The estimated time of arrival (ETA) of the Internet of Things (IoT) is still a work in progress. For some, the related technologies are beginning to deliver results; for others, the promise of innovation is driving the development of hardware and software, while for the rest there is still some hesitation due to a lack of understanding or expertise.
Interest in IoT has accelerated dramatically in 2013. A number of initiatives — annual conferences, forums, new journals, standards groups and public consultations — have recently launched around the world, confirming the growing importance of connected objects. Perhaps this increased interest is an indication that higher education needs a better understanding of IoT’s capabilities, goals and challenges.
Recently, surveys of IT professionals conducted by Cisco and SAP/Harris have highlighted the limited familiarity with IoT and the lack of related expertise, which is a significant obstacle to IoT’s growth.
The Other ETA: Education, Training and Awareness
IoT is many things to many people. It is often cloaked with various names, depending on the context. For example, machine-to-machine communications (M2M), ubiquitous computing, cyber-physical systems, industrial Internet, smart grid, and smarter planet are a few examples of expressions used to describe IoT. In addition, it is a simple concept that is very difficult to implement.
The development of any IoT solution requires the combination of myriad technologies and expertise, from the sensing and actuating stage to the transformation of data into actionable information. For IoT to thrive, education, training and awareness (the other ETA) must become a top priority for businesses, governments and academia.
In IoT, as in many other places in the business world, both supply and demand sides must be acted upon at the same time.
The current workforce, made up of those involved in related technologies, must be given access to opportunities that allow them to embrace domains beyond their own current areas of expertise. For instance, IoT solutions require a thorough understanding of a broad variety of wired and wireless technologies and associated standards. Training in these areas will help today’s workers tackle IoT’s challenges of the future.
The future workforce, currently K–12 and college students, should be introduced to the IoT universe early and often. The recently announced DISTANCE project (Demonstrating the Internet of School Things – a National Collaborative Experience) in the United Kingdom focuses on leveraging IoT in order to provide children with unique skills to work in the digital economy. To move IoT forward, students cannot wait for on-the-job training.
Beyond high school, colleges should be considering integrating IoT technology into curricula. China is one of the first countries to understand the need for well-adapted educational programs to support IoT acceleration. Many Chinese universities already offer degrees in Internet of Things Engineering. Note that the fundamental technical knowledge necessary to prepare for IoT can be found in universities with programs in ubiquitous computing, interactive computing, human–computer interaction, cyber-physical systems and M2M networking. These programs are inherently dynamic because they need to keep pace with a rapidly changing industry. With the arrival of Big Data, generated in no small part by IoT and associated technologies, “data science” has become a hot topic in academic circles. The information extraction is central to IoT and cannot be ignored by IoT architects.
As a consequence of the complexity of the value chain, an IoT expert must have a thorough understanding of a host of scientific and engineering disciplines. IoT is about to fundamentally change sales, marketing, customer service and management as a whole. Many business functions — logistics, reverse logistics, information management, security, market research, etc. — will have to adjust to the IoT paradigm. Equally important, the legal framework will have to adjust accordingly.
One of IoT’s major hurdles is the lack of understanding about its function and possibilities. For example, business-to-business customers have heard terms like IoT, M2M and the Internet of Everything, but the value proposition is not always immediately evident. Examples like smart roads, home automation and fitness-data collection are examples that can be used to explain the power of IoT. While there are some operational efficiencies to be gained by nearly any organization, new business models may be required to fully leverage the power of IoT. The first step is training and information sharing, from customer service all the way to the C-suite.
Finally, end users of IoT-powered solutions must be made aware of IoT’s positive transformational capabilities. Right now, most early adopters are also on the production side and, through the above-mentioned programs, may have become familiar with IoT. However, there are issues such as security, privacy, trust and social acceptability that must be frankly addressed at the consumer level to facilitate the acceptance of IoT.
ETA As a Springboard Toward IoT Maturity
Recently, research and advisory company Gartner released its 2013 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, mapping out the evolving relationship between humans and machines. IoT, a key piece of the Gartner assessment, is placed near the “peak of inflated expectations” and is expected to take another decade to unfold. Gartner’s outlook may be understood as a result of the magnitude of the task at hand.
IoT is about the radical transformation of society, which won’t happen overnight. Education, training and awareness are some of the highly visible prerequisites, and critical to IoT’s success. The faster we come to grips with this, the faster IoT will move to mainstream adoption.