By Mike Vadney

Gartner predicts that by 2020 there will be more than 20 billion connected things worldwide. The growth of smart homes, cars, and entertainment has blossomed interest in the Internet of Things (IoT) at the consumer level. Yet, IoT encompasses even more on the business and industrial side, where it helps to streamline processes and develop a greater understanding of operations. To dig into the growth and opportunity within IoT, we sat down with Strong-Bridge consultant Mike Vadney.

1. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING WITH IOT?

I worked primarily in the telecom industry for 30 years, and I’ve come to see, in many ways, that IoT is an extension of the innovation in that space. 2007 is when I began working directly with IoT, at a start-up that was creating in-car apps/services— things like emergency services and directions. It was one of the first companies to focus their work on creating a string between technology, the person, and the car. It was all very cutting-edge. In-car/automotive was the fastest growing IoT category at the time. Today, connected cars are actually still one of the top 5 IoT categories. While some things remain the same, I’ve watched some astounding change and growth in the last 10 years.

2. WHAT ARE SOME FACTORS DRIVING GROWTH IN IOT?

There are several factors driving growth. I’ll speak to a few. First, the cost of technology has dropped significantly over the last five or so years. For a long time, technology and connectivity were cost prohibitive for many companies.

Currently, business efficiencies are a huge driver in the growth of IoT, where businesses as complex as vehicle and heavy equipment manufacturers are able to get performance data to monitor and improve the usability of their products. In a similar way, Coca-Cola has done this with distribution and product selection with their Freestyle machines, which get real-time knowledge of consumer behavior and equipment performance; with this, they can improve both marketability and availability by predicting usage and preventing outages.

Another driver is data. Companies who implement IoT technologies are often able to collect vast and detailed information on their products, processes, and customers. Some of that data feeds into efficiencies, too; if you can find a hiccup in a process or in a system, you can fix it.

Of course, there are a slew of factors driving adoption and interest on the consumer side, which itself is a growth driver for the industry. The customer is driving much of what becomes mainstream.

3. DO YOU HAVE AN INTERESTING EXAMPLE OF IOT HITTING THE MAINSTREAM?

Besides smart home technology, I think one of the best examples is Uber. It’s a mobile app that has come right out of the IoT space, and yet not everyone really thinks of it that way. Uber connects two devices — the driver’s phone and the rider’s phone. Along the way, it collects location and ride data, and allows for two-way feedback. This seemingly simple technology has upended ground transportation. In fact, when you remind yourself that IoT devices include smartphones, it exposes the scale of IoT. A sensor device connected to an oil rig or an animal in a pasture that reports back to a smartphone app are a powerful IoT tools; and those types of apps are growing constantly.

4. WHAT OBSTACLES OR CONCERNS TO YOU SEE IN IOT?

Privacy and security are almost certainly the biggest issues in the industry right now. If you were in the technology space 10-20 years ago, it would be unthinkable to imagine we’d be giving up as much information as we do today. If you think more broadly about technology, there are very real privacy concerns, and many of them stem from the information we have, in some way, chosen to give up. The recent snafu with Facebook is a prime example. The very real truth is: we as consumers have a say in how much we choose to share about ourselves. Many of us know the risk at some level and still give up our information willingly. My own home and a lot of my life are smart-enabled. I recognize that through voice technology, location data, and other places I share information, I could be exposed. For some people, these concerns are waved over because they have nothing to hide; I probably fall in that camp. Yet, the truth is, we have to be stewards of our own privacy, nobody is going to do it for us.

5. WHAT ADVICE MIGHT YOU GIVE TO COMPANIES EXPLORING OR ADVANCING THEIR WORK IN IOT?

There are numerous opportunities in IOT, and many more industries and organizations are seeing value in trying their hand. The fact that the technology is so affordable makes it all the more tempting to create. And yet, you have to exercise some perspective. While trying and testing is often a good strategy, there should be consideration for the related people and time investments. Trying an IoT concept (or a few), and not staffing or supporting them properly is a real risk; and it happens often. There are only so many people who work in this space, so companies often run into staffing struggles or put too many projects on just one person. That means projects that might otherwise succeed suffer instead, because they lack the support they need to prove out. So, be careful in your choices, staff wisely, and have a longer-term plan in your back pocket if something you try sticks.

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