Remember the first time you heard about the Internet? Did you sense the revolution at hand or dismiss it as just a fad? Did you understand it, or was it a seemingly mythical theory? Bloggers and other tech industry analysts say we have now reached that same "revelation" period with the Internet of Things; the full scope of its potential has yet to be realized and many are hesitant to embrace it as a reality.

Simply put, IoT is the network of “smart” products embedded with technology that enables them to connect to the Internet so they can collect and exchange data. I like to use the example of a smart car, one embedded with this very technology. You drive it every day and it starts figuring out your driving habits. One day, it determines you’re taking a trip that’s uncharacteristically long. The sensor in the car notices you’re not staying in your lane very well, so the dashboard display asks if you want some coffee and if so, offers directions to the closest shop. It even pre-orders your favorite latte, just the way you like it and when you get there, it’s paid for. You may be thinking that’s all well and good, but what if I don’t drink coffee? What’s in it for me? 

This example isn’t limited to cars and coffee, it’s an expansive and all-inclusive technological overhaul. The very devices you interact with daily will soon speak your needs on your behalf. They will share with manufacturers, retailers and suppliers what you’re doing, where you’re going, what your preferences are and what your habits and patterns are. Using data analytics, the creators and providers of goods and services can now determine with surprising and ever-increasing accuracy, exactly what you need, as well as when and where you need it.  

Let’s say you land at an airport after many exhausting flight delays. You open an app on your phone to book a hotel room and with the tap of a button, order a car to pick up your bags from the carousel and deliver them and you straight to your room. With another tap, your favorite sandwich is waiting for you at the hotel, greeting you immediately upon entering the room after you unlock the door with another tap on the phone. Imagine this same principle applied to your household. We’ve seen this done with buttons that notify a supplier you are low on laundry detergent and it’s delivered to your door the next day. Imagine without lifting a finger, a box of new hoses for your washing machine arrives at your door because the appliance itself recognized it needed new ones and ordered them.  

Research from Business Insider says there will be more than 24 million IoT devices in the world by 2020, an average of four devices for every human being on the planet, but the report goes on to say consumers will be the group least transformed by them. Instead, it predicts businesses will be the top adopters of IoT solutions because they can use it to lower costs, increase productivity and expand and develop. Business people hesitant to dive in headfirst often don’t realize they probably already have systems in place for IoT. Unless they’re starting out as a brand-new company building a brand-new product, they’ve most likely already been providing products and services to the marketplace and gathering data by way of market research, development, production, sales distribution and customer support, all of which are supported by software and IT systems. The key to success in the marketplace is to leverage, not discard, all of this existing capability.

That’s not to say, however, business owners should jump on the hottest code on the cloud. They need decisiveness and intentionality of action, not simply raw speed. Shortcuts can end in disappointment. Hesitation can end in catastrophe. Take Eastman Kodak, for example. One of its engineers invented the first digital still camera in 1975, but it took another 20 years for the company to offer its first consumer-grade model. By 2012, Kodak was in bankruptcy court. It didn’t act decisively to bring to market the technology it invented. Throughout the ‘90s, the Kodak brass felt digital photography, if fully pursued, would cannibalize its large and profitable film-based business. By the time Kodak got serious about digital photography, it was woefully behind in the marketplace and never able to catch up. Other cautionary tales abound. Blockbuster was slow to launch its own DVD mail order and online streaming service and was crushed by Netflix. Borders outsourced its online bookstore operations to Amazon with devastating results. Blackberry, Kmart, Sears, Nokia, and Radio Shack were all once leaders. They all invented the category that ended up consuming them. They didn’t act decisively enough in capitalizing on the new market. As a consumer, you can adopt IoT applications at your leisure, but if you own a business, it’s vital to your very existence.

John McDonald is the CEO of Fishers-based CloudOne.

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