After years of hearing about how the Internet of Things (IoT) is going to transform business – and the world – we’ve seen at Telstra Vantage in 2017 that it’s very much happening now. IoT tech is improving productivity across multiple industries, monitoring weather and transport, collecting huge amounts of analytics data, and much more.

For those unaware, the Internet of Things refers to the billions of objects – both natural and manufactured – that are being imbued with the power to collect and transmit information about their status, operation, location, and environment across the Internet. It’s a subset of the Internet of Everything, a concept that expands on IoT to…well, the interconnecting of everything – including data streams from other Internet-connected things, online services, and any other non-physical entities.

One IBM representative I talked to at Vantage likened IoT to a new national resource, like coal or oil, that can be “mined” in great quantities but isn’t actually useful until you refine it. IoT is less about the data than it is the insights that come from the data. One of IBM’s IoT solutions, for instance, uses data gathered from machines on a factory floor to optimise production and predict and prevent equipment failure. Another can manage excess storm water to prevent flooding, to selectively water local plant life, and to measure the quality of that excess runoff so that dirt particles can be filtered out before it gets diverted to the river bank.

Cisco sees the potential value of the Internet of Everything at around $14.4 trillion in the private sector and $4.6 trillion in the public sector by 2022, while semiconductor firm ARM estimates one trillion IoT devices will be built between 2017 and 2035. IoT is clearly about much more than just smart thermostats and other home appliances, but it’s not all that easy to get your head around exactly how it’s transforming business and society.

Smart cities and agriculture (and more)

Telstra has been working with the City of Joondalup in Western Australia to improve quality of life in the community with a smart park. Besides environmental sensors to monitor humidity, pollution, light, and noise levels, Tom Simpson Park’s IoT infrastructure includes 32 smart bins that monitor how full they are and tell maintenance staff when they need emptying. There’s also a camera that tracks cars in the parking lot to determine things like how long people typically park there and when passenger drop-offs are most frequent. Telstra is also developing a bench with a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot and phone charging capability for future roll-out.

All this data is helping Joondalup planners to learn how the park and its infrastructure is being utilised, to optimise their use of resources, and to plan for future growth and development in the community. It’s providing insights, in other words, that can be used to both improve the area for current residents and to make it more attractive to tourists and new residents and businesses.

Other real-world examples of IoT include automatically warning miners to put their helmet back on if they take it off in a dangerous area, tracking the location of delivery trucks, monitoring the temperature of milk in transit for export to China (not only was the milk still fresh, this could be proved to customs through IoT data), and putting motion sensors on cows in Japan to identify when they’re at their most fertile. Seriously. Cows apparently get restless when they’re feeling a bit frisky, and they especially move around more at night. By putting sensors on them and then inseminating the cows when they showed signs of fertility, farmers were able to increase the productivity of their cows by around 20 percent.

And that’s barely scratching the surface of IoT. Another company, Libelium, recently published a white paper showcasing 50 successful IoT projects that have, among other things, improved crop yields and air and water quality. And HP Enterprise IoT tech helped Auckland Transport reduce carbon emissions and passenger congestion while simultaneously increasing usage.

Smart questions + good data = innovative solutions

As a business proposition, IoT boils down to two ideas: can we collect enough meaningful data to form a viable business case to do X? And what would it mean if you could improve Y? Without focus – without refinement – any data collected is just noise. But once you start asking the right questions, IoT data can give you solutions and insights that transform your business and in certain cases improve your customer experience.

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