This article explores the consequences brought about by the Internet of Things (IoT), including the opportunities and challenges it poses to those it affects, and discusses potential ways one could prepare for the ensuing disruption.
What are the consequences of the Internet of Things?

The benefits, based solely on products that exist today, let alone the unimagined combinations of emerging capabilities, are tremendous. More than ever, the smartphone has become the remote control for life. Data is available at your fingertips on everything imaginable. However, there are a number of challenges and disruptions ahead. These challenges include technical issues, business issues, requirements for new and evolving skill sets, legal and legislative difficulties, and social complexities.

Unbundling and Aggregation

One of the most disruptive aspects of the IoT is that it enables near-complete unbundling and almost-arbitrary aggregation of all conceivable products and systems. The process of unbundling and aggregation is not entirely new, but the IoT takes it to a new and more accessible level.

Historical examples of unbundling include the MP3, which unbundled individual songs from complete CD albums. Blogs unbundled individual articles out of complete newspapers. Earlier on the technology timeline, IBM had sold completely bundled computing solutions that included all software and services, until DEC came along and successfully sold smaller, unbundled computers to which you could add your own software and services. And the ultimate unbundling, still well over the horizon, is programmable matter, in the form of buckminsterfullerene (bucky-balls) or nanotubes, which can theoretically be combined into any shape and function.

IoT Challenges and Opportunities

Just as with technology revolutions of the past, the IoT creates revolutionary opportunities for both businesses and individuals. Those who understand the underlying IoT fundamentals, possess the needed skills, and can meet the technical challenges will have a major advantage.

Business Opportunities

The IoT offers several major categories of opportunities.

  • First, there are the basic components and devices that connect to the network via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
  • The next level includes entirely new aggregated products and systems that combine these devices in new ways, like home management systems.
  • The third level, and by far the largest and fastest growing one, consists of all the services providing customised solutions to businesses and consumers. These include data analysis services to help make sense of the vast amount of Big Data generated by the IoT. Of the >$1 trillion IoT market predicted for 2020, 58% is made up of managed services, with the other 43% going to a combination of enablement hardware (4%) and network services (39%).
  • The IoT gives businesses new ways to connect with customers instant
  • The IoT provides the opportunity, rapidly evolving into the need, to monitor and respond to customers in near real-time. Individual products no longer exist in a vacuum; interactions among devices from multiple sources and vendors must be understood and taken into account.
  • Products and bundles can be remotely reconfigured and quickly repaired. Customers can be provided with tools to do their own reconfiguration. Ultimately, adaptive systems will reconfigure themselves to customer needs. Agile businesses that can customise and personalise their products to their customers' immediate needs have a strong advantage.
  • Insurance concerns and opportunities exist, e.g. autonomous cars, but data will make it easier to assess risks
  • There is further an opportunity for new pricing models; e.g. insurance premium tuning based on health and driving data
Technical Concerns

Participation in the IoT begins with a solid network infrastructure so that all the things, devices, phones, displays, and controllers, can easily communicate. Wi-Fi is an important means to provide wireless connectivity.

Because it is easy to bring so many devices of a wide variety into the range of a Wi-Fi network, it is extremely important for the network to:

  • Handle high volume and density of the devices, and
  • Be capable of discriminating between permitted and rogue devices.

Device must be capable of generating an enormous amount of data that must be:

  • Stored
  • Protected, and
  • Analysed

Gartner predicts that by 2017, users will download 268 billion apps, half of them to wearable devices. Users will be providing personalized data streams to more than 100 apps and services every day.

  • It is important for businesses to understand these application- and data flows and be able to identify bottlenecks.
  • Powering the mobile sensors and controllers presents a challenge. Batteries must be kept small, but still provide a usable life between charges. Research into the concept of the ambient energy harvesting, that is, using readily-available ambient heat, light, vibrations, even jaw bone motion to power IoT devices, will have strong benefits to the IoT.
Security Concerns

The recently reported breaches are indicative of the need for overall better protection of sensitive online personal data. The IoT puts many more doors on the Internet that need to be securely locked and monitored. Stealing personal data and corporate data is bad enough, but the prospect of hacking into life support systems and even embedded medical devices is life-threatening.

Social and Legal Concerns

All the new streams of data becoming available on the Internet raise difficult privacy and moral issues that are only starting to be addressed. Who owns the video streaming in from Google Glass and the healthcare-related date streaming from other wearables?

The IoT encourages a new level of outsourcing, and with it concerns about:

  • Service availability
  • Response times
  • Issues of scalability
  • Price structure issues
  • Defining project completion
  • Intellectual property ownership
How Can You Prepare?

The growth of Internet of Things opens up opportunities for businesses and people with the right skills. These skills include network design, data analysis, data security, and engineering. Mckinsey projects the need for 1.5 million additional managers and analysts "with a sharp understanding of how big data can be applied" in the United States alone. Gartner has predicted there will be 4.4 million global big data jobs by the end of 2015, only one-third of which will be filled.

In short, the Internet of Things is changing the face of business and the ways in which we interact with the world, almost in equal fashion. It is therefore imperative to keep up with new developments in the IoT-sphere to not only ride the wave of opportunities it offers, but also to guard against the consequent concerns that accompany the disruption.

With reference to