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The Internet of Things (IoT) is taking off in smart directions

Coming IoT growth surge will both utilize and surpass cloud computing's appeal.

Dan Lohrmann
Unexpected sophistication.

Further along than I thought.

Immense potential.

Even… Wow!

These are just a few of the words and phrases that I’m using to describe the Internet of Things World conference in Palo Alto, California, last week. I was an invited keynote speaker on cybersecurity for the event, but I certainly learned as much or more than I imparted to others.

The topics were wide-ranging, covering health & fitness, smart home, connected cars, i-Beacons, smart cities, precision agriculture, logistics, and industrial Internet during the two days of presentations. The number of the speakers offering thought-provoking insights was remarkable, and I must admit that I was surprised, energized and challenged to rethink about the future with IoT.

Allow me to explain.

IoT definitions vary, so get to industry specifics

But before I provide some brief examples from the event and summarize what I learned, let’s go back to the beginning and try to lay out some basic definitions – or not. The reality is that defining the ‘Internet of Things’ (or IoT for short) is very difficult, since examples are all over the map.

The challenge is to be as specific as possible, and yet not lose the overall sense of new possibilities and partnerships.

Cisco uses the term, “Internet of Everything,” since many new "smart" objects can have an IP address and be connected online. This is great marketing, but is it truly helpful for defining things?

Check out this video which describes the Internet of Things from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) earlier this year.

My questions heading into this IoT conference in California were: What is this IoT trend really doing that is significant right now? Is connecting basketballs or light fixtures (or whatever) really that compelling? Where is the business case? Is this just fluff?

I still believe that IoT is the new cloud, as far as the hype cycle goes. Many IoT comparisons can be made to where cloud computing was 5-6 years ago. I remember the numerous videos from experts back in the 2008-2009 timeframe that tried to explain the cloud – with many leaders even mocking the term "cloud" and others defining terms differently.

Here's what the CEO of Oracle said about the cloud in 2008:

And yet, IoT is enabled by the cloud and mobility trends as well. They are not competitors, but partners.

IoT World topics & highlights

Truth be told, I was initially a skeptic of IoT when my plane landed in San Jose, CA, but I was much more convinced when I headed back to Michigan.

What changed?

A quick look at the speakers for IoT World will reveal that some of the top global entrepreneurs were gathered in one place to discuss this topic – with representatives from at least 19 countries attending. I was very impressed with most of the presentations.

Here are some of the topics that were covered at IoT World:

·         Business Models: We've all heard the predictions of a $19 trillion IoT market value - but what are my next steps on the path to get there?? Hear how CxOs are planning their strategies to capitalizing on the opportunities in the IoT environment.

·         Partnerships: By definition connected products have to be delivered in partnership; choosing and managing those partnership effectively are fundamental to the success of failure of any IoT project

·         Wearables: Wearables are most definitely top of the consumer electronics agenda right now, from Fitbit to Google Glass.  But how will wearables revolution reboot business models for consumer electronics, services providers and carriers?

·         Security & Privacy: Can the IoT ever be truly secure, and will the consumer ever really trust the Internet of Things?

·         Standardization: Can the Internet of Thing thrive without a standardized platform -  yet how can one platform possibly successful in such a diverse market?   Clarify the impact for your business of the ongoing standards debate.

·         Innovation Apps:  The lesson of the 3rd generation internet is that long term value is in diversity of applications and harnessing innovation of many. As we move towards the 4th generation IoT will simply amply these fundamental economics. Explore the IoT app evolution and discover the next generation of Appcessories.

·         Managing Diversity: From SmartLocks to SmartSox how can ecosystem players efficiently harness such diverse opportunities?

·         Big Data & Analytics: Sensors collecting data everywhere - Analysts will unlock the ultimate value. Find out who is positioned to harness the wealth of sensor data to deliver more business and consumer benefits.

·         The Battle for the Intelligent Home: A huge range of new options are now available to manage the intelligent home. With carriers also driving a strong play to manage home networks, who will be the winners of the battle for the home?

Imagine this …

There were excellent tracks on smart cities and advances in smart (or intelligent) homes. But all of these topics still seemed to lack a compelling storyline.

Until … I met someone in the lounge while watching the end of Brazil playing Mexico to a draw in World Cup Soccer. This man was a visionary from Cleveland who worked for a plumbing company. I asked him: “Why are you here?”

“People like to spend a lot of money on showers and bathtubs,” he said. “I am designing the future of bathrooms. In the smart/connected bathrooms of the future, it will be all about the experience that we create. We will offer not a dozen but hundreds of types of water streams in showers – from fog to pulsating water.”

Note: At this point I was still unimpressed.

He continued, “Think about all the shades of paint, we now have 20+ shades of every color – it’s not green it’s Guacamole. So add in sounds, smells and maybe even video monitors and you create thousands of different possible experiences every time you enter.”

Now I was intrigued…  

“What if you select a “Pacific evening sunset” setting with the smell of salt water, classical music and more? Or, how about a Fiji sunrise?”

OK, I was starting to understand where he’s going at this point… I jumped in: “But will people pay for this stuff? It sounds expensive.”

“Yep – people love to spend money on their bathrooms. Add in TVs or Internet monitors to watch movies or whatever. This will be huge. It will start with the wealthy, but be commonplace in ten years or so….”

Where to next?

I pondered that plumbing conversation on my way home. It made me start to think differently about how IoT can bring together new diverse partners to create an entirely different set of experiences in the future. There are plenty of examples of other potential home projects at various websites on IoT.

I did more research over the next few days. Interestingly enough, IoT is also hot in China. Here’s an excerpt from one article:

China has spent 1.5 billion yuan (US$240.8 million) on over 500 'Internet of Things' projects, and will invest in another 101 projects, as the sector's value is expected to grow to over 700 billion yuan (US$112 billion) next year, Guangzhou's 21st Century Business Herald reports.

There are related new terms emerging such as “Fog Computing” – which, according to Cisco, is supposed to bridge IoT with cloud computing.

The trouble is that when we call something “smart” (such as smart cities or smart kitchen) it is hard to understand what that really means to a large sector. However, if you have a “smart” oven or fridge or shower, that makes more sense.

While I’m not sure how many of these new terms will ultimately stick, this trip made me a believer that IoT growth will surge in the coming years.

In conclusion: Security implications to IoT

Back at the beginning of the year, I wrote this article asking the question: Can we possibly secure the Internet of Things? This week, I did learn that IoT developers do care (a lot) about security and identity.

We still don’t know the answers to most tough security questions, but I am more convinced than ever that IoT has overtaken the cloud and smartphones as the “cool new trend.” Those who “just say no” will be cast aside.

And yet, from robots to smart cities to connected bathrooms, the challenges are all over the map.  Security professionals need to engage now in this IoT dialogue on the front lines of innovation. Don’t be afraid to ask sales people specific questions or demand real examples that work.

Many cyber answers are currently fuzzy, but with great problems come new potential solutions and exciting opportunities. Security pros need to offer secure alternatives, just as we are doing with BYOD.     

The fog is lifting. IoT is the new cloud.

Now let’s get to work.

Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.
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