What is the Internet of Things?

CC Image by Mike

Boy, I LOVE a good marketing effort to advance ideas forward. DevOps is IT’s approach to applying Lean best practices to SOA and the practice of putting IT capability in place. The Internet of Things (IoT) is pretty similar in that it is reusing an existing idea. We now have discreet (and smart) devices available to most everyone that are connected to the Internet so we can pull data into a server, manipulate it, and take action against that information.

When I first got into technology (shortly after electricity and manufacturing were invented) we had programmable control logic (PLC). With PLC we had discreet sensors that we collected information from and used to control machines. The IoT is an extension of that. The difference? Most everyone can (and will) have IoT-enable devices.

Imagine if you had a shelf in your refrigerator that could sense when you pulled something out and used it, and automatically ordered and had delivered replacements? What if you had security devices in your house and they could inform you (and the police or fire station) when something went amiss? What if you had a device that could monitor your vital stats and collect them, and over time “learn” what normal for you is, and make recommendations for exercise, rest, when to grab a snack, etc.?

So is the IoT new? Yes, it is taking a group of things and using them in a different way. The possibilities for IoT are endless and are going to drive a TON of technical advances that we have needed for a long time. For instance, with so many devices sending what might be private data to various places, we will need to finally come up with a scalable and affordable authentication method. We’ll shift away from buying and registering (somewhat) expensive certificates and introduce a certificate-less authentication method that does the same thing but is inexpensive and extremely scalable to address all of the new IoT devices coming online.        

There are a few fun areas I am following pretty closely, education & IoT, and BI & IoT. These types of devices and capabilities are shifting from big business availability to you-and-me availability. What's that mean?
Education is becoming available to anyone, anywhere so long as they have access to a device connected to the Internet. The vision for Khan Academy was just that. Next steps are to create small training for very specific skills that are marketable when looking for a job. Imagine if you could take a few free (or low cost) online nuggets of training for accepting and logging payments in Accounts Receivable (AR). That would help you-and-me get a job that is a step above what may be available with our current skills, especially if there was a badge you could earn to provide some proof.
The Internet of Things is the rebranding of an existing technology that is becoming available to all of us. Imagine a time when you can wear a device that tracks your general health (or get basic information from content on the Internet) and barter for guidance to maintain general health rather than having to have significant health insurance, rather than going to visit a doctor and paying for the visit to get general guidance.
For BI, imagine that the information mentioned above is monitored and only you have access to it. It is consolidated in a data warehouse and you are compared with others that match your profile and it can run models to tell you when something is out of whack and you really do need to go visit a doctor.

How can you get started? Get a FitBit (or similar) and write a phone app for it that is similar to an existing application. This makes it a bit easier to get started. After you have something working, think about how you can combine the information you are pulling from the device with other information available through open APIs to create something different. For instance, I wrote one so that my phone would alert me when I achieved 10,000 steps and tell me where the closest places with beer I like are. Not very useful but fun and educational.

It is a fun time to be alive and working in the technology space. Like Disneyland!


Andy Ruth 
SEI Mentor
Apprenticeship Program