Is It Time to Embrace the Internet of Things?

While Peter Lewis coined the term “Internet of Things” to explain his concept regarding the integration of people, processes and devises way back in 1985, it’s only been in the last few years that the Internet of Things (IoT) has become the superstar of tech culture.  For example, in 2015 there were 4.9 billion connected devices – a 30% increase over 2014. Predictions are that by 2020 there will be 26 billion connected devices.  Everything’s talking.

Admittedly, tech pundits tend towards hyperbole – but it’s hard to argue when they state, emphatically, that the IoT is changing everything.  The jury’s still out on whether that’s a good or bad development.

Despite its popularity, there remains some confusion regarding the IoT – what it is and what it does.

What it isn’t

IoT is not a specific device or technology.

What it is

The IoT is basically a conceptual framework, where devices collect and share data via the internet.  When these connected devices link to automated systems, data collection and analysis can optimize processes and improve efficiency. The Guardian defines IoT brilliantly as “creating swarm intelligence from individually dumb devices.”

Who needs it?

Consumers have eagerly welcomed the IoT into their lives as they snap on their Fitbits and iWatches and rely, ever more frequently, on Amazon’s Alexa for, well, everything.

For businesses, the IoT can provide the data needed to increase efficiencies, improve production and reduce costs — everything needed to gain a competitive advantage. One study estimates that 35% of US manufacturers are already using data from smart sensors to boost production and reduce costs. Cisco is predicting that IoT will boost corporate profits by 21% by 2022.

How will it help?

IoT optimized building systems reduce energy costs

Anything measured can be analyzed and improved. The IoT’s clear advantage is the ability to unify and process data at the enterprise level. Next-generation sensors can be installed to monitor devices and collect energy consumption data on a granular level for all commercial facility systems (HVAC, lighting, security, etc.). These real-time insights allow building managers to react quickly to emerging situations and to track and verify the results of system optimization. Studies show that companies using IoT energy-monitoring initiatives can reduce energy consumption and costs by 5 – 15%.

Predictive maintenance reduces downtime

Heavy equipment lifespans average from 30-60 years – but effective maintenance is critical. Commercial buildings that lack IoT tend to rely on ‘preventative’ maintenance to keep equipment running.  Preventative maintenance is based on the compilation of historic systems data and the anecdotal knowledge of repair technicians. It’s labor intensive, costly, involves significant guess-work and is, accordingly, somewhat inefficient. Unexpected outages that occur between scheduled maintenance times often result in reduced productivity and lost revenue.

IoT-enabled ‘predictive’ maintenance monitors and controls systems and equipment in real time, picking up and reporting tell-tale signs of trouble before critical systems fail — thereby providing the data needed for ‘as-needed’ maintenance.

Improved Air Quality Boosts Productivity

As companies seek to improve their bottom line, more emphasis is being placed on worker productivity. Recent research suggests that improved air quality boosts worker productivity, health and well-being.

The ventilation rate in commercial buildings is often determined by cooling requirements rather than the need for fresh air for occupants. Elevated temperatures, humidity and poor air quality can negatively affect work performance. At the same time, studies show that workers are 10% more productive when they work in buildings with good indoor air quality. Improved air quality also improves overall worker health and well-being.

The IoT can help with this.  IoT devices, connected with a building’s automated systems, can monitor and regulate the temperature, relative humidity and CO2 levels throughout a building, providing optimum working environments for occupants.

What’s the Catch?

Clearly, the IoT is delivering exciting opportunities for increased efficiency, productivity and profitability. Nevertheless, the IoT is still in its infancy, and significant challenges and risks need to be addressed.

One concern is simply how to cope with all the data the IoT generates. According to a recent IDG Quick Pulse CIO survey, many senior IT executives are not prepared to handle the volume, velocity and variety of data being generated by the IoT. Up to 70% have not implemented an IoT strategy because they are either not prepared, and/or they’re struggling to effectively manage existing data.

Security is, naturally, a major concern.  Every connected device is an opening to a company’s IT infrastructure and personnel data.  Hackers are aware of this and are scanning for IoT vulnerabilities.  According to AT&T, IoT vulnerability scans have increased by 458% since 2013. The costs associated with security breaches is also increasing. (The average cost of a data breach in the U.S. is $7 million.) Samsung has stated that “there is a very clear danger that technology is running ahead of the game” and that the need to secure every connected device by 2020 is “critical”.

To date, there is no single or simple solution to IoT security concerns.

Ultimately, companies need to weigh the benefits that the IoT can deliver against its inherent challenges and risks to determine if – or, more accurately, when and how – to embrace the IoT.

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