NEW YORK (MainStreet)There's a revolution approaching on the horizon that's set to transform how we each run our prospective businesses and livesyet the idea is incredibly simple. It's called the Internet of Things (IoT), the latest push in mobile technology; the concept that mechanical devices should all be talking to each other in order to make your life easier: from your smartphone to your smart fridge.
Sanjay Poonen, president of technology solutions and head of the mobile division at SAP, simply defines it as "things or objects and their virtual representations...connected in an Internet-like structure." He emphasizes that what makes the technology revolutionary is the value this seamless mechanical integration could have.
"So you take your car, your refrigerator, your thermostat; all of those could be provisioned remotely," he said. "You could turn your thermostat up or down, you know, and you drive back from the mountains and your house will be warm by the time you get back home. But it could also become a stream of data ...that could then allow you to run a business more efficiently."
Your Refrigerator Is Running With The IoT
If the idea sounds familiar, it's because it is. The Internet of Things, also known as Machine-to-Machine Technology (or M2M), made a big splash at CES 2013. Among other things, there was much chatter about devices like smarter TVs and the possibility of autonomous refrigerators ordering milk for us before we could realize it was out. While the best one you can get at the store today is a SmartThinQ, Poonen assures us the iron is about to strike on the future.
"If you look at it in many grocery stores, they're starting to build what's called popular grocery," he said. "So we're doing a lot with mobile commerce and retailing, this is now the mobility part of our discussion where many of our retailers are looking into this precision retailing... they're starting out with shopping lists that allow you to track [what you need]."
When Security Becomes A 'Thing'
Now, aside from whatever Jetson-esque fantasies you may or may not be having at this moment, the IoT currently carries with it one major concern that's potent enough to make a person drop his milk. Andrew Rose, a security expert with Forrester, lays it out this way:
"Many smart meters, for example, don't push their data to an Internet service gateway directly or immediately. Instead, they send collected information to a local data collation hub often another smart meter in a neighbor's house where the data is stored until later uploaded in bulk.
Placing sensitive data in insecure locations is never a good idea, and the loss of physical security has long been considered tantamount to a breach. Yet some early elements of the IoT incorporate this very flaw into their designs. It's often an attempt to compensate for a lack of technological maturity where always-on network connectivity is unavailable or too expensive, or the central infrastructure does not scale to accommodate the vast number of input devices."
Talking Data And Discipline
It's easy to see that innovators in the machine to machine field have their toughest work ahead of them. With regular reports of digital crime schemes in the news, the idea of big data getting into the wrong hands is understandably scary, so much so as to warrant its own horror doc. However, when we can think of data collection as something more than how much information "they" have on "us," those pushing for the IoT, and be confident that consumers will find this new network as a place of evolving responsibility.
While efforts are ever-improving to keep sensitive information out of thieving hands, as far as companies are concerned, Poonen argues that companies typically respect a consumer's data as their own unless they have specifically signed some portion of it over in the contract.
"Now of course if they violate the way of which it could be used, there'll be...a consumer backlash...in a world of machine to machine," Poonen said. "It's the same with Amazon providing me a recommendation of a book when I buy. It often endears my customer loyalty and I can opt out of that if I don't want to. I can opt out of that."
The Internet Of Things: Worth The Risk?
Just like with any new technology that seeks to become a part of our everyday lives, there will always be the potential for black swan events and abuse, though these consequences are blown up more often as the intermingling of hyperbole and the age-old fear of the unknown in our midst (remember how social media was supposed to make it so easy stalkers to keep tabs on us?).
What the real question seems to be is: if the expected risk is worth the expected reward? After speaking with the experts, I would have to say yes. In this informational age in which we live, one is surely hard-pressed, at best, to find ways in which striving to safely share information in order to improve the quality of life has not been worth the risk.
When it comes down to it, the achievement which so separates us from the more difficult past is our improved ability to access information on the world around us. With a speculated 30 to 50 billion mobile devices in consumer hands by 2020, serving as sensors for this Internet of Things, we perhaps stand at the precipice, from which henceforth our uncooperative devices in these first decades of the twenty-first century will be known as marking the difficult era of mute machines. Only time will tell if these predictions are correct.
One thing that is certain for Poonen as he evaluates these "terabytes of information" is that they will ultimately "allow businesses to run better, cities to run smarter" and people's lives to improve. And with that conclusion, there certainly is little to argue.
--Written by Jean-Marc Saint Laurent