02/09/2014

By Peter Andrew, Head of Innovation at Alba Innovation Centre


The Internet of Things or IoT is a notion that refers to the interconnection of devices, systems and services that goes way beyond machines and refers to them speaking to each other in ways that might seem unimaginable right now. Connecting devices to the Internet is predicted to change the way we live our lives significantly in the next 10 years. The automation of our homes, the monitoring of our health and the way we run our businesses will all be affected by IoT.

With an estimated 99% of things in the physical world today not connected to the Internet, the whole idea of IoT seems a much longer way off than experts predict. All of that said, there is no doubt that as an entrepreneur or innovator, it’s essential to wake up to the Internet of Things. The IoT is one step in the development of the Internet of Everything, where it is predicted that people, processes, data and things will be connected. For the purpose of this article, however, we’re interested in the Internet of Things and the opportunities that this development might have for you as a tech innovator.

The Internet of Things means that the alarm on our mobile phone will ring early if there are traffic jams on our route to work once our calendar knows we have a meeting; it’ll also kick the coffee machine into action when we step out of bed. This means that all we’ll need to do is wander into the kitchen and grab a cup before enjoying the first caffeine fix of the day. When daylight comes, our curtains and blinds will open and rise automatically to the preset levels we’ve determined best for the evening light we prefer when we wind our day down. When we head off to work and forget to switch the lights off, our energy saving hub will detect that there’s no one home and switch them off for us (unless of course we’ve told it to leave them on to deter burglars). Only a few years ago, this would have seemed impossible – something from a science fiction movie. It’s already all possible.

The IoT relies of course on the adoption of the Internet across society and with more and more people relying on the Internet for information, goods and services, and as their window to the outside world, it’s very close. This human development and adoption is a key part in the foundation and the possibility of the IoT, and a huge part of the journey has already been made. I think it’s fair to say that in today’s world, we’re all pretty much switched on to the Internet and ready for the next phase.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the devices we have in our pockets or handbags have also played a major part in this development and much of that is the legacy left by the likes of Steve Jobs. By taking the Internet everywhere with us, and having access through applications to all sorts of data and information we previously only accessed in our homes or offices, a whole new world (and arguably dependency) started and continues to develop. This phase is also significant in the step towards IoT.

The third phase is where the “things” in our lives get connected. It may be smart cars that drive themselves (already headlining in the news), heart monitors built into clothing, or smart glasses that are programmed to provide us with the information we need and want on tap. All of these things are already possible and the future developments are endless, but the huge downside is how security will be managed. Because security is such a major issue in the development of IoT, it would be foolhardy to do more than mention it here, but of course it’s something to be aware of.

So what does all this mean for you as an entrepreneur or start-up? It means that the opportunities right now are pretty much endless and with the right idea, the right strategy and the right support, the world really is your oyster. With a predicted 6bn devices likely to be linked to the Internet by 2015 and bodies, homes, communities and the environment as well as goods and services predicted to be electrified in this century, there has never been a greater time to be a tech innovator. Enablers are already seeking out great ideas and that great idea could be yours.

Here are just a few points to consider as a start-up:

• Getting to market quickly
• Building traction in multiple markets
• Is your idea scalable?
• Do not underestimate the impact of social media
• Remember Best Customer Outcome
• Unregulated vs regulated markets
• New platform or target improvements
• Product Driven Technology

And here are just some of the fastest growing tech businesses last year:

• House Trip (website) – online rental – grew by £60m
• Swift keyboard app – grew by £20m
• Hailo – taxi app – grew by £80m
• Affectiv – social data – grew by £3m
• Made.com – find your furniture buyer – grew by £10m

So, if you’re not all that up on IoT, today’s the day to wake up to it and work out what it means to you.