By Erik Fossum Færevaag
For over a decade we have witnessed a proliferation of internet-connected devices. Nowadays, the number of internet-connected devices is estimated to be around 25 billion. Most of these are mainstream consumer devices that enable human communications and facilitate human-machine interactions. There is also a growing number of devices that are deployed in industrial environments to enable the collection of digital data about operational performance such as efficiency and quality.
By analyzing this data, industrial enterprises derive insights on how to automate and optimize their business processes. In this direction, devices, and smart objects with actuation capabilities such as robots, drones, smart sensors, and automated guided vehicles can be used to reduce human errors, increase automation, and improve the quality and reduce the cost of industrial operations. Currently, industrial enterprises exploit only a small fraction of these data. However, this is gradually changing as the internet of things (IoT) is combined with other cutting-edge digital technologies such as cloud computing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI). Additionally, a prerequisite for IoT at scale is simplicity and the low cost of the technologies used.
Rise of the Industrial Internet of Things
The IoT computing paradigm is sector agnostic. As such IoT is already deployed in many different sectors of the economy such as supply chain management, transport, healthcare, and industry. According to recent market research, the lion’s share of IoT’s business potential lies in industrial applications, in sectors like manufacturing, energy, oil and gas, and smart buildings. This has given rise to the term Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which is the main technology behind the fourth industrial revolution(Industry 4.0).
IoT’s disruptive potential will be primarily realized in business areas that can directly benefit from remote observations and related data analytics. The latter enables enterprises to achieve unprecedented levels of automation, along with ambitious business improvement targets. Large industries that integrate IIoT in their digital transformation agendas will benefit the most from IoT based on projects with a considerable return on investment. On the other hand, Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are provided with IoT-based innovation opportunities based on novel use cases such as the use of their assets as a service. In the medium term, IoT’s benefits will be diffused to the consumer space as well, as part of applications like smart homes and smart living. In the scope of these applications, consumers will be provided with instant information about leakages, defects in fridges and white appliances, goods’ delivery status, as well as the condition of their car, boat, and cottage.
IoT in Smart Cities and Facilities Management
Prominent IoT applications examples can be found in the areas of smart cities and smart buildings. Specifically:
In smart cities IoT enables automated and remote management of infrastructures and processes: For instance, it provides insight into the management of critical infrastructures like smart grid and smart water infrastructures. As another example, it delivers efficient and scalable urban security services based on information from video camera surveillance systems. Moreover, it facilitates the delivery of intelligent and sustainable transport services based on the management of information from bike rental stations, taxis, public transport, and intelligent transportation systems. In the scope of the above-listed use cases, data monitoring is performed from remote and on a 24×7 basis. Likewise, based on the use of machine learning and AI techniques, smart city services can predict and anticipate potential incidents (e.g., service disruptions, transport congestion) towards confronting them proactively. In these ways, IoT empowers sustainable cities, which sustain the pressures of rapid urbanization and changing demographics.
Smart buildings and facilities management will also benefit significantly from IoT: The deployment of sensors and IoT devices enables the collection of data about the status of the assets, the spaces, and the physical conditions of a building. Leveraging these data, IoT applications extract predictive insights on how to optimize space allocation, asset maintenance, as well as the operation of systems like HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning). These optimizations lead to significant cost savings, increased comfort for the tenants, as well as considerable sustainability benefits. Following the COVID19 pandemic outbreak, facility managers are increasingly deploying IoT applications to optimize space management and other resources in the light of the dynamically changing occupancy patterns imposed due to COVID19 restrictions.
In all the above applications, IoT is a catalyst for improving environmental performance and helping cities and communities to achieve ambitious green targets.
Security and Privacy Concerns
Security, privacy, and data protection concerns are among the main setbacks to the accelerated deployment and wider use of the IoT paradigm. In this direction, proper regulation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe can provide a foundation for protecting the interests of data owners and end-users. Nevertheless, there is always a need for balancing regulation with innovation.
There are many use cases where IoT enables the collection of sensitive data at scale without notice, which creates privacy and data protection risks. Hence, privacy needs to be considered seriously by all businesses to avoid failures and regulatory penalties. Along with privacy concerns, enterprises must also deal with the ever-important security issues. Risks associated with IoT devices must be considered as part of a holistic approach that addresses both cyber and physical security risks.
IoT adoption is accelerating at a quick rate. The proliferation of IoT devices, the rapid evolution of related technologies, and the validation of successful business models foster an increased number of IoT deployments. The latter boosts business competitiveness and sustainability while improving the citizens’ quality of life. Overall, IoT is here to stay and make our world a better place.