The future of enterprise IoT

To celebrate World IoT Day, we asked a trio of IEEE technical experts to share their thoughts on what’s next for enterprise IoT.

The future of enterprise IoT
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Whether you were aware or not, Monday, April 9, 2018, is World IoT Day:

"IoTday is an open invitation to the Internet of Things community to participate in an event, host a hackathon, or just share a beer/coffee with a friend or fellow collaborator focused around the IoT and its implications."

Now, IoT Day may not top your list of favorite holidays, but it seemed like a good time to take a moment and assess the future of the Internet of Things. In that light, I traded emails with some technical experts from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) on the future of IoT in the enterprise. Their responses were illuminating.

The first enterprise IoT use cases that are likely to take hold

As enterprise IoT grows, I was interested in what use cases would take hold first. Karen Panetta, an IEEE Fellow and dean of Graduate Engineering Education at Tufts University, looked to consumer applications like “deep learning on household security monitoring and energy consumption information.” Already, she said, “consumers can set their thermostats and virtually ‘answer their doorbell’ from anywhere. Next will come understanding exactly where that energy is being used within the household, such as how much energy goes into lighting, heating, doing laundry, TV, and computers.” At the same time, of course, that will give companies a much deeper understanding of how customers spend their time.

On a more explicitly enterprise level, “IoT technologies that have a rapid return on investment (ROI) are the most likely to take off first, and that means “reducing costs through automation,” said Kayne McGladrey, an IEEE member and director of Integral Partners, an identity and access management (IAM) consultant firm.

McGladrey cited existing use cases such as smart offices that use IoT sensors to regulate the office temperature and intelligent lighting systems that enable or disable lighting based on presence, not just motion detection.

“Integration of these systems is the next logical step,” he added. “If someone has booked a conference room, then the HVAC [system] can respond by adjusting the temperature and the lighting system can turn on the lights while the room is both booked and in use based on data collected.”

In a somewhat non-traditional view, Tom Coughlin, an IEEE Fellow and president of data storage consultancy Coughlin Associates, looked for factory automation and supply chain improvements to help establish enterprise IoT. Coughlin cited the smart-factory concept of Factory 4.0, which is designed to being “greater control and automation on the factory floor.” He also said distributed-ledger technology (related to blockchain) will be used “to manage parts and perishables and also prevent counterfeit products.” He even mentioned IoT farming applications as a significant industrial use.

Enterprise IoT use cases that are likely to become the largest over time

The initial success stories may not represent the biggest enterprise IoT opportunities, however. Coughlin predicted that “the biggest single enterprise IoT use case will probably be in environmental control and energy management of facilities, since this could have very large savings and could be applied to all industrial and office facilities.”

For McGladrey, the biggest opportunities are in leveraging the data collected by IoT sensors to drive buyer behavior.

“In the industrial IoT space,” he said, “this includes having service technicians propose and schedule preventative maintenance for clients operating sensor-enabled hardware. In the commercial space, this includes integrating IoT data into multi-channel advertising and engagement platforms.”

Panetta took a similar approach, looking at the opportunities to monetize the data collected by consumer IoT devices and transportation applications.

“Smart refrigerators and supermarkets will know what needs restocking and when to restock,” she said, “which will optimize supply and demand of food items and hopefully reduce food waste."

But that’s only the beginning: “Deep learning on this data will help researchers and health providers determine what different populations are eating … and correlate health issues to area demographics to hopefully provide intervention and preventative measures for unhealthy trends or limited access to healthy food. Anyone driving a vehicle or using public transportation will pass through a multitude of cameras and tracking points. … Any and all information to help us avoid traffic to help make commutes more tolerable will continue to dominate the IoT apps.”

Data is the key

Put it all together, and it’s clear that these experts see IoT-generated data, not the IoT devices themselves, as the biggest short- and long-term opportunities. I agree, but as recent events make all too clear, that kind of detailed data also raises daunting security and privacy concerns. In an upcoming post, the IEEE experts will weigh in on those issues, and offer some possible solutions.

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