It’s that time of year again – carols, turkey – and professionals from every sector making their predictions for the 12 months ahead. It would be rude not to…
…So today we’re turning our attention to the IoT in 2020. What will be the major challenges, opportunities and innovations of the months ahead?
A question of ethics
As any technology ecosystem matures, attention broadens from the hardware and software itself, to less tangible questions around ethics, regulation and morality. Consider, for example, the social media industry. Discussion abounds as to where and how the major providers should be regulated, and the responsibilities they should bear for particular content and user behaviours.
The Internet of Things is no different, and we expect 2020 to be a year in which far more critical attention is paid to the vast amount of data being captured by the IoT, and how it is being used. Is all data fair game, as long as it is anonymised? Or do organisations deploying IoT networks have stricter responsibilities to seek explicit permission, and to make careful decisions around which information they harness, and which they leave untapped?
Healthcare is a particularly strong example of a sector in which consumers are becoming understandably nervous about the ways in which automatic data collection might impact them further down the line. Might their health insurance premiums go up because their fitness tracker manufacturer is automatically collecting data on how often they exercise? Multiple industries will have to start addressing concerns like this head-on, and we expect to see more explicit conversations around the ethics of data collection, and whether the removal of personally identifiable information is adequate.
Education and opportunities
Similarly, another well-trodden path as technology ecosystems mature is growing awareness of the skills, experiences and qualifications necessary to power the new jobs available within those ecosystems. As with the ethical landscape, we expect growing discussion of this in relation to the IoT in 2020.
What are the new jobs the IoT is engendering? Clearly more and more jobs are emerging in relation to the development of IoT devices. However, it is also important to consider the vast amount of data being generated by the IoT, and the skills in data analytics and data science which are required to make sense of it.
Cities getting smarter
Smart cities have been key to the IoT vision since its early days. The ideal of different elements of urban infrastructure, from street lighting to rubbish collection, air pollution monitoring to utilities, all working together as part of an automated grid, is a hugely powerful one.
In 2020, smart cities could truly start to accelerate. Projects are underway all over the world, with smart city technology spending expected to reach $189.5 billion globally by 2023, according to statistics from the International Data Corporation (IDC). In particular, the IDC predicts that smart grid, mart grid, fixed visual surveillance, advanced public transportation, smart outdoor lighting, and intelligent traffic management will collectively account for more than half of all smart cities spending this year alone.
Smart cities are perhaps the sharpest illustration of the IoT’s ability to power collaborative, integrated ecosystems, where multiple different technologies and processes work together in harmony to drive efficiencies and automation. The possibilities they open up for more environmentally-friendly ways of living and more pleasant, liveable urban spaces are truly enormous.
Cybercriminals will target IoT devices
We’re well-versed in the concept of the cyber arms race by now. Cybercriminals, like any other bad actors, respond to the world around them, and adapt their methods and tools accordingly. It would be foolish, therefore to consider the burgeoning IoT ecosystem as anything other than a tempting target.
The vastly increased number of connected devices worldwide, in myriad different sectors and settings, essentially means a vast increase in the size of the ‘attack surface’ which cybercriminals can target. Any organisation which has deployed an IoT ecosystem has essentially enlarged the area that such criminals can target. Additionally, the data generated by the IoT can itself by enormously valuable if it falls into the wrong hands.
As such, 2020 may well see more than one high-profile cyberattack which can be traced back to vulnerabilities on IoT devices and platforms. And regardless, the year will almost certainly mark an increased demand for sophisticated ways of verifying and securing IoT devices, and protecting all data at risk and in transit within IoT ecosystems. Given the relative smallness and simplicity of many IoT sensors and devices, this requires truly new and innovative approaches to cybersecurity.
Consider, too, the rise in ransomware. It has proven a hugely fruitful attack vector for cybercriminals in recent years, and it would seem foolish to assume that this will not translate to the IoT. We may see IoT devices themselves targeted, and ransoms demanded direct from manufacturers, rather than the organisations deploying them.
There is also the question of visibility. In order to keep their IoT ecosystems protected and secure, IT managers need to be able to see across the entire ecosystem in real-time, and understand exactly how different devices are performing and where vulnerabilities might be. We will see an increase in specialist tools and solutions designed to foster this visibility.
AI and machine learning will enhance the IoT
As we have discussed, data is at the heart of the IoT. The mechanism of collecting and analysing data, and then applying those insights to make tangible decisions, applies in every IoT deployment, from a simple automatic switching on of a smart streetlight which senses when it is dark, to highly complex webs of sensors on manufacturing factory floor, automating and optimising the production line.
In turn, this means that sophisticated ways of putting that data to use are essential if the IoT is to add real value – and in particular, putting enormous volumes of data to use. Enter artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Because the volumes of data collected are so (potentially) vast, they can be used to train AI algorithms, and ultimately create self-learning systems which continually draw new insights and improve their own efficiency. Across myriad different sectors, we expect to see AI harnessed in new and exciting ways throughout 2020.
Multiple sectors, maximum innovation
We know that multiple sectors are being impacted by IoT – ‘smart XXX’ is becoming a well-worn phrase. Healthcare, manufacturing, logistics and retail are four that we think it is particularly worth paying attention to in 2020.
As we have blogged many times, the possibilities for smart and connected healthcare are enormous. The range from connected devices in clinical settings, such as pharmacy dispensers or connected scanners, through to wearable and even implanted medical devices. In an era of growing and ageing populations, ways of driving efficiency and insight in the healthcare sector are in enormous demand. Watch this space in 2020.
Manufacturing and other industrial organisations have a huge amount to gain from introducing the IoT to the factory floor, generating proactive, predictive approaches to hardware maintenance and, as mentioned above, optimising production lines and stock management processes. Indeed, stock management in warehouses is a crucial part of logistics, though we also expect to see the fleet management aspect of logistics to embrace the IoT in a big way. Location sensors in vehicles can be truly invaluable in managing the routing and allocation of a fleet, and ultimately making for a more efficient and cost-effective logistics operation.
Within retail, the opportunities presented by the IoT are enormous. They range from tailored marketing and advertising to customers when they, say, walk past a screen embedded with a sensor which can then alert them to offers via a mobile app, through to more efficient management of backroom stock. And of course, this is before we even get onto the retailing of consumer-focused IoT devices. Smart assistants like the Google Home are not going anywhere.
In short, 2020 looks set to be a diverse and exciting year for the IoT. We look forward to guiding you through it.