Former President Ronald Reagan said "I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you." While that phrase might bring a chuckle to some people, it is hardly a laughing matter to others. The same thoughts come to mind with the concept of the Internet of Things. The optimistic view is that it will be a great help to everyone. Pessimists, on the other hand, see it as more and more of an ever increasing invasion of their privacy. Reality will probably be somewhere in between.

To set the stage for the Internet of Things, all you need to do is to let your imagination go. Think about refrigerators that show you what is inside, without having to open the door. Or imagine a food expiration tracking system that will notify you BEFORE your food expires or pre-heating your oven from your smart phone. Consider the savings that could result from smart home thermostats transmitting information to a central home computer about gas usage, electrical usage, humidity, inside temperature, outside temperature, time of day

The Consumer Electronics Show of 2017 was a veritable smorgasbord of items and applications supporting the IoT. From toasters to toothbrushes and dog monitors to doorbells, there is a tidal wave of development, some of which was showcased in Las Vegas this past January.

According to Don Clark of The Wall Street Journal, some consumers are leading the charge, but most of them are taking a wait and see attitude. In other words, timing will be important as the IoT begins to launch. The key question becomes, how will it impact your business and what can your business do to become a part of it while growing in the process?

The Internet of Things (IoT) really consists of two parts. The first part is more the smart hardware associated with just about any device imaginable. In order for the smart hardware to become a part of the Internet of Things it needs to have some kind of detector or sensor, a processor (as in a small chip) that will know what to do with the information when it is sensed or detected. There will also be a piece of hardware that will probably send the information wirelessly to a computer in your house and/or to the internet. The second part of the IoT consists of all the software and services that will take the data received from the smart hardware and do something with it. Terms such as analytics and big data are used to describe programs and systems that crunch all kinds and types of information, then do something with it. Simply put, the Internet of Things is the creation of smart devices that are connected directly or indirectly to the internet. Without much question, your smart phone will probably end up controlling many of the devices. Where do you see your company fitting into the IoT?

As Michael Porter recently wrote in an article for the Harvard Business Review, “the Internet of Things will fundamentally change the competitive landscape. Products from appliances to cars to industrial equipment are rapidly evolving into smart, complex, software-enabled systems that connect with their makers, users, and each other to improve their performance and extend their functionality—sometimes far beyond their primary role.” Porter’s statement is quite profound, especially when it comes to the last few words relating to the extension of their functionality ‘beyond their primary role’. There will be a lot of information available.

A survey conducted by the nonprofit Pew Research Center indicated that 83% of technology experts predict the Internet of Things will “have widespread and beneficial effects on the everyday lives of the public by 2025.” By that time, information will be continually collected and monitored from refrigerators, coffee makers, cars, and possibly even toothbrushes.

According to Steve Johnson of the San Jose Mercury News, the current Chair of the Federal Trade Commission, Edith Ramirez, predicted that “The technology is exploding, with research firm IDC predicting that smart, internet-linked objects will number more than 200 billion and generate in excess of $7 trillion in annual sales by 2020.” That timeframe is right around the corner.

How will your business position itself in the race for the Internet of Things? Hopefully, it will take the opportunity to become one of the leaders in the upcoming era of automation and data analytics.

Dan Arens is an Indiana-based business growth advisor.

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