The internet as we know it today had humble beginnings as a data packet sharing project by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects (DARPA) in 1973. Today it has morphed into a massive decentralized juggernaut used to coordinate, collaborate and most importantly control the way modern societies transcend borders and languages in communicating and conducting trade.
Once human communication became a ubiquitous phenomenon, the next frontier to Internet dominance was the control of machine communication. The miracle of silicon has already ensured that most mechanical devices and machines have electronic circuits at their heart. With a simple chip connecting the electronics to the internet, these machines can now be controlled from anywhere via smartphone applications. The Internet brought families closer together, where expatriates living in Boston, for example, could communicate regularly with elderly parents in Bangalore via audio and video.
The health and status of electronic devices at their home location thousands of kilometers away could easily be examined through human-to-machine (H2M) communication. Connected devices like the smart watch on our wrists can report key health parameters when needed. Such parameters are also constantly monitored via Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication and any anomaly or deviation from the usual pattern is reported immediately. In fact, such devices are slowly taking control of our lives, enabling smarter decisions through machine-to-human (M2H) communication, resulting in a better quality of life.
The application of such systems ranges from simple household appliances to extremely complicated industrial tools, allowing for process automation and reduction of manual labor costs.
This network of physical objects or “things” that house sensors that can connect to the “Internet” to transmit information to other devices, systems or people is commonly referred to as the “Internet of Things” or IoT. These connected devices encourage companies to reinvent their value chain and strategies.
The immediate cross-domain benefits are on-demand access to device information and better synchronization between processes, helping to automate. Segments like utilities and transportation have already brought the technology into the mainstream. Water meters can notify users of leaks and possible contamination.
Electricity meters can detect potential line faults and send alerts to users. In the transportation field, the new-age cars have already installed such intelligent sensors in the car. A network of such sensors also helps us to reach the next innovation frontier for connected cars and smart fleets. These sensors can detect when a particular device is about to fail and can trigger safety measures and warnings in advance. In cold weather, the owner can remotely trigger the engine heater before driving.
In agriculture and agriculture, these IoTs help to monitor light, temperature, moisture, etc. in the soil with provisions for automatic irrigation. In segments like retail, IoT is being used to optimize inventory and reduce waste. Smart cameras or smart weight boards can detect when items on the shelves are below a certain threshold and trigger a reorder.
In the smart city of the future world, IoT sensors will help save energy, send signals when sanitation conditions are poor, relieve traffic, and monitor and address urban environmental issues such as toxic gases and pollution.
According to Gartner estimates, Building Automation or Connected Building will be the fastest growing segment, followed by Automotive and Healthcare. Some of the technologies that have made the IoT efficient, effective, and viable are access to inexpensive and low-power sensors, internet connectivity, software and network sensors, cloud computing platforms, cybersecurity, and data analytics. Experts in such evolving technologies are still scarce, and companies invest significant effort in upskilling their workforce.
The slowing electronics industry has found a new focus with the manufacture of these sensors, giving electronics graduates plenty to cheer about. Those who are proficient in the field of connectivity can focus on setting up the 5G network so that the connectivity of such IoT devices can reach even the most remote villages, enabling better healthcare, education and communication. IoT devices generate a lot of data. The cloud computing ecosystem has grown rapidly to keep up with demands, so those working in database management and data engineering fields have a good time ahead.
As a plethora of such devices and data are generated and used to control critical infrastructure, cybersecurity and surveillance become even more important to control the well-being of the citizens who use these technologies in daily life. The data generated by such devices can be analyzed for patterns of anomalies, and predictions about cases such as demand growth or device failure can be effectively mitigated using data analysis.
In fact, the most sought-after practitioners will be those who would work at the intersection of data analytics and cybersecurity to create a new generation of cyber analytics professionals. Larger organizations involved in agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, environmental supply chain, and public safety are already embracing IoT, which may create newer use cases.
This will encourage medium and small businesses to take advantage of the technology by enabling cost reductions through automation and manual labor to remain competitive. It has been estimated that around 22 billion IoT devices will be in use by 2025, while projections by tech analyst firm IDC put that number at 41.6 billion.
With such mass adoption and commercialization of technology, it is important that organizations encourage skill building and job creation for this technological marvel whose potential business value is virtually limitless. The building blocks for some of these are taught in many technical schools, but few prepare learners for the strategic and financial implications of IoT.
With the evolving technology and business landscapes of the IoT ecosystem, the curriculum cannot keep up with the rapid development. Practitioners who deal with either technological or business aspects in this ecosystem must constantly learn as they work and contribute to the development of the ecosystem. It is imperative that academia and industry work together to close the skills gap and produce a workforce that is productive and efficient to contribute to the maturity of the IoT ecosystem.