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March 2, 2015

Why the IoT’s potential extends far beyond the connected home

Wendy McMillan, Arqiva’s MD for Smart Metering and M2M, discusses the potential of the IoT.

By Cbr Rolling Blog

You barely have to glance at a newspaper today to see the latest announcement about how connected devices are set to revolutionise our lives and homes – from connected fridges to smart toasters, and the even less useful devices in between. Until recently, much of the discussion around connected devices and the wider Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem has centred on the connected home and its potential to enable domestic convenience. This narrow view completely fails however to acknowledge the IoT’s potential to enrich our lives far beyond the domestic sphere.

The connected home may include a multitude of possible ‘micro’ applications of IoT technology, but as recently acknowledged by the Government’s chief scientific adviser, the Internet of Things’ real potential lies in the impact it can have on the wider infrastructure required to make more connected, efficient and ‘smart’ cities and buildings possible. This ‘macro’ application of the technology will enrich the lives of whole communities and the businesses that operate within them, rather than just the homes of the privileged and tech-savvy few.

The implications of these less-discussed IoT applications are wide-ranging, from enabling intelligent buildings, to smart metering and waste and flood level monitoring, but they all boil down to having remote sensors in all kinds of objects and devices. These seemingly less glamorous applications will be vital to improving the way our cities and businesses are run, enabling buildings and the wider infrastructure to be not only connected, but truly smart.

The time is now for businesses

With the economic hardships faced in recent years, it’s not difficult to see why cost-cutting is high on the priority list of the UK’s big decision-makers. With competition rife and margins ever more squeezed, the real trick they seek is to reduce costs at the same time as improving their services. It’s for this reason that the IoT – with its promise of providing the connected intelligence to transform services – has been such an exciting concept for businesses, but only now is the dream turning into a reality.

In a practical sense, the IoT provides businesses with a fantastic opportunity to connect with their environment – not only to benefit their own operations, but to deliver new pro-active services to customers. The IoT will help businesses streamline processes, increase revenue and reduce costs, manage risk, protect assets and become more efficient.

For example, it’s estimated by Intel that people spend three minutes trying to locate a meeting room – that’s 11,400 hours per year on time that could be used more constructively. By enabling automation of the building itself, through the integration of motion, temperature, light and door sensors; efficiency and productivity can increase.
City-wide connectivity

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For cities, equipping infrastructure with sensors that can receive and transmit data creates opportunities to cut costs and increase environmental sustainability. But the IoT goes far beyond that. The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), a New York based think-tank, defines smart cities as "cities that use technology not just to save money or make things work better, but also to create high-quality employment, increase citizen participation and become great places to live and work." It is this quality of life that should be embraced to develop truly beneficial IoT smart city applications.

Following the earthquake in 2011, Christchurch in New Zealand has seized the opportunity to re-build itself with sensors integrated from the ground-up; collecting real-time data on everything from water quality to traffic flow. In addition, Rio de Janeiro used preparation for the 2014 World Cup and upcoming 2016 Olympic Games to revitalise itself, creating better transportation systems and creating an open-data system to make available vast amounts of city information. Via 32 digital facilities, it has also provided digital literacy training to 69,000 people living there.

The mind-set challenge

Harnessing the IoT is by no means without challenges, ranging from establishing an effective communications network to collecting and managing the vast amounts of new data it delivers. However, the biggest is going to be changing people’s mind-sets towards the technology itself, so that it’s not seen as a quirky innovation, but rather as a robust and proven infrastructure that is essential for business change.

In reality, IoT technology will be a major business improvement play. Once business leaders understand the value in it, they simply won’t be able to compete effectively without it.



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