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7/7/2014
09:06 AM
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The Internet Of Small Things Spurs Big Business

IoT scenarios that appear consumer-centric and disposable hold broad business opportunities.

In a recent InformationWeek column I opined that smart sensors would soon find their way into many disposable products -- like a soda can, which when opened triggers a contest. Initially these won't be very sophisticated, but as sensor prices fall and technologies improve, extreme connectedness across the Internet of Things will inspire new business opportunities.

One example is start-up LIFX, based in Melbourne Australia, which has raised $12 million in series-A venture capital funding, for guess what? A lightbulb. Not your standard bulb, but rather a WiFi-enabled, multi-colored, energy-efficient LED smart bulb controlled from a smartphone app.

[Union Pacific and GE Power & Water are turning IoT hype into reality, but want to do more. Read Internet Of Things: What's Holding Us Back.]

Big deal you might say -- just another gimmicky case of IoT presented in a niche consumer context but with no place in big business, right?

Wrong.

If the humble light bulb can be managed from a mobile app to control energy output, color, and ambience in the home, then why not apply the same smarts in a commercial setting. Imagine controlling retail store lighting from the touch of an app or changing hue to accentuate products. Want a holiday mood theme for the store or restaurant? Just tap the app -- a simple, cost-efficient way to differentiate your products from something that's pretty much been the same since Edison stumbled upon the light bulb idea.

Beyond light bulbs, we're seeing other IoT applications that appear consumer-centric but have broad business implications. Consider the Nest Labs home thermostat. Nest has no doubt made a tidy sum selling its smart device (40,000 to 50,000 units per month, according to reports), but there are bigger forces at play. It's really more about very smart business than smart technology.

An Austin, Texas-based utility company is working with Nest to manage power demand by remotely turning down air conditioning (AC) systems at peak times. On hot days, AC accounts for half of Texas's energy usage and drives up wholesale energy costs. So any mechanism that conserves power is good business. It's also great for the consumer too, with customers offered energy rebates if they allow the company to dial-back AC usage using Nest.

Business models like this rely on Internet of Things smarts, but the real value comes because customers buy into an intelligent application and service. Nest, for example, gathers data from sensors (temperature, humidity, and light) together with behavioral consumer analytics that learn residential habits in order to program AC settings automatically. Add the ability to combine weather data and a mobile app and Web portal to control the system and everyone stays cool -- physically, environmentally, and financially.

What's apparent from both the LIFX and Nest examples is that applications and services are the real powers behind the Internet of Things. Sensors gather the data (lots of it), but analytics and mobile apps are the secret sauce.

Developing these types of apps and services will require smart thinking from technical teams. New business model opportunities will put pressure on development teams to deliver cool new apps to consumers rapidly. But new features will become almost as disposable as the physical products themselves. As such, teams will be continuously adding, testing, refining, and removing functionality to address immediate opportunities, but with the flexibility to pivot when business models change.

As IoT makes the consumer-to-commercial crossover, key data acquisition and storage challenges will also need to be reviewed. As yet, smart systems and sensor networks can't process massive amounts of data at the point of capture -- meaning cloud becomes the offload point and intermediary for big data and analytical applications. For businesses, this means addressing persistent cloud security issues and building high-performance networks needed to support a much more diverse set of applications.

Apps of course will change too. Today, the smartphone is the focal point for control in many Internet of Things use-cases. But as standards emerge and technologies improve, more intelligence and control will be incorporated within the actual smart-sensor networks themselves.

Thinking back to light bulbs, I'm not quite ready to fork out $100 for something I see as disposable, but as a pseudo geek I probably have too much emotional investment in the tech wizardry to throw one away.

However, as prices fall and smarts improve, the act of discarding something with more compute power than the Apollo spacecraft will become commonplace. But before things are sent to the scrap pile, smart businesses will have leveraged a new generation of applications to extract every last drop of business value from the IoT tech.

InformationWeek's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of the Internet of Things. Find out the way in which an aging workforce will drive progress on the Internet of Things, why the IoT isn't as scary as some folks seem to think, how connected machines will change the supply chain, and more. (Free registration required.)

Peter Waterhouse is a senior technical marketing advisor for CA Technologies' strategic alliance, service providers, cloud, and industry solutions businesses. View Full Bio
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Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
7/7/2014 | 10:51:59 AM
Disposability
You bring up an interesting issue - disposability. Some electronics are now designed to be discarded after a certain amount of time has elapsed. One company even specializes in sensors that are to fit on a person's body that are supposed to be replaced every couple of weeks. But they assured me that they would priced to make that affordable. I suggested it can be viewd like contact lenses. Back in the early days, people kept their contact lenses for years. But today, most contact lens prescriptions are for the dipsoable variety. 
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
7/7/2014 | 11:42:46 AM
Flip side
The flip side of this is consumers may not want to buy disposable products that have sensors in them. In fact, some may go out of their way to buy sensor-free products. Many people already say no thanks to loyalty cards...
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
7/7/2014 | 1:16:40 PM
Re: Flip side
@Laurianne I know some people like that. In order to still get the discounts, they switch off loyalty cards with like-minded friends to confuse the system that tries to track their purchases. 
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
7/8/2014 | 10:32:28 AM
Re: Flip side
>> The flip side of this is consumers may not want to buy disposable products that have sensors in them

Good point. It won't be too long before we all have "chips" and can be tracked.

 
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
7/8/2014 | 11:19:50 AM
Re: Flip side
@jastro The product makers have visions of demographic and location data dancing in their heads...but can they offer enough in return to consumers? That is the huge question.
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
7/29/2014 | 5:20:29 PM
Re: Flip side
@laurianne: Developers also have to keep in mind many things while developing the IOT base. For example they have to change IOT development methods according to the demographic of a country or the market value of the country. They also have to keep in mind the competition offered by other companies and the product value. They must also keep the product in tune with the standards set by IEEE and other boards, and this standardization creates a whole plethora of problems for the developer to wrap his head around. 
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
7/29/2014 | 5:26:10 PM
Re: Flip side
@jastro: Most consumers with this idea back against the ?wearable technology? domain. They simply have to reason to have their heartbeats measured per unit time. This mentality of consumers should be approached by developers in cunning ways otherwise they?ll lose market panache.
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