Given that the theme of this column is rethinking communications, it should come as no surprise to see me writing about things that are – seemingly – far-removed from the telephony world we know so well. Of course, that’s the point, and if you’ve been following me here, you’ll know that rethinking telephony is really just the first step forward.
The technology world is evolving so quickly that I can earnestly say nobody is in charge, and the implications are only superficially understood. It wasn’t so long ago that telephony only meant telephony – that world was fully formed, high-functioning and well-understood. On the other hand, familiarity breeds inertia, and telephony remained static for decades.
VoIP changed all that, but in fact, much more. By putting telephony on a crash course with the Internet, VoIP fundamentally shifted the balance of power whereby its value is defined not by lowering the cost of phone calls, but by integrating voice with other communications modes. Telephony’s orbit has now been forced out of its self-contained galaxy and aligned with a much vaster universe that is continuously expanding.
That short-hop analysis quickly takes us to the acronym du jour, IoT, and its second cousin, IoE. If the Internet of Things and the Internet of Everything aren’t yet part of your vernacular, consider yourself now at the vanguard of technology evolution.
In short, IoT refers to the notion that the next level of communications involves connecting people to things and things to things. The latter has been around for a long time, best known as M2M – machine-to-machine. The IoT version of M2M, however, is more powerful, as the common thread for all these forms of connectivity is the Internet.
This means that simple communicating – such as relaying a command to turn a meter on – is just the starting point. IoT takes this many steps further by creating a real-time, two-way flow of data that ties a simple event to a more complex web of related processes. Ultimately, this yields more intelligence to improve performance and decision-making. You could argue this is a big push to ramp up automation, which may reduce human error and lower costs, but could also kill a lot of jobs.
There are many reasons why IoT is a hot topic now, and according to Cisco (News - Alert), only 1 percent of devices are Internet-connected, so we’re a long way off from robots doing everything. However fast this moves along, IoT is really just the first phase. Cisco has been heavily advocating IoE, which is the big payoff once most or all of your people and devices are connected this way. It talks about a bigger picture where people are connected to things, places, processes and outcomes. In UC parlance, this is akin to CEBP – communications-enabled business processes, but on a grander scale.
This may seem a bit far-fetched, and you might be a little bit concerned about the depersonalization that comes with all this automation, but you should also be optimistic about the upside. Even a little dose of IoT could be good for your business, and there are lots of proof points already. Like UC, IoT can have a positive impact even if deployed on a modest scale.
A simple example is in your home if you have a smart meter and a smart thermostat. Once your home and utility are connected via the web, there are many applications available to help manage energy consumption from inside or outside your home. As connectivity expands to other devices – your stove, refrigerator, washer/dryer, etc. – the possibilities are endless.
Many vertical sectors such as health care, manufacturing, field service, and education have developed similar capabilities, and there’s nothing stopping you from doing the same. The key is to understand that person-to-person is just one mode of communication, and that IoT creates another layer of value using the same technologies.
This is still very new territory, and I’m just laying out the basics here. For this to make more sense, you need to understand why this is happening now and identify the main deployment considerations. I’ll address those in my next column, and from there you should be ready to engage with vendors to determine IoT’s potential value to your business.
Jon Arnold is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy with a focus on IP communications, and writes the Analyst 2.0 blog. Previously, he was the VoIP program leader at Frost & Sullivan.
Edited by Maurice Nagle