Will everything be smart in 5 years time?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is moving rapidly from fantasy to fact. Businesses are beginning to see the value of embedding sensors and intelligence into a range of objects from manufacturing equipment and vehicles to clothing and wearable devices. People are starting to see the value of a hyper-connected environment and the data it provides. To go mainstream, as with any new technology development, organisations are looking for proof of value. This means finding case examples from the marketplace and a willingness to experiment with potential uses within the organisation.

In our forthcoming book on the Future of Business, we highlight a range of 30 sectors, which will represent at least fifty percent of the global economy in the next 10-20 years. These include infrastructure transformation, smart cities, intelligent transport, alternative energy, smart homes, and green construction. The IoT will be a sector in its own right and play a major role in the development of all 30 sectors.

Any technology that has transformative potential also creates a sense of risk. Despite an accelerating pace of change, firms still want to make sure they are not creating risk for their customers or themselves. Leadership has to be willing to explore the potential opportunities and risks, do rapid experiments and drive through solutions. In the past we wrote detailed strategies for each new technology we wanted to pioneer. Now the focus is on developing proofs of concept, testing them to see what benefits and value they could bring and then evolving to a strategy through continuous and rapid experimentation. This approach reduces risks and increases management buy-in.

By 2020, we expect that the pace of development will have been so rapid that we’ll be talking about the Internet of humanity with literally everything having the potential to be connected. There are a wide range of potential applications emerging such as finding lost objects around the house and implanted health monitoring devices that track everything from blood sugar to oxygen levels. As we build in artificial intelligence (AI), the scenarios of what might be possible grow ever larger and more imaginative. On the horizon are the fridge that re-orders when it needs to restock, and cars that identify when they need maintenance and book themselves in to the garage.

The Internet of humanity will tie together mobile, wearable and even implanted objects, connect us to our environment and perform smart analytics using artificial intelligence solutions residing in the cloud. By 2020, we will increasingly expect and demand this kind of functionality in the same way as we already assume that the quality of video playback and voice recognition will continue to improve on our smartphones. Firms might use IoT connected devices to monitor employee vital signs – with a darker potential of spotting when performance and concentration levels fall.

Some firms may continue to show reluctance to experiment with and adopt IoT solutions and be concerned about the costs and data management issues. A big worry is how to manage and exploit the volumes of data thrown off by a highly connected, multi-sensor environment. This needs to be thought through early in any IoT project. As the benefits of IoT become clearer and the solutions become easier and cheaper to adopt, penetration of IoT into business could be widespread and accelerate quite dramatically. Technology vendors and service providers will continue to bombard the marketplace with research and evidence that highlight the transformative value and potential payback of IoT.

It is easy to get lost in the marketing hype and breathless enthusiasm of the IoT community. We think it’s very important to do the research, understand how IoT is being deployed, and learn about the benefits, costs, risks and implementation challenges. This is true for large and small enterprises alike. In big firms, responsibility may be handed to specific teams. In small to medium sized firms, the leadership will need to provide a driving role, encouraging a willingness to develop smart solutions to current problems and emerging opportunities. Mindset is key here – creating a willingness to think the unthinkable, experiment, and fail fast and cheaply.

Digital inclusion is critical and, while we’ve had great success, we’re just one organisation among many who are making headway. Fantastic charities, often with the support and investment from businesses and Government departments, like Apps for Good and Code Club are working with schools around the country, teaching thousands of kids how to create a digital response to real-life problems and opportunities. We are also proud to be partnering with the BBC on Make it Digital – a year long initiative to inspire a new generation to get creative with coding, programming and digital technology. We also welcome the recent inclusion of coding into the curriculum – but would like to see this go further and embed digital skills across all subjects – from Maths to English to the arts – in a hands-on manner, learning in an immersive way. Government can also do more to provide a roadmap for future improvement – signposting where the vulnerabilities lie, and co-ordinating and connecting businesses and charitable support to address them – ensuring that all groups of society, from north to south, urban to rural and young to old are covered.

While there’s a lot to be positive about, as shown by the finding in this report that 16% of households remain unconnected, more needs to be done. Creativity and innovation are key competencies for UK Public Companies and technology is critical to maintaining and strengthening our economy and our position in the world. That’s why we invite everyone – individuals, business and government – to join us in ensuring that digital skills are embedded into our creative and entrepreneurial culture now, and for the years to come.