Strap in because here it comes. The Internet of Everything is coming to a car, a toaster, a carton of milk and a thermostat near you!
The scenarios being played out in the tech arena are amazing (and in some cases far-fetched)-from chips in the shoes of your favorite athletes that track statistics on ball movement and plays (who really cares that much?) to the wearable heart monitor that will signal your doctor that you are having a heart attack, call an ambulance with your location and notify the hospital that you are on your way. The Internet of Everything seems to be on the verge of changing everything-or so tech companies say.
Pardon my cynicism, but when the cheerleading is led by microprocessor, networking and hardware companies such as Cisco, EMC and Intel, it all seems a tad self-serving. In fact, from my perspective, the level of hype is becoming so extreme that IOE has become just a giant catch phrase with a multitude of meanings.
Consider IT research and advisory firm Gartner’s Hype Cycle, which places various technologies on a five-phase continuum relative to their market maturity, adoption and application. Noteworthy is that the majority of the 48 technologies identified by Gartner as part of the Internet of Things are clustered on the continuum around the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” phase, which is Gartner’s indication of technologies that have yet to deliver against high expectations.
Arguably, the same could perhaps be said of Google’s January purchase of Nest Labs for $3.2 billion. Only time will tell if Google overpaid for the combo thermostat, fire, and carbon monoxide detector company or found the steal of the century.
It’s clear that the potential benefits of IOE could be many-improved health and safety, enhanced entertainment and eco-friendly consumption of resources are just a few-however, there is no defined, much less assured, path to bringing the advantages of IOE to fruition.
From my perspective, there are three main challenges:
- Lack of standards. These new technologies require devices to wirelessly connect. However, today, no single standard communication protocol exists, creating some uncertainty in the market. For example, within just the Smart Home paradigm, there are ZigBee and Z-Wave technologies. Both technologies can deliver the wireless connectivity, but they do so in different ways (I’ll spare you the technical details). But what this really means is that currently you need to purchase all devices from a single brand or ensure they work on the same protocol. This situation is similar to the so-called format wars of the 1980s, where VHS and Betamax duked it out for dominance in the video cassette market. But today, it remains unclear what technology will end up the Betamax of the Smart Home world.
- Security. Apart from the serious security risks a lost or misplaced iPhone can present, web-connected devices are only as secure as the Wi-Fi network. So, while most people know to dial in the security settings on their personal Wi-Fi router to prevent access to your home network, others users may not realize they have to do the same with the smart devices they connect to the network. Without that extra step, people will leave themselves vulnerable to hackers.
- Privacy. Communication is very rarely a one-way street, which raises some privacy questions when it comes to Internet-enabled devices. Is your smart thermostat communicating when it is in vacation mode, indicating that there is no one at home? Does your smart lock-inadvertently or otherwise-broadcast the schedule of when people typically come and go to your residence? These are just some of the potential privacy issues we may end up facing.
Why all the cynicism? It is not that I don’t believe that it is coming or that it is promising; rather, the skepticism is rooted in our ability to responsibly introduce these tools and technologies into the environment. In 10 years, perhaps these comments will seem trivial and maybe even irresponsible, but in today’s world, I believe they are spot on. So, tread into this new wave of technologies but tread lightly and with your eyes wide open.
Rich Brennan is CIO and senior vice president of information technology at Aimco.