Kevin Squires is Vice President, Business Technology for the Econo-Rack Group of companies (Konstant, RediRack, Econo-Rack, Technirack.)
If you are like me, you are hearing an awful lot about “The Internet of Things.”
At first, I thought it was a self-help guide for people to understand how the Internet worked. Then, the more I heard of it, the more I realized it was one of the pillars for the next evolution of Information Technology—and probably one of the biggest and most controversial.
First of all, you usually see The Internet of Things expressed only as IoT. You know technology people and their acronyms. So, for those of you that were like me and wondered what IoT was, let me make it very simple. At first there was the Internet, which connected millions and millions of computers in what we know as the World Wide Web (www).
Then, because of the proliferation of smart phones and now even wearable technology, there was the Internet of People. The Internet of People, through the use of the Internet, connected millions and millions of people (via their devices) to each other every day. You see this in all the applications such as Twitter, Text Messaging, Snap Chat, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc, which allow almost instant connections to be made between people through their devices.
Now enter the Internet of Things (IoT). The Internet of Things connects the exponential expanding “internet-enabled devices” that are sweeping the globe. From lightbulbs, thermostats, stoves, refrigerators, to plane engines and more, devices with embedded sensors and can connect with the internet (and therefore company and owner) to share their internal and external states. Think about that for a moment. All these devices communicating to share their information learn and get “smarter” as they experience various states over time: thermostats that know when you are away and adjust the temperature accordingly, lights that come on just before you regularly get home and so on. Sort of like a large central nervous system that spans the globe.
The major benefit? Learning and automating a large number of tasks that we humans do to make our lives better—all without human input.
However, these devices and the information they store and communicate (via the cloud), is a massive repository of data on what we like and think. Leveraging that data to market new products in a laser-like targeted fashion is also going to revolutionize business models and generate a huge paradigm shift.
And it goes way past consumer products. Bridges and roads that have sensors built into the surface which, in real time, communicate with cars to tell them to slow down— or instruct the IoT car to slow down for the driver whether they want to or not. Traffic lights that help manage gridlock by sensing how many cars are waiting at a red when there are no cars going through the green light. Smart roads, smart homes, smart cities—the future capabilities are almost endless.
A disruptive shift
The IoT will create a fundamental shift in how we make things and how those things operate. It will, by far, be one of the most opportunistic shifts but also one of the most disruptive.
With IoT, technology is outpacing most of us. This is evidenced by a great number of you not even knowing what IoT was before you read this. I was also in that category very recently. The biggest mistake we can all do is to do nothing. IoT is coming, and coming fast. So the question isn’t if we should do anything, but what to do first.
Learn to leverage it
As a manufacturing industry, how can we leverage this shift early to make the most out of it? I know there are warehousing solution companies that are already looking at “Smart Beam” and “Smart Frame” technologies to possibly warn if a frame has been hit or damaged or a pallet position that is likely to fail due to capacity overload.
I am absolutely sure a few of you are white-faced right now, staring at this article, feeling your heartbeat pound in your ears and thinking only one thing: Security. You are right to be alarmed. This is a hacker’s dream. Yes, there are a lot of security advances happening as we speak that will help control things but, if history is any indicator, a better lock just means a better lock pick.
Having said that, as with the Internet and online commerce, there is nothing that will slow this oncoming IoT freight train.
Well, maybe a command from a sensor on the track that there is an obstacle up ahead.