The Internet of Things – Terminator, Big Brother or even more power to the consumer?

Blue eyeWhilst researching for a client’s conference, I would regularly come across references to The Internet of Things (IoT). Up until then, an alien concept, it was quite possible something quite phenomenal was on the horizon which had completely passed me by. Posing a question via Facebook quickly confirmed I wasn’t the only one apart from two geeks on my friends list.

If the Internet of Things isn’t on your radar, basically it means the connection of objects to the internet with the ability to communicate without the intervention of humans. For example, I could park my car next to a car parking meter with could ‘tell’ the lamppost to assume a brighter setting for added security whilst the meter could communicate directly with my bank (having gained my personal details from the car’s registration) to deduct the parking cost from my account. I have just made this scenario up and it is the kind of thing I imagine happening from what I have read but it is just my interpretation.

If that all sounds scarily familiar; I agree. The first thought I had was ‘Terminator’ and, in fact, one of the know-it-all geeks (love ‘em really) made a ‘Skynet’ comment on the aforementioned Facebook post.

My objective, then, for writing this, is to gain a slightly wider understanding of The Internet of Things and determine whether I am worrying unnecessarily about some post-apocalyptic world where machines dominate and hunt down humans to rid them from the planet.

According to tech company Cisco, the IoT heralds a new era of efficiencies and heightened security creating a connected world with vast implications for the way we live our lives. Microsoft says the IoT offers huge opportunities (as well as challenges) to business and the time to act is now: “The Internet of Things is not a futuristic, aspirational technology trend. It’s here today in the devices, sensors, cloud infrastructure, and data and business intelligence tools you are already using.”DKC - Laptop image

The IoT is already big, really big, according to a recent piece in The Guardian, the UK government has doubled its spend to £45 million to develop internet-enabled technology. Ovum, a research and advisory business specialising in converging IT, telecoms and media markets, also predicts that the number of global machine-to-machine (M2M) connections will increase to 360.9m in 2018. And with this increase of data, it means businesses can market their products and services much more effectively to an even more highly defined target audience, potentially providing them with the answer to their problem before they even knew it was an issue!

Predictions from IT research company IDC suggest the IoT will be responsible for generating an almighty £7.2 trillion of revenue by 2020. Other predictions include the rapid expansion of the IoT, so much so that by 2020 a mind-blowing 26 billion units will be connected compared to the prediction of the number of smartphones tablets and PCs in use of 7.3 billion units. In terms of retail, IoT is expected to be as big a game changer as the arrival of the internet itself.

So should we be worried? Even if the Terminator analogy is a stretch too far even for those of us with rather overactive imaginations, Big Brother it certainly seems to be with the ability of retailers to track your every move. However, in a blog post by Steve Olenski on the Huffington Post makes a good point that any retailer who thinks the consumer is not in charge is most sadly mistaken.

If you watched Channel 4’s Dispatches this evening ‘Secrets of your Supermarket Shop’, it was quite apparent that consumers are turning their backs on the ‘Big Four’ – Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Asda in favour of the budget supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl. Two ‘supershoppers’ were challenged with a shop with one using an app to locate the best offers for each item. It was obvious who was calling the shots so perhaps rather than fearing the IoT, I should embrace the increased power it could potentially give us.

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