Understanding the true power of IoT

‘It’s now about you as senior leaders recognising IoT’s impact and understanding the art of the possible’
By Robin Knowles, Chief executive, Digital Leaders

Only four years ago, a survey found that four out of five Americans had not heard of the internet of things (IoT).

IoT describes the network of physical objects that are embedded with sensors, software and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the internet.

For people like you and I, the most real example of that is the smartphone we take everywhere with us. Your smartphone has been getting cleverer in your pocket and now IoT is accelerating change in our lives and ushering us rapidly into a period of dramatic change. Again.

We have more than 50 billion devices already connected to the internet – that’s seven per human – but it’s the next ten years which should really grab your attention, with this number expected to grow to over 500 billion by 2030. 

As leaders, if you have not already begun to embrace data and opportunities to collect it and analyse it, you are about to be submerged by a data tsunami. This should matter to all leaders because it will shape the future of all organisations. McKinsey’s Global Institute predicts IoT will have an economic impact of between $4 trillion and $11 trillion by 2025.

The question is not do I need to swim? But rather, if you want to survive this next disruption, can you swim?

What 5G has done for IoT growth

Alongside this massive growth in data availability, the second accelerator of IoT has been advances in connectivity. If we take just one area of IoT, say, remote sensors in water utilities, we have had technology for some time, which was robust in terms of connecting sensors, but was only useful as monitors that could say “I’m too hot” or “I’m broken, please fix me”.

With GPRS, and now 5G, offering us a continuous data stream, we can have a two-way dialogue with a device, which means we can add control. When I say control, I hope your senses are raised. This has revolutionised IoT from an intelligence perspective, because centralised decisions can be made which allow the control of remote devices. For example, the device might say “the water level is too high in the reservoir” and the central system replies “please discharge water downstream”. 

Of course, if the wrong reservoir was emptied the consequences would be serious and so we reach the third element of IoT’s recent rapid development: security. The biggest IoT security risks involve software. Software attacks can exploit entire systems, steal information, alter data, deny service and compromise or damage devices.

Many IoT devices still present a cybersecurity risk because they are based on old protocols and easily hackable, but this is changing rapidly and security is increasingly being baked in at the design stage. However, as we move towards a future when more and more processing is done at the point of data collection, the edge, there is still much to address.

Time to get with the program

So what does all this mean for us as digital leaders? We have to see IoT as an opportunity or face a bleak future. As leaders, we should already be shaping overall strategy by placing particular emphasis on how digital technologies are continually changing and the opportunities this presents our organisation.

It’s now about you as senior leaders recognising IoT’s impact and understanding the art of the possible, starting with the culture of your organisation, not strategy. It’s about moving to a culture that can keep pace with constant change, where new models of working and plenty of collaboration are energising rather than frightening. So, as leaders, let’s ensure we accept we truly face the internet of everything and learn to swim.