Move Over, Big Data. Here Comes the Internet of Things. Or Not.

Big data has been replaced by Internet of Things as this year's favorite topic. Here are 3 reasons why the Internet of Things (IoT) business isn't all that it’s cracked up to be, and why the hype will overhang reality by wide margin for some time to come.

internet of things
Credit: ITworld/Steve Traynor

2014 went by in a frenzied cacophony of Big Data as the salvation for corporate financial woes. As the year wore on, everyone got jaded by the incessant pitches from big data solution vendors, the long and excruciating conferences featuring the same speakers, and the repeated references to the same clichéd case studies.

But we’re in 2015 now. We need a new shiny object. And we have one. It’s called the Internet of Things ( IoT in short form). Event managers are busy putting together conferences devoted to this topic, technology vendors are churning out white papers and solution frameworks, research firms are writing up POV’s, and even M & A activity is being justified by the “synergies” on “IoT opportunities”.

The arrival of a new phenomenon is usually heralded by a respected research firm that publishes an authoritative paper that becomes the reference point. Here are some highlights from a report by one of the leading research firms:

-        Some 4.5 Billion connected “things” will be in use in 2015, and the number will rise to 20 Billion “things” by 2020. That’s a lot of “things” – and you might ask, so what?  You might be led to believe that you need that smart fridge at home that’s going alert you to the milk running low, possibly connect to an app on your phone that will notify your local supermarket who will pull out 4 cans of non-fat milk and have them ready for you at checkout. You might even collect the milk from a drive-thru window soon, swiping your smartphone on your way out to make payment from a mobile payment app.

-        Some 250 million “connected” cars with automated driving capabilities will be on the roads in 2020. I know, I know. I just bought a new car in December. The car is so wired up that I had to schedule a follow-up appointment just to learn how to use all the connectivity features. If I have to use all of them, I’d have to be on the road a lot in my car, and I’d have to be really careful about not getting distracted while I’m driving. And, oh, it doesn’t understand what I say, so I have to repeat everything 3 or 4 times. It’s supposed to learn and get used to my accent. Well, that machine isn’t learning – yet.

While this Jetsonian world is taking shape, the purveyors of IoT solutions will have you believe that you have to implement their technologies immediately so that you don’t become obsolete and irrelevant.

Here are 3 reasons why I don’t think the IoT business is all that it’s cracked up to be, and why the hype will overhang reality by a wide margin for some time to come.

  1. It’s not easy to “connect” things, and it’s far less easy to make sense of these connections: Devices that are meant to connect to each other operate on proprietary, and sometimes conflicting, standards. This is the ugly and unsexy part of making things work together. While we have emerging protocols like zigbee for home appliances that are meant to connect devices, interoperability is a big issue that will remain a challenge for the near future. I work in healthcare, a sector in which interoperability has been the No. 1 technology issue for several years in a row.
  2. The real value in connecting billions, or even millions, of “things” is not simply in making the connections but in improving life, increasing productivity, and reducing transaction costs. The data integration and the application ecosystem to make this happen is a long way from coming into being. The question therefore is, how are you going to make money investing in IoT technologies? It takes a long time for these investments to be profitable – in healthcare, for instance, the meagre investments being made in population health analytics tools are expected to have a payback period of 4-5 years.
  3. It’s easy to overestimate public enthusiasm and support for a seamlessly connected world where everything talks to everything else. Witness the failure of Google Glass. While there are definitely some niche areas, notably healthcare, where the technology can help deliver better care and save lives in areas like the emerging practice of telemedicine, for now we’re going to be spared a legion of ‘glassholes’ walking down the street talking to themselves and creepily checking you out as you pass each other.

Having said that, some sectors will see a more rapid adoption of IoT technologies than others, however the business case and the consumer value proposition will remain unclear for some time.  

So, enjoy the conferences in exotic sunny southern locations while we wait out the winter. The Internet of Things will still be waiting for you when you return to your desk.

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