Whether it’s in the shape of consumer-facing tech revolutionising our homes, or business game-changers transforming the corporate world, the Internet of Things is well and truly all around us.
IoT is experiencing huge growth, fuelled mainly by an increasing appreciation for the various uses these devices can have, as well as further falls in the cost of connecting all kinds of different objects and devices. There are already more IoT-connected devices in the world than there are living people, and the total count of these devices is expected to increase by nearly 250 per cent over the next two years, reaching more than 20 billion by 2020.
As we know, IoT devices can generate all kinds of different data, but one of the most common and universal is location. The ability to equip almost any object you can think of with location tracking means that virtually anything that moves can be a source of information. Whether it’s human movements, items proceeding through supply chains or more general business operations, anything can be a potential target for improvements and efficiencies that can boost business outcomes.
Larger organisations have already made use of these capabilities, especially to turn previously reactive operations into more effective proactive ones. For example, in the United States, the National Water Center uses geographical IoT information to track rainfall and river flow rates, therefore enabling more accurate predictions of flood areas and times. This proved to be particularly useful when Hurricane Harvey struck Texas in August 2017, as that data was used to direct rescue and relief supplies to most endangered areas proactively, therefore speeding up the response to the disaster.
Over the coming months and years, it’s likely that this technology will become more universally available. And when combined with the capabilities of predictive analytics, IoT will then be able to help businesses of all sizes uncover some hugely valuable insights.
Imagine, for example, a retailer: they could use IoT-connected cameras and sensors to monitor footfall around different areas of a store. Analytics tools can then spot patterns in the data to assess which parts of the shop are visited when, and why. Armed with that information, the retailer can then adjust the layout and product placement within the store in order to get the right products noticed by more people, thus boosting sales.
While early adopters are naturally in a strong position to forge competitive business advantages like this, it’s not quite that simple to make it happen just yet – at least not for enterprises acting alone. There is, for the time being at least, still some cost barriers in the way of universal adoption. Deploying these capabilities is still generally regarded as being very expensive for companies trying to do so alone, not just from a hardware and software standpoint, but from a human expertise one, too.
This is where a partnership with a service provider can enable these developments for enterprises much earlier, and in a way that is financially sustainable for them. Providing a solution that enables management of a network of IoT-connected devices, integrated with the latest predictive analytics capabilities and the ability to store and process Big Data, will put your enterprise clients in pole position to make business gains from location-based IoT.
However, location-based IoT brings with it some challenges which mean that its implementation should be handled with care. Collecting location data, while potentially extremely beneficial to a business, could also inadvertently reveal some highly personal or sensitive things about people. If this information were to reach the public domain – or fall into the wrong hands because of a security breach – the implications can be severe.
An excellent example of this made recent headline news, when the fitness tracker app Strava released a global heat map of all the movements it had ever recorded. While not intended to be a harmful or malicious publication, military experts realised that it gave away crucial geographical information about American military installations and the human movements within them.
It’s also important to consider the implications of how consumers and the general public may be affected by this level of analysis and tracking of their everyday activities. Of course, some location-based IoT will involve users that are willing participants in having their movements tracked: for example, by turning on the location function on their smartphone.
But that won’t apply to every case, and after a period of being relatively unaware or unconcerned about data privacy, the public is becoming gradually more reactive and sensitive to it. If the public perception is that the data being collected through IoT by businesses is not secure, or is being used for more clandestine purposes, then the damage to a business’s reputation or profitability could easily outweigh the gains that IoT could generate.
Nonetheless, don’t let these factors deter you from making a push towards location-based IoT provision. A strong security package integrated into a solution, combined with a highly vigilant approach to security, can help you deal with these potential issues. And the opportunities available – and the interest they’re attracting – are too strong to ignore.
Ultimately, if you don’t take advantage of them, the chances are that someone else will.
You can equip your enterprise clients with Internet of Things support, leading-edge predictive analytics, robust security and much more when you partner with IBM. Read our eBook and find out more today.