The IoT's stalled start
The internet of things is coming, but widespread adoption is still a way off
Make no mistake; the internet of things (IoT) is coming. Already, with currently available technologies, businesses have been able to use connected devices to glean real benefits. But it's becoming quite clear that widespread adoption is still a way off.
Yes, some use cases for IoT-like technologies have been documented. For example, the manufacturing and logistics industries have yielded important customers for IoT vendors in recent years. They're using sensors to take readings on equipment, which provides data about wear-and-tear, prolonging the life of the kit. These are specific verticals, using extremely targeted technologies, yet we're forever being told that the internet of things is going to revolutionise the way that organisations do business. Quite how this will happen hasn't really been explained yet.
And it isn't just the vendors and analyst houses making big claims about the internet of things - end users are expecting much out of the trend, too. According to a recent survey from Gartner, more than 40% of organisations globally expect the IoT to offer significant new revenue or cost-saving opportunities in the short term. And in the long term, 60% believe that the IoT could "transform" their businesses.
In the long-term, we may very well see industries outside of manufacturing or logistics being transformed by the IoT, but as things stand now, it's hard to see why 40% of organisations see many short-term benefits. The IoT is little more than a concept right now; there are no standards, technologies are barely interoperable with each other, and few real-world applications have been identified. Even Gartner's analyst, who worked on the aforementioned survey, urged to approach the trend with caution.
"The survey confirmed that the IoT is very immature, and many organizations have only just started experimenting with it," said Nick Jones, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.
"Only a small minority have deployed solutions in a production environment. The real challenge of the IoT is less in making products 'smart' and more in understanding the business opportunities enabled by smart products and new ecosystems."
The ecosystem is what's really lacking when it comes to the internet of things. A handful of the big vendors may very well be creating solutions for IoT-like applications, but too many are vying to own every part of the stack - a non-starter for any organisation looking to avoid vendor lock-in (i.e. most organisations). What's really needed is a raft of solid partnerships between large vendors - partnerships that take the best of what each vendor does, and apply those traits to compelling IoT technologies. Combined research and development efforts will pave the way for industry-wide standards
Happily, we're beginning to see this happen. At CeBIT 2015 - the major German IT fair, which I attended last week - Huawei and SAP signed an MoU that will see them build and operate an IoT-centric research and innovation lab spread across their two home countries. Both companies have had the foresight to know that they can't compete at every layer of the IoT stack, and so they're both sticking to what they're good at - in Huawei's case, the infrastructure; in SAP's case, the application layer. Combined, the pair could come up with some pretty compelling solutions leveraging best-of-breed technology.
As exciting as this all is, the fact remains that widespread IoT adoption is still in its infancy. Certainly, it would be prudent for CIOs to keep abreast of the latest developments, but until we see more big-name partnerships feeding into a wider ecosystem, the IoT is in for a slow start. It's coming, to be sure, but it's coming a lot more slowly than some are letting on.