Just what is the Internet of Things? The generally accepted definition is a digital ecosystem wherein everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data. The ‘things’ in this case are just about anything that can be fitted with a chip and connected to the internet – cars, wearables, appliances, machines and many more.
The culmination of all this is a world where your devices all talk to each other. Your fridge sends a reminder to your watch to buy milk when it detects you’re about to run out. Meanwhile, your car is busy telling your thermostat to switch on the aircon because it’s nearing your garage. It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie but all of the above applications are possible now.
The mistake that many businesses make is that they get so caught up in the ‘things’ aspect that they ignore the ‘internet’ side. The machines are just a means to an end; IoT is about making life easier, healthier and more enjoyable for people, whether in a consumer or workspace setting.
There’s plenty of evidence that we’ve reached a tipping point in the IoT space, where the business case is strong enough to justify real spending in offering these services. IDC predicts that in Africa, there will be 8.6 billion IoT devices by 2020. Like the smartphone before it, IoT is not something businesses can afford to ignore just because it doesn’t directly impact their products, particularly IT companies.
It is not, however, smooth sailing for IoT. Even as more people buy wearables, security experts are raising concerns over the safety of these devices. Consumers too are feeling the sting of security – a recent Accenture study found that security concerns are the second biggest reason, after price, why users do not purchase IoT devices.
Compounding this is the issue of data privacy. IoT devices transmit huge amounts of data; much of which can be sensitive. A wearable heart monitor, for example, has access to medical information that needs to be protected. It’s an issue that’s particularly relevant to South African businesses with the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) bill looming.
In such a market, trust becomes a valuable currency. Consumers will naturally gravitate to IoT service providers that have proven to have their interests in mind.
How can enterprises go about deriving real value from IoT without falling prey to the teething problems of an immature technology?
The first step is to not just get into IoT for the sake of it. Businesses need to define how IoT devices can complement their core business offerings and meet their unique customer needs. They must then partner with the right vendors to be able to deliver on the trust that their customers place in them.
What that means will differ from business to business. For some, it might be using wearables to improve the productivity of their workforces. For others, it’s improving how they engage with customers or creating new service offerings to meet emerging gaps in the market.
While IoT opens up an exciting new ocean of possibilities, the strategies businesses can use to successfully navigate these are tried and trusted. It’s the same fundamental principles the most innovative businesses use to adapt to any disruptive digital technology – remaining flexible, entering into the right partnerships and, most importantly, putting their customer at the heart of any new service offerings.