Just a few challenges away from a fully connected world

March 25, 2020
Talking about current challenges in the evolution of IoT considering the difficult moment that the world is going through as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and spread might seem to be irrelevant. However, today more than ever, we are seeing that we live in a completely globalized planet, where current and future challenges are shared by the majority of countries giving form to our global society.

At home, but still fully connected?   

Writing these words from Europe, at this very time millions of people are working from home due to health security reasons. We know that we are not going to be able to go to the office for one or two weeks, but, although the context is obviously different, this fact also occurs when we go on holidays for such a period of time. We do already have access to our email account from anywhere in the world, so that we can easily drop a line to our clients and suppliers if the situation calls for it. However, would you say that we have remote access to everything that, in one way or another, is essential to make sure that things are running smoothly no matter where you are? Can we really access to such a level of peace of mind? Frankly, there are still a few things to do to get there.            

The technology required is pretty much ready and some of them can be already considered mature ones. With these new possibilities we can easily monitor and control the temperature of our facilities, their humidity, the location of our moving assets or vehicles and materials. We can keep an eye on water, electricity or gas consumption, or even better, not having to check it constantly because we have established automatic notifications that tell us when things are not going as they should. 

Consequently, you might have to be at home for long periods for whatever reasons or moving around the world, whether for business or holidays, and still have access and control over your facilities, retail spaces and other assets, and communicate with your team there to keep the magic happening. Or, with an augmented layer of connectivity and automation, make the required adjustments and take the right actions by yourself in a fully remotely fashion or completely automated manner, while receiving all the correspondent notifications to always be on top of what is going on. 

Hardware, software or a YES to everything?

This value proposition that we are painting cannot exclusively revolve around the connected devices installed or the connection technology used. At this stage, to fully harness the benefits of IoT, these solutions must be truly smart and that means making sense and generating additional value from the data that those connected devices give us. To make it possible, data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities come into the scene, which are already part of many of the solutions available. 

These augmented features are essential to allow machines to talk to each other and truly automate complex processes on the way, taking out the need of human intervention in some cases, while heightening our decision making capabilities in others. In this way, when such a system is properly put in place after having gone through an indeep analysis of the “business logic” it has to serve to considering the particular needs of the sector and use case, it allows us to take repetitive tasks out of the way and focus on making the most out of our thinking and creative capacity. Which is what our human brain has evolved to do, right?

To see this happening at a larger scale and not only within big and heavy technology focused companies, we have to familiarize ourselves a little more with technology and not seeing it as something magical or unattainable. Similarly, the ability to understand what it is possible to do with this type of solutions, combined with the know-how and experience of a professional specialized in their field, whether retail, architecture, agriculture, manufacturing, utilities management or logistics, among many others, is absolutely essential to untape all those new value sources. 

Future challenges of the Internet of Things

A farmer today can easily monitor and manage the watering system providing for their fields while being away, that technology is already available. If cases like this one are true, then which are the current unsolved challenges that we are facing today to be addressed by IoT in the near future?

First, this Internet of Things must allow for those things to communicate with other things and not only reporting to humans. This concept is called M2M (Machine to Machine), applied to IoT. Currently, the vast majority of the information generated through IoT solutions is aimed at humans for supervision and information purposes, so we can then take the right actions according to that data. This is perfectly fine, but the management of such systems and decision making chains tend to be complex. In the near future, the IoT will talk more to other machines and less with humans.

Another essential challenge that the IoT revolution is facing, one that seriously hinders adoption, is the wide number of different technologies and options available to solve the same problem. It creates analysis and choice paralysis, slowing down decision making processes. Each technology has its own pros and cons depending on the nature of the need to solve and many times those main actors behind the final decision want to have the advantages of them all, with the disadvantages of none. However, a technology with absolutely zero compromises does not really exist, we have to look for the right balance that better addresses our specific requirements.

It is still left to see if the solution to this particular challenge will come from an educational standpoint on how IoT technology works, or if the current technology offer will just go through a simplification process, where only the better technologically or commercially positioned ones will remain. In such a processes, it is unfortunate to see how politics are influencing this evolution, due to frequency controls, geopolitical interests or severely overpriced licenses. Putting all those points together, it is not clear if the -best- technology, judging by impartial and objective metrics, will be the one to thrive over the rest of the alternatives. 

Common sense will save us all

We are seeing how many IoT projects are aimed at creating driverless cars, at providing in many cases superfluous city information to citizens or to know if the wifi at home has stopped working when we are outside, among other examples. We are trying to cover a variety of newly created needs, while usually neglecting deeper pain points and needs that have been with us for ages.

“Does anyone here imagine that in 2020 the water meter of your home will still be read manually by a person in charge of that specific task or by yourself?”. That was the question that I posed in a presentation I gave  back in 2010. The audience smiled with a gesture of affirmation, expressing as evident that such a reality would be something unthinkable of considering the speed at which technology was already evolving those days. Fast forward ten years from there and here we are with more than 90% of water meters installed in Europe still being read and monitored manually. If asked, I might say that perhaps we have put a little too much effort on creating cars that drive by themselves, instead of addressing more deeply ingrained problems such as reducing water consumption and global wastage of different essential resources for our civilization. It seems to be a game of priorities, that is all.         

Obviously, the technology complexity issue remains with us and some might even say that it is bigger now than ten years ago. In order not to become a prophet in no-man's land and play our part in addressing some of the exposed challenges, we are working around the concept “IoT made simple”. By fully embracing it, we are working in the informative front while developing easy to understand, deploy and manage IoT solutions, so that every single company can access the benefits of this new technology and become future ready no matter the size or technological background. Starting with something as simple or as complex, depending on how you frame it, as a smart water meter.

Let's continue the conversation on LinkedIn if you would like to explore some of those ideas further.

The IoT revolution is taking form and there is a role for all of us to play in it.

[Written by Javier Herrero de la Cal. Edited by José García Esteban]

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