Hello and welcome back to “What Is:______?” our (bi-)monthly(-ish) blog where we cover complex IT topics in plain English. This week, we’ll be covering IoT – an area of IT that has seen tremendous growth over the last decade but has really taken off in the last couple of years.

You’ve probably heard about the Internet of Things (aka IoT) at some point, and maybe you yourself have created an IoT in your own life, in the form of Alexa or an Apple Watch. But what is IoT really, and why does it matter to you and your business?

In this article, we’ll cover IoT – what it is, why it’s becoming more common, and how you can take advantage of it as a business owner.

What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a catch-all term that refers to the network of physical objects that can and do communicate with other physical objects in real time. These devices are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies to connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the internet.

These devices range from ordinary household items like an Alexa to sophisticated industrial tools​​ like excavators and boring machines.

At its very core, IoT is the collective network of physical and digital devices, networks, and software that work together to improve the efficiency of some aspect of our lives, whether that’s just hanging at home or collaborating internationally between teams.

The Internet of Things allows us to connect, measure, analyze, communicate, and operate in a way that is more seamless and easy than in the past when devices did not communicate with one another. By leveraging this network of disparate devices, individuals and organizations can get things done better, and faster.

What Makes IoT Possible?

The emergence of always-on, always-connected devices in the last decade has been the catalyst for widespread IoT adoption. Basically, you need devices that can talk to each other in real-time, across substantial physical distances, without the need for the aforementioned devices to be physically touching each other.

Here are the key technologies that make IoT work;

  • Sensors and Actuators: These are the eyes and ears of IoT devices, enabling them to interact with the physical world. This is often a camera, microphone, or other sensory device that communicates data to the computer.
  • Connectivity Technologies: IoT devices use various connectivity options to speak to one another. The main networking technologies we use every day are Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular networks.
  • Cloud Computing: The cloud provides the infrastructure for storing and processing the vast amounts of data generated by IoT devices. It basically creates a centralized digital space where all the various connected smart devices can pull from.
  • Big Data Analytics: Advanced analytics tools are used to make sense of the large datasets collected by IoT devices, extracting valuable insights​​ for both devices and users.
  • Security and Privacy Technologies: IoT devices are some of the easiest access points for hackers and other bad actors. As tech has evolved, so have the safeguards that protect these systems against outside access.

How Does IoT Take Shape in the Real World?

So how does the Internet of Things take shape in our world? What are the most common applications for IoT?

  • Households: IoT systems like Google or Apple’s ecosystem allow for households to be connected and multifunctional without the need for physical connectivity.
  • Healthcare: Healthcare professionals are increasingly beginning to rely on IoT devices like wearable fitness trackers and remote patient monitoring systems to improve health outcomes by providing real-time data on patients’ health, and allowing providers to tailor services to each patient.
  • Manufacturing: The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is optimizing production processes, reducing downtime, and improving safety in factories through sensors and automation. Key manufacturing KPIs like throughput and lead time have substantially decreased as more devices communicating more effectively have improved efficiency.
  • Retail: IoT technologies are used in retail for inventory management, customer behavior analysis, and enhancing the shopping experience through personalized offers. Retail IoT allows for constant repositioning and sales opportunities to better serve the customer.
  • Agriculture: Farmers are using IoT devices to monitor soil moisture, weather conditions, and crop health, leading to more efficient and sustainable farming practices. Real-time data helps them make actionable decisions about crops on the fly.
  • Transportation: IoT is transforming transportation through connected vehicles, smart traffic management systems, and real-time tracking of goods. Soon (hopefully) IoT will allow for fully autonomous vehicles – something only possible if vehicles can communicate wirelessly in real-time.

The Impact of IoT on Businesses

What kinds of impacts can an effective IoT have on your business? Here’s just a few reasons why companies are focusing more resources on their IoT.

  • Increased Efficiency: Automation of routine tasks reduces labor costs and improves productivity. Less effort to produce bigger results? We love it.
  • Data-Driven Decisions: Real-time data analysis helps businesses make informed decisions. Especially in 2024, if you’re not leveraging real-time data, your competitor sure is – and they’re beating you all day long!
  • New Business Models: IoT enables services like remote monitoring and subscription-based models. The connectivity potential in IoT allows for the delivery of services that previously did not exist.
  • Enhanced Customer Experience: Personalized interactions and services based on user data improve customer satisfaction, creating brand loyalists who will not only come and shop again but will tell their friends and family as well!

Key IoT Trends for 2024

What IoT trends can we expect heading into 2024 and beyond? Here’s a few:

  • More AI Support for IoT: As you might expect, AI is going to change IoT forever. AI applications like real-time cybersecurity, supply chain automation, accelerated software development, and automated customer service​​ will improve the efficiency of IoT.
  • Widespread Connectivity: The growth of IoT devices is projected to increase to 27 billion by 2025, driven by the replacement of 2G/3G networks with 4G/5G networks​.
  • Lower Costs for IoT Components: Relief from chip shortages and lower prices for components like DRAM and NAND flash memories will reduce costs for IoT products. Just don’t buy Nvidia stock – you’re too late! (not financial advice! just a joke!)
  • Technological Developments: New developments in computer architectures, chipset packaging technology, and non-volatile memory will drive IoT growth​.
  • System Disaggregation: Disaggregation of traditional data center servers will enable more efficient data processing for IoT applications​.
  • Increased Adoption Worldwide: The global IoT market size reached $399.41 billion in 2023 and is expected to grow to $486 billion in 2024. The IoT market is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 12.7% from 2023 to 2030, while the gross number of connected IoT devices is expected to grow by 16% to 16.7 billion in 2024​.
  • Increased Security: According to IT authority CompTIA, 25% of ALL cyberattacks come from IoT penetration, reflecting a greater need for cybersecurity. This is reflected in the growth of IoT security – the market reached $3.35 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 26.36%, reaching $13.36 billion by 2028​

Challenges of Maintaining IoT for Businesses

While IoT can provide a ton of huge benefits to your business, it’s not without its challenges. Here’s a few areas businesses struggle with when it comes to IoT.

  • Security: One of the most significant challenges in maintaining IoT systems is ensuring the security of connected devices and the data they generate. Over a quarter of cyberattacks come via IoT devices – they’re a prime target for hackers. To add insult to injury, IoT devices often have limited processing power and memory, making it difficult to implement robust security measures. As a result, they can become easy targets for cyberattacks, leading to data breaches and compromised systems​​​.
  • Interoperability: With a vast array of IoT devices from different manufacturers, ensuring interoperability between devices is difficult. Businesses need to ensure that their IoT devices can communicate and work seamlessly with each other and with existing systems, which often requires standardization and integration efforts. Unfortunately, this comes with its own set of problems as many businesses come to rely on a single provider. What happens if that provider is compromised?
  • Scalability: As businesses expand their IoT deployments, they need to ensure that their systems can scale efficiently. This includes managing an increasing number of devices, handling larger volumes of data, and maintaining performance and reliability as the system grows. Unfortunately, this is a huge issue that lacks any real solution besides a strong vision and robust IT plan.
  • Data Management: IoT systems generate vast amounts of data, which need to be collected, stored, processed, and analyzed effectively. Businesses need to have robust data management strategies in place to handle this data, ensure its quality, and derive actionable insights from it​​​.
  • Compliance and Privacy: With the growing concerns about data privacy, businesses must ensure that their IoT systems comply with relevant regulations and protect user privacy. This includes managing data collection, storage, and sharing practices in accordance with legal requirements​​​.
  • Device And User Management: Managing a large number of IoT devices can be challenging, especially when it comes to firmware updates, device configuration, and troubleshooting issues across users and devices. Businesses need to have effective device management strategies in place to ensure that all devices are up to date, configured correctly, and functioning properly, as well as maintaining strict access management to limit potential risk exposure.

What’s Your Internet of Things?

You’re probably thinking about your own IoT right now, both personally and professionally. What devices do you use daily and do they need to be connected with all of your other devices?

The first step to analyzing your IoT is – as always – rolling your sleeves up and making a list. Create a list of all of your devices, their brands, their manufacturers, their connectivity, their users, and so on. Cover the entire gamut of potential devices, users, and use cases to understand how your devices are used, by whom, when, and how.

Once you have a full picture of your IoT, you can create an effective and stable IT plan for maintaining, expanding, or improving your IoT. We always recommend communicating with an IT expert – whether that’s in-house or outsourced – when undertaking this process. Let’s be real: most of us have no idea what our devices really do or how they work, which is why an expert’s advice and guidance is invaluable.

At the very least, make sure your IoT is secure. We demonstrated the serious risk that IoT systems create for organizations, so if you’re going to do ONE THING to your IoT, it would be making sure that puppy is locked down and locked down tight.

That’s all from us in this week’s “What Is:______”. See you next time with a simple breakdown of a complex IT topic!