The Internet of Things, So Mom Can Understand

Dear Mom,

internet of things
The Internet of Things, So Mom Can Understand

It’s great to hear that you’re feeling pretty hip at your ability to explain data, metadata and Big Data to your friends. I did get your panicked voicemail asking about the Internet of Things (IoT).   Yes, you’re right that the Internet itself is a thing, so it’s confusing to know if the Internet is one of the things that the IoT includes.   So let’s make it a bit simper so you can feel more comfortable about the topic at your bridge game next week. (Still shocked you’re talking about data with your friends– Dad complains you only talk with him about “Dancing with the Stars”).

First let’s describe the Internet itself.   You use it everyday when you do a Google search: it’s a publicly accessible network of computer systems from around the world.     Someday the Internet will hopefully allow for sharing of all human knowledge with one another.

But what about knowledge that’s not “human”?   It’s not only people that create information.   The “things” in IoT are the devices and machines that people, companies and governments rely upon every day.  Believe it or not, there are billions of devices today that are also “connected” – meaning they have the ability to send information to other computers.  In fact, the technology research firm Gartner says there will be 4.9 billion connected devices, or “things” in 2015.  And by 2020, that number will reach 25 billion!

Some of these connected devices are more obvious than others – and some have been around a very long time.  For example, you use ATMs all the time at the bank, when you’re withdrawing and depositing money.   Clearly those machines can only access your account information if they’re connected to the banks computer systems that hold your account information.

Your iPhone, your “smart” thermostat, and your washing machine with the call home feature are all connected “Things” too.  Mom, imagine waking up in the morning and having your coffee brewed already. The coffee machine brewed because it knew from your alarm clock what time you were waking up.

IoT will also help make sure your oven is off; your lost keys can be easily found and your fridge can check how many eggs are left while you’re standing in the grocery store. The possibilities are limitless.

And it doesn’t stop there.   Medical devices are communicating with doctors, jet engines are communicating with their manufacturers, and parking meters are communicating with city services.

And guess what?  There are people watching the computers that collect all of that information, and they’re working hard to figure out what value they can deliver by using it effectively.   It’s actually this machine data that’s going to make Big Data REALLY Big.

So does that mean your espresso maker, your cell phone and your car will be conspiring to take over the house?  Probably not something we need to worry about this year (Maybe you want to keep an eye on the refrigerator just in case).   But in the short term, it will mean people like me who have dedicated our careers to data management will have our work cut out for ourselves trying to figure out how to make sense of all of this new machine interaction data from devices. Then how to marry it with the people interaction data from social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. And then how to marry all of that with all of the transactional data that companies capture during the normal course of business.    As I’ve said before, data’s a good business to be in!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Love, Rob

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