By Ed Holden, Editor of Manufacturing & Logistics IT Magazine.
Along with concepts such as Industry 4.0 and the Factory of the Future, the phrase the Internet of Things (IoT) is increasingly becoming part of the technology consciousness of business and technology professionals working in sectors such as manufacturing, logistics and retail.
So what is IoT and what does it mean for the readership of this journal? The Internet has become a must-have tool in the workplace in recent times, and with costs associated with connecting to the web becoming increasingly affordable for many people and organisations, an ever more diverse range of devices are being brought to market with built-in sensors and Wi-Fi capability, meaning these devices can connect to the web or to each other quickly and seamlessly.
In the logistics environment these web-enabled sensors can be used for fleet tracking of vehicles; to search for specific items in a warehouse; and to detect if hazardous goods are stored close to other potential dangerous materials or liquids.
In the retail space, sensors can be deployed to trace goods along the supply chain; monitor storage conditions for goods; process payments; provide smart control of product stocking and replenishment on shelves and in warehouses; and log point of sale information related to customer buying habits. Regarding industrial control, sensors can be used for machine self-diagnosis for maintenance purposes etc.; and monitor the quality of air or the ambient temperature inside a plant for health & safety compliance. And the list goes on.
Gartner forecasts that 6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016, up 30 per cent from 2015, and will reach 20.8 billion by 2020. In 2016, 5.5 million new things will get connected every day. Gartner estimates that IoT will support total services spending of US$235 billion in 2016; up 22 per cent from 2015.
Services are dominated by the professional category (in which businesses contract with external providers in order to design, install and operate IoT systems), however connectivity services (through communications service providers) and consumer services will grow at a faster pace. According to Jim Tully, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, IoT services are the real driver of value in IoT, and increasing attention is being focused on new services by end-user organisations and vendors.
In terms of hardware spending, consumer applications will amount to $546 billion in 2016, while the use of connected things in the enterprise will drive $868 billion in 2016. In the enterprise, Gartner considers two classes of connected things. The first class consists of generic or cross-industry devices that are used in multiple industries, and vertical-specific devices that are found in particular industries. Cross-industry devices include connected light bulbs, HVAC and building management systems that are mainly deployed for purposes of cost saving.
The second class includes vertical-specific devices, such as specialised equipment used in hospital operating theatres, tracking devices in container ships, and many others. Tully commented that connected things for specialised use are currently the largest category. However, he added that this is quickly changing with the increased use of generic devices. By 2020, he believes cross-industry devices will dominate the number of connected things used in the enterprise.
The all-pervasive power of the web and the connectivity potential it offers will no doubt continue to enhance companies' processes during 2016 and beyond.
And, on the subject of 2016, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a happy, safe and prosperous New Year.