The “Internet of things” (IoT) has been a big topic of conversation in the workplace for some time, but considering how it can change how we both live and work, it’s no surprise that it continues to make headlines. Broadband Internet has become more widely available, the cost of connecting is decreasing, more devices are being created with Wi-Fi capabilities and sensors built into them, technology costs are going down, and smart phone penetration is sky-rocketing. All of these things are creating a “perfect storm” for the IoT. This short article addresses what exactly it is, what impact it will have on you, what development trends are we seeing in this field and what can other areas of software development learn from it.
What exactly is the IoT?
The concept in its simplest form is that basically involves connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything from cell phones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of. This also applies to components of machines, for example a jet engine of an airplane or the drill of an oil rig. As I mentioned, if it has an on and off switch then chances are it can be a part of the IoT. The analyst firm Gartner says that by 2020 there will be over 26 billion connected devices…that’s a lot of connections (some even estimate this number to be much higher, over 100 billion). The IoT is a giant network of connected “things” (which also includes people). The relationship will be between people-people, people-things, and things-things.
How does this impact you?
The new rule for the future is going to be, “anything that can be connected, will be connected.” But why on earth would you want so many connected devices talking to each other? There are many examples for what this might look like or what the potential value might be. Say for example you are on your way to a meeting, your car could have access to your calendar and already know the best route to take, if the traffic is heavy your car might send a text to the other party notifying them that you will be late. What if your alarm clock wakes up you at 6 am and then notifies your coffee maker to start brewing coffee for you? What if your office equipment knew when it was running low on supplies and automatically re-ordered more? What if the wearable device you used in the workplace could tell you when and where you were most active and productive and shared that information with other devices that you used while working?
On a broader scale the IoT can be applied to things like transportation networks “smart cities” which can help us reduce waste and improve efficiency for things such as energy use; this helping us understand and improve how we work and live. It does sound great, well parts of it do, the main concern is the security threat implication. Will someone be able to hack into your toaster and thereby get access to your entire network? The IoT also opens up companies all over the world to more security threats. Then we have the issue of privacy and data sharing. That is and always will be a hot topic, so one can only imagine how the conversation and concerns will escalate when we are talking about many billions of devices being connected. Another issue that many companies specifically are going to be faced with is around the massive amounts data that all of these devices are going to produce. Companies need to figure out a way to store, track, analyse, and make sense of the vast amounts of data that will be generated.
Let’s start off with a few facts and insights from the Evans Data Corporation Internet of Things Development Study 2015. A third of all IoT developers are primarily focusing on Big Data and analytics projects, with 20.6% primarily focusing on firmware or preloaded software for the client device. Middleware (20%), which is essential for enterprise-wide adoption of IoT strategies, along with backend/server development (17.2%) taken together comprise the majority of development efforts.
21.7% of all IoT developers surveyed are working on ecommerce-related projects today. Business-to-Consumer (B2C) has a slight edge regarding the number of developers at 11.7% versus those developers working on Business-to-Business (B2B) projects (10%). Developers are also concentrating on supply chain-related projects including logistics (7.4%) and transportation (7%). The following graphic provides a ranking of connected device projects by percent of developers currently working in these areas.
42% of IoT developers are currently writing software that uses sensors. IoT developers are most often supporting acceleration and vibration sensors while creating new apps, followed by electric/magnetic and flow-based sensor devices. The study makes the point that acceleration or vibration sensors can refer to the sensors that change the orientation of a touch screen based on the way in which the device is held, and can measure the stability of stationary objects or objects with moving parts.
23% of IoT developers are currently working with or incorporating in-memory databases into their development work, and 44% plan to in the next six months.
As everything we do is increasingly connected, so will the levels of available data increase proportionately. That is the key at the end of the day, the data. Keeping it secure, managing it efficiently, all while using it to fulfil an undoubtedly massive potential.
George Toursoulopoulos is a technology specialist and CEO of Synetec, one
of the UK’s leading providers of bespoke software solutions.