IoT: So, What is The Internet of Things (IoT)?

What is IoT
What is IoT?

What is IoT?

A simple description for the non-technical reader.

The term IoT (Internet of Things) is in common usage but its meaning and significance are often mis-understood by those outside the computer industry.

At a management seminar recently, it became apparent that some of the delegates, generally non-technical or semi-technical managers, had almost zero grasp of the principals of IoT and found it difficult to find a layman’s source of information.

Some years ago, I sat through a presentation where the speaker was trying to describe the usage of IoT. He described the classic scenario of the fridge realising you were low on milk and placing an on-line order to re-stock. This trivialised application caused a reaction of “so what, who needs that?”. I suspect the speaker himself had little understanding of the bigger picture.

As its name suggests the Internet of Things is a collection of semi-autonomous devices each with an internet connection. Let us take as an example a weather forecasting service. This involves collecting data from a host of “weather stations” and analysing the data centrally to produce the forecast. Our data collection devices are programmed to wake up say every fifteen minutes, take readings and upload their data to the “cloud” using a pre-defined protocol. This “cloud” is no more than a server and can be on a public cloud service such as Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft’s Azure etc. or a private server in the company’s own premises. The key thing is the internet connectivity.

Understanding the Internet of Things

Once our data is captured a completely asynchronous activity can start to analyse it. Because the data is held in the “cloud” it can be interrogated by any authorised person from anywhere. So, if for example an airfield needs a local forecast showing visibility and windspeed projections it can run its own interrogation program and show a very customised forecast for its local vicinity. On the other hand, a holiday company can create its own forecast and adjust its activities accordingly.

Indeed, examples of IoT are all around us. The parcel delivery company with its tracking service and signature machine, modern cars with apps that keep in touch with the manufactures server, aeroplane engines that report back their status and maintenance needs or to bring it home the intelligent power socket that responds to Alexa or Google Home device enabling what is generally called a smart home.

Like it or not IoT is all around us and is not likely to disappear in the near future. We should therefore embrace the technology but as “enforced” users we need to be vigilant and ensure we have the right level of security and to consider any risks that might arise as a result.

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