The Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming a growing topic of conversation both in the workplace and at home. It is a concept that has the potential to impact both how we live and how we work. However, many of you are probably wondering what exactly the Internet of Things is exactly and what impact is it going to have on you, if any? The Internet of Things is a complex beast, so we’re going to stick to the basics here. Don’t feel like we’re watering down a complex subject just for the sake of simplifying it. Many technical and policy-related conversations are happening at this very moment and many are just trying to grasp what the devil these conversations are really about.

Internet of Things 101

Broadband internet has become more widely available, the cost of connecting, more devices are being created with Wi-Fi capabilities and said devices have sensors built into them. Kinda scary, right? Well don’t sweat it, we’re not talking about SkyNet here or anything along those lines. Furthermore, technology costs are going down and smartphone penetration is sky-rocketing. All of these things are combining to create a ‘perfect storm’ for the Internet of Things.

So What Exactly is the Internet of Things?

Simply put, this is the concept of basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything from cellphones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of.  This also applies to components of machines, for example, a jet engine of an airplane or the drill of an oil rig. As I mentioned, if it has an on and off switch then chances are it can be a part of the IoT.  The analyst firm Gartner says that by 2020 there will be over 26 billion connected devices… That’s a lot of connections (some even estimate this number to be much higher, over 100 billion).  The IoT is a giant network of connected “things” (which also includes people).  The relationship will be between people-people, people-things, and things-things.

How Does This Impact You?

The new rule for the future is going to be, “Anything that can be connected will be connected.” But why on earth would you want so many connected devices talking to each other? There are many examples of what this might look like or what the potential value might be. Say for example you are on your way to a meeting; your car could have access to your calendar and already know the best route to take. If the traffic is heavy your car might send a text to the other party notifying them that you will be late.

What If…

What if your alarm clock wakes up you at 6 a.m. and then notifies your coffee maker to start brewing coffee for you? How about if your office equipment knew when it was running low on supplies and automatically re-ordered more?  How awesome would it be if the wearable device you used in the workplace could tell you when and where you were most active and productive and shared that information with other devices that you used while working?

On a broader scale, the IoT can be applied to things like transportation networks: “smart cities” which can help us reduce waste and improve efficiency for things such as energy use; this helping us understand and improve how we work and live. Take a look at the visual below to see what something like that can look like.

Virtually Endless Opportunities

The reality is that the IoT allows for virtually endless opportunities and connections to take place, many of which we can’t even think of or fully understand the impact of today. It’s not hard to see how and why the IoT is such a hot topic today; it certainly opens the door to a lot of opportunities but also to many challenges. Security is a big issue that is oftentimes brought up.

Billions of Interconnected Devices

With billions of devices being connected together, what can people do to make sure that their information stays secure? Will someone be able to hack into your toaster and thereby get access to your entire network? The IoT also opens up companies all over the world to more security threats. Then we have the issue of privacy and data sharing. This is a hot-button topic even today. One can only imagine how the conversation will escalate when we have billions of devices interconnected. Another specific issue that companies will face is the massive amounts of data produced by all these devices. This applies to all sorts of devices ranging from toaster ovens to automobiles. Companies need to figure out a way to store, track, analyze and make sense of the newly generated data.

So what now?

Conversations about the IoT are taking place all over the world. The focus of these conversations is to seek some sort of understanding as to how it will impact our lives. We are also trying to understand what opportunities and challenges are going to look like down the road. For now, the best thing that we can do is educate ourselves about what the IoT is currently. The next step is to grasp the potential impacts on how we work and live.