A Quick Guide to… IoT
Just as we’re getting used to the t’interweb and getting on board with things like online banking and the cloud, along comes the term ‘internet of things’. What on earth is it and can we trust it?!
Break it down for me – what does the Internet of Things (IoT) mean? There seems to be two broadly similar definitions out there. The first is a very technical one about data, connectivity, unique identifiers and a lack of human interaction. The second, which makes far more sense to us, is that it’s things that can be connected to the internet and that collect data, which will ultimately help someone with a specific thing.
I’m still not sure I get it…
Ok, so think things like smart watches, wireless medical devices and sensors in a car that alert the driver to something like low tyre pressure. All of these, and many, many more examples, allow data to be collected in one way or another which is then transferred over a network. The clever thing today is that these networks can be brought together to communicate not just within a closed network (think a fitbit synching with an app) but also more broadly (a fitbit sharing data with your friends in a step competition) to create a much more connected world.
Why does everything need to be connected these days?
A fair question, but there is some sound thinking behind it. The IoT is all about making life easier by having more intuitive, connected capability around us. Data isn’t collected to be intrusive or in a big brother way, but more to support a better way of doing things based on analysis and a deeper, richer understanding of how things are used.
Surely things can’t get any techier?
As smart as life may seem today, from lightbulbs to doorbells, wearables to watchables, the industry fully recognises that IoT is in its infancy. Connecting multiple devices isn’t always as easy as it should be and understandably there are still concerns about security given the quantity, and sometimes nature, of the data that is being collected.
Like the recent reports of Siri and Alexa listening to conversations?
Well, yes. As with all things connected to the internet, there’s the risk of it being hacked or used inappropriately. There’s also the issue of surveillance and how too much data can be accessed by unintended users. As a generalism, more work needs to be done in this area to protect the privacy of individuals.
I can see how it might benefit me personally, but how can it help in the retail sector?
This is where it gets really exciting, because the IoT is the key to driving a truly omni-channel experience. Imagine a scenario in which a customer can connect to a store window through their mobile, a retail worker can connect directly to ecommerce capabilities through a smart device or where stock is located and tracked to near 100% accuracy. Not only is this aspiration but for the innovators in the industry, it’s already their reality.
If it’s not ready to be a thing, how has it ended up being a thing?
Because a connected world is the future, and we have to start somewhere. Recognising the potential, global giants like Microsoft are already investing in solutions to support their business customers in setting up their IoT, so that corporate devices are connected through a trusted platform. This helps create a standard by which others will need to compete with and hopefully with it, will bring answers for the issues that are still outstanding. In retail, brands worldwide are already experimenting with the IoT, from Amazon Go which uses advanced technology to allow shoppers to simply fill their basket and walk out of the shop with a subsequent charge to their Amazon account, through to Costa Coffee and their smart vending machine solutions. We’re seeing this technology deployed today, which means we can start to learn from it to make it even more personalised and connected as we look forward.
For now though, we can choose to embrace a world in which we check a webcam in our fridge, via a smart device of course, to see if we need more milk, or not… because so far we’ve managed to just walk to the fridge when we get home and check. But whether we like it or not, technology is evolving the way we live our lives at pace and in many cases for the better. And besides, it’s kinda cool having a camera in the fridge…
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