You’ve likely seen the acronym ‘IoT’ around, particularly if you work in the tech sphere. But IoT in Australia, like blockchain and any number of other tech trends, has for many people remained as meaningless today as it was when they first heard it.
The internet. Things. Two particularly broad concepts that thankfully don’t combine to form something twice as meaningless, but rather one of the most exciting and revolutionary technological developments of the last few decades.
So what is IoT? And what exactly does IoT in Australia look like? Let’s hear from five companies who are leading the charge in this cutting-edge field of tech.
What is IoT?
Before we learn about the how and the when, we must first understand the what and the why. What is IoT? And why is the tech sector so excited about it?
Mike Backeberg, Senior Manager of Technology at EY, shares his take. “IoT describes the connection of any device to the Internet using embedded software and sensors to communicate, collect and exchange data with one another. We can teach objects to respond to our presence, motion, vocal commands, eyeball tracking, and even autonomic physiological behaviours such as heart rate or sleep patterns. IoT combines connectivity with sensors, devices and people, enabling a form of free-flowing conversation between man and machine, software and hardware.”
So the internet of things is the network of physical devices that are internet-connected, and thus capable of sending data to and from one another. Your smartphone is part of the IoT. Your smart TV is part of the IoT. If you own an internet-connected fridge, car, security system, speaker or dog collar, these things are part of the IoT too.
In fact, you can almost name any product in your house, and it’s likely that an internet-connected version of it exists somewhere. In 2017 it was estimated that the number of IoT devices in existence numbered around 20 billion. By 2020 that number is expected to grow to 30 billion. By 2025, 75 billion.
But why? What is the benefit of internet connectedness in a kettle or a mattress? The aim is to make environments smarter, which in turn will make them safer, more efficient and less reliant on human exertion. IoT devices can talk amongst one another, learning patterns and behaviours that will help their owners. They can also be controlled remotely – forgetting to turn your security system on or iron off is far less of an issue if they’re IoT devices.
The benefits stretch far beyond the home. IoT promises to come into its own in the business world, where devices offer the potential for immense economic benefit. How will this play out? Let’s hear what the experts have to say.
EY, otherwise known as Ernst and Young, is a leader in the IoT space. Not involved in the construction of devices themselves, EY is instead helping organisations navigate the largely unchartered waters of IoT – a technology that is still very much in its early stages. “[IoT] creates different opportunities for EY,” notes Backeberg. “The effect of IoT on organisations is vast. EY provides a wide range of services to our clients to support their transition into a world of IoT.”
The IoT services that EY provides its clients are many and varied, and include:
- Helping organisations develop a strategy to use IoT into the future.
- Helping prepare an organisation for changes within its business operations.
- Providing regulatory and risk advice.
- Offering advanced cyber services to protect the interests of clients and secure IoT devices and data.
- Providing technology services to clients to support
changes in the internal IT systems.
- Advising clients on how to use IoT devices to gather data from their customers.
- Developing blockchain approaches to support IoT technology.
The field of IoT is booming, and Backeberg takes the chance to highlight the need for new talent in the space. He says that to be an IoT professional you need to be “inquisitive, interested in technology and willing to learn” – understandable given the fledgling nature of the field. He advises potential professionals to “look for companies who are willing to envision new products, services and markets, and in particular companies that have considered what their IoT business case, governance structure and strategic roadmap might look like.”
Ian Davidson is co-founder of GOFAR, a company that has developed an IoT device which aims to get its users going farther. An outwardly simple creation that plugs into your car’s computer, GOFAR uses the smartest of tech (it was designed by an actual rocket scientist – Davidson’s co-founder Danny Adams) to measure your driving performance, giving you real time feedback on whether you could be driving more efficiently. It also brings a wealth of other features, including conducting engine checks, offering up registration alerts, and recording a digital log of your trips for tax time.
Davidson advises that while he hopes the device itself proves to be a success, the real value to the company, like many others in the IoT space, is in the user data that the product generates. Although this data accumulation is not as simple as it might seem. “The data is gold,” notes Davidson, “but sometimes that gold is pretty deep in the ground!” The data accumulation has privacy built in – including encryption and pin protection for hardware. It’s crucial to ensure customers’ know their data is safe and under their control. For example, customers with good driving scores may qualify for insurance discounts but must proactively request this – at which point GOFAR make it easy for them.
While their target market is broad – essentially anyone with a car – Davidson says that the company has been careful to not bite off more than it can chew. “It’s a target rich environment (including everyday drivers, government, insurers, auto companies and more). You have to prioritise initially when resources are small, before proving the value in more areas over time.” IoT devices will come into their own in time, and GOFAR is prepared to be patient.
Another major player in the IoT sphere, Accenture – like EY – is in the business of preparing businesses for the changes that the technology will bring. Peter Vakkas, Accenture’s Technology Lead for Australia and New Zealand, is a deep thinker on the subject.
Vakkas talks about the ‘internet of thinking.’ A relatively new concept, the internet of thinking involves collecting data from IoT devices, then using edge network computing to process this information nearby in real time, rather than sending it ‘all the way’ to the cloud. A more sophisticated interaction between hardware, software and internet solutions is required for the internet of thinking concept to work, but the possibilities that its instant feedback could offer are incredible.
“Cloud processing remains appealing for high-value learning, predictions, AI-model generation and storage in situations that are not time critical. But for real-time intelligent action, data processing must happen at the edge of networks where the event is occurring.” Vakkas believes that for the internet of things to truly take off and make a real difference in the world, it must utilise the internet of thinking concept.
Receipt Bank is a start-up seemingly purpose-built for the coming tsunami of IoT devices. Offering tools that promise to automatically extract all of the important bookkeeping information from invoices, receipts and other documents, the company hopes to lead the way in utilising IoT within the accounting sphere.
Currently users of Receipt Bank can submit receipts, invoices and documents via the following methods:
- The Receipt Bank site
- The Receipt Bank app
- The Postal Service
But Receipt Bank envisages a time when you order milk and eggs through your internet-connected fridge, or an Uber through your Amazon Echo, and these devices automatically send their receipts straight to the Receipt Bank app. This is the crux of what IoT will offer consumers – automation of the most tedious and thankless tasks.
Speaking of Amazon, the retail giant is further advanced than almost anyone in the IoT space. Between the aforementioned Echo smart speaker and its other ultra-connected products – most recently Amazon Key, an internet-connected smart lock for your home – Amazon is fast turning an IoT world into reality.
Amazon also boasts AWS IoT, a cloud platform specifically designed to let devices interact with applications and each other easily and securely, and Amazon Go, a brick and mortar store concept that uses IoT and AI to remove the need for cashiers, and lets shoppers simply wander straight out with their goods.
In his annual letter to shareholders, Amazon founder (and world’s richest man) Jeff Bezos said of the store, “Since opening, we’ve been thrilled to hear many customers refer to their shopping experience as ‘magical.’ What makes the magic possible is a custom-built combination of computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning, which come together to create Just Walk Out shopping.”
It’s clear that Bezos’ IoT vision stretches far beyond walk-out stores and smart locks, and most other companies, both on the consumer and the service side, will be playing catch-up with Amazon for years to come.