machinery, office buildings and warehouse shelves. This will enable businesses to get real-time feedback about stock levels, energy usage and other information that will help them to reduce expenses and run more efficiently.

We will be able to tailor the supply of resources, such as water and energy, based on up-to-the-minute information on their consumption provided by sensors and the cost of provision. For example, large offices will be able to delay the use of energy-intensive machines such as air conditioners and dishwashers until after high-priced peak times.

It sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, we’re almost there and for businesses ready to help other business along the transitioning process, whether that’s facilitating the hardware, software, cloud services or overall communication, all the necessary changes are going to make the future very exciting indeed. Perhaps with a greater part of the labour force being taken over by automation, we humans will be able to enjoy more leisure time, unless of course we decide to let our apps take the work out of that, too!