The Internet of things – can objects get social?

Ian Cook looks at the Internet of things and asks how this idea might manifest itself and, more importantly, what businesses should be doing to capitalise on the concept.

It’s not news that there are now more devices connected to the internet than there are people in the world. In the main these devices are used to access what is available in an organisation or on the wider web; devices such as smart phones, tablets, printers, TVs and good old PCs – hardware basically.

The ‘internet of things’ is an idea that suggests that not just access devices can be connected to the internet, but a whole host of other ‘objects’ might be able to join in as well. For example, the Economist describes pill jars that know when an elderly patient needs to take a dose of tablets. A call centre can then ring the patient and remind them to take their pills.

The advance of the ‘thingternet’, as it has been dubbed, has been curtailed by three factors which have now, in the main, been removed:

  1. IP Addresses - basically there were not enough to go around, but with the introduction of IPV6 and 128 bit addresses there is capacity for 340 billion billion billion billion unique addresses, which should do for now
  2. Bandwidth – in the last year networks have dramatically increased their capacity, not least with 4G, stimulated by the major increase in smartphones and tablet devices
  3. Cloud data storage has bought down the cost of storing all the data that could be harvested from all those connected objects.

We thought it would be interesting to ask what the internet of things experience might be like if your car, bedside cabinet or an original painting you buy could have its own “profile” online, in much the same way as many of us do? So you buy your goods and on delivery you can ‘activate’ them on the World Wide Web. When this happens the items’ “timeline” starts.  At this point you may be given access to instructional videos about how to assemble your bedside cabinet or how to maintain your vehicle. Because your item is now part of a community, there will be advice from other purchasers that makes maintenance a touch easier than the guidance the manufacturer originally provided.

You could at this stage be offered additional services or products; a newsletter keeping you up to date about the artist of the painting you bought, a bedside lamp or dressing table in the same finish, or text reminders about your car’s servicing requirements.

Third party marketing opportunities exist as well; tyre manufacturers, your nearest dealership, invitations to art exhibition previews.

As events that relate to your product occur they would be recorded on its timeline; servicing for the car, stages at which it achieves a certain mileage or the fact a component recall and replacement took place. Pictures could be posted of the item in use and in situ (OK we may be pushing the envelope here, but you get the point).

Over time a profile of the product is developed and in 5 years when you decide to sell your product it now has provenance that can connect with your chosen sales platform; e-bay, car dealership or art gallery. The product profile travels with the product, and now the new owner can add to the data. As an art collector he or she can see other paintings by the same artist, see which body of work it came from and also receive updates from the artist.  The gallery he/she bought it from can also use information about the past and present owners. The new owner of the car has access to the official manuals and the community of information, now five years bigger and wiser, about their purchase. In the light of used-product knowledge he can be offered products and services best suited to a 5 year-old vehicle. Couple that with knowledge about the consumer – age, gender and location, and you can see how an insurance company could create a personalised quote, on the fly. This concept can apply to any product or service; a vehicle fleet, computer hardware and software, fixtures and fittings. And imagine what could be achieved if tied in to RFID technology where an item’s location and ‘state’ can be tracked so the car can tell you it is time for a service or you can be told that your nearest furniture store has stock of a complementary item and it’s on sale.

And the inevitable questions; what does this all mean for my business and how can I capitalise on it or mitigate threats posed by the internet of things?

At the risk of appearing to pass the buck, those are questions for you to answer, but the good news is that the Internet of things is on the horizon, not in your face, so you have time to consider. To help you we have developed some points that will guide you on your way:

  1. Present the concept at your next ‘future strategy’ meeting and brainstorm the implications with your fellow executives.
  2. What could it mean for your products and services? How can you add value to them by giving them an online profile?
  3. What could it mean for your company assets?  Can you extract greater value from them?
  4. Are there additional services and products you can create around this ‘channel’?
  5. Speak with suppliers about how they might add value to the service they provide.
  6. Can you develop new relationships, and revenue streams, with providers of complementary services and products by allowing them access to your customers?
  7. Discuss the idea with the organisation’s technologists, what existing services might contribute to delivering your Internet of things, what decisions are being made that might impede or facilitate delivery and what additional services and infrastructure would be needed to make this happen.
  8. Analytics – there is going to be a lot of information recorded, what are you going to want to know and measure?
  9. What could the downsides be and how would you deal with them? Use a scenario plan to address them.
  10. Consider a small pilot project that could road test some of the ideas discussed and get that early mover advantage.

This might all seem a little far fetched, but the reality is that we already have an ‘internet of things’. The question is not really ‘Is this even possible?’ It is ‘What value can we derive from engaging with it?’, followed by ‘How do we do it?’

Has your organisation considered this? Let us know if this is blue sky, or part of your core strategy.

Tags Strategy, technology innovation, IT trends, innovation, Unified Communications, internet of things, IT Trends, Business Strategy