The "Internet of Things" (IoT) may sound like the futuristic wave of talking refrigerators and self-starting cars, but Internet-connected devices that communicate with one another will affect our lives outside the "smart home" as well. For workers, IoT will change the way we work by saving time and resources and opening new opportunities for growth and innovation.
1. Even more data
The Internet of Things will be a data machine. This means that companies will have to rethink how they collect and analyze information — not only will decision-makers need to learn and adapt to a new form of data intelligence, but the amount and type of information produced by IoT will also introduce new or expanded roles for data analysts, strategists, and even customer service.
"Companies will have access to an enormous flood of data that all these connected devices will generate," said Mary J. Cronin, professor at Boston College, Carroll School of Management, and author of "Smart Products, Smarter Services: Strategies for Embedded Control." "But that data needs to be analyzed to understand more about customers and trends. Companies will need to start using IoT data as part of their planning in order to stay competitive and to offer innovative new services and products."
2. Know where everything is, all the time
"IoT has the potential to make the workplace life and business processes much more productive and efficient," Cronin said.
One significant way IoT will increase productivity and efficiency is by making location tracking much simpler and seamless. As currently done in hospitals, Internet-connected equipment and devices will all be geographically tagged, which will save workers time hunting things down and save money by reducing the loss rate.
"Companies can track every aspect of their business, from managing inventory and fulfilling orders as quickly as possible to locating and deploying field service staff. Tools and factories and vehicles will all be connected and reporting their locations," Cronin said.
3. Get anywhere faster
IoT is the next big thing in your daily commute. The interconnectivity of mobile devices, cars and the road you drive on will help reduce travel time, thus enabling you get to work faster or run errands in record time.
Today, the "connected car" is just the start of IoT capability. "AT&T, together with automotive manufacturers such as GM and BMW, are adding LTE connectivity to the car and creating new connected services, such as real-time traffic information and real-time diagnostics for the front seat and infotainment for those in the back seat," said Macario Namie, vice president of marketing at Jasper Wireless, a machine-to-machine (M2M) platform provider.
In the future, IoT will integrate everything from streets to stoplights.
"Imagine a world in which a city’s infrastructure installed roadside sensors, whose data could be used to analyze traffic patterns around the city and adjust traffic light operations to minimize or perhaps eliminate traffic jams," Namie said. "This could save a few minutes, if not hours of our day."
4. Cheaper, greener manufacturing
Thanks to IoT, device interconnectivity will facilitate the adoption of "smart grid" technologies, which use meters, sensors and other digital tools to control the flow of energy and can integrate alternative sources of power, such as solar and wind.
"The Internet of Things will drastically lower costs in the manufacturing business by reducing wastage, consumption of fuel and the discarding of economically unviable assets," Namie said. "IoT can also improve the efficiency of energy production and transmission and can further reduce emissions by facilitating the switch to renewables."
5. Completely remote mobile device management (MDM)
IT departments may have remote access to computers and mobile devices, but IoT will also enable remote control of other Internet-connected devices, said Roy Bachar, founder and chief executive officer of MNH Innovations and member of the Internet of Things Council.
Bachar, who also works with CommuniTake, a startup that provides remote-access technology, said that the cutting-edge technology that has given them full control over smartphones and tablets now allows remote management over other devices, including Android cameras and set-top boxes, among others.
Soon, MDM technologies will extend to the remote management of IoT devices, which will introduce changes for IT departments and IoT-connected employees.
"It's clear that the telecommunication giants will play a major role in the IoT domain and they are all introducing solutions. I believe that as early 2014, we will see the introduction of platforms for managing the IoT applications as well as solutions offered by companies, such as CommuniTake, for remote management of IOT devices," Bachar said.
6. Increased device management complexity
According to Bachar, as the number of connected devices grows, so does the complexity of managing them. For instance, today workers use smartphones for communication, productivity and entertainment. With IoT, they will have an additional function: controlling IoT-connected devices. "Many of the future IoT-connected devices will not have a screen. The way to take control over the device will be via smartphones," Bachar said.
"The complexity will also increase due to the variety of operating systems," he added. Thus, employees and IT departments will have a broader range of platforms to deal with, not just Android or iOS, Bachar said.
Both of these instances may require training for employees to learn how to control and manage connected, cross-platform devices.
7. Save time and get more out of your day
Other than controlling other IoT devices, your smartphone will also be much like a remote control for your life, said Brendan Richardson, co-founder and chief executive officer of PsiKick, a Charlottesville, Va.-based startup that develops IoT wireless sensors.
One of the most convenient aspects of IoT is that you have devices that "know" you and will help save time by allowing you to get in and out of places and conduct transactions faster using a mobile device.
"The iPhone or Android will increasingly interact with a whole range of sensors that you never see and don't own, but which provide your smartphone with valuable information and act on your behalf through an app," Richardson said.
With these sensors, even just getting your morning coffee will eliminate the need to wait in line for a less stressful start to your day. For instance, wireless sensors can detect when you walk into a Starbucks, which alert the barista of your likely order based on your order history. You can then confirm or choose a different order, then pay for it using your phone, Richardson said.
8. You may actually have to work harder
IoT may make workers' lives easier on many levels, but Richardson said IoT also means big changes in every industry.
"Every business and every industry will be disrupted over the next 30 years," Richardson said. "We're seeing this now beginning with the regular old Internet. It's being driven by data and large-scale efficiencies when you convert something to bits rather than atoms."
Richardson cited the evolution of movie rentals as an example.
"Netflix more or less destroyed Blockbuster by using the Internet to vastly improve the logistics of exchanging DVDs and removing pesky late fees. Then they converted the atoms of a DVD into bits and deliver 80 percent of their movies over broadband now. [You get] more movies on-demand and lower costs. And an entire industry — the DVD rental business — is consigned to the archive of history."
Richardson said such disruptions will happen in every industry, so companies and their employees have to be prepared.