The Internet of Things – What you need to know NOW

The Internet of Things.  It sounds mysterious… but cool.  What is it exactly?  Something far off in the future?  Robots taking over the planet?  Will it impact the IT Industry and how?  How do I take advantage of this amazing transformation?  What should I do to prepare for when my boss walks in and says, “Congratulations, you’re working on the new Internet of Things project!”

These are all good questions.  The “Internet of Things” isn’t coming.  It’s already here and spreading at a pandemic pace that’s shaking the foundations of nearly every industry.  From home security and lighting systems to city-wide traffic management to the Fit Bit on your wrist, the Internet of Things is making its presence known.  We see it everywhere.  The most obvious device in the internet of things is the phone that barely ever leaves your possession.  Right?  But there are so many more.  Coke machines that order more syrup from the distributor, regulate cooling schedules, even recognize you and offer your favorite beverage as you approach.  Baby monitors that soothe your child to sleep and talk back, thermostats to keep you comfortable, home monitors that notify you of strange visitors when you’re away, Pokémon Go.  There are many crowd-sourced phone apps like Waze and Uber that have already taken the country by storm.  And you can be sure more are on the way all the time.

Consider an example where the Internet of Things could make a huge impact in everyday lives.  Imagine you are driving home on a beautiful day, looking forward to seeing the kids, just crossing over the river on the interstate.  When suddenly…. Disaster strikes!  The bridge collapses beneath you and you come screeching to a halt, teetering on the edge of a huge drop to the river below.  You look around, relieved to be uninjured, then realize others had not been as lucky as you.  Some of the people on the road that day won’t be going home to their families.

This actually happened in 2007, when sub-standard infrastructure went unnoticed and unaddressed, causing the I-35 bridge in Minnesota to collapse and plunge into the Mississippi River.  Steel plates had deteriorated and were no longer adequate to handle the bridge’s load.  When the evening rush hour stressed it to its breaking point, the bridge collapsed and lives were lost.

But then along comes the Internet of Things.  When we rebuild bridges, now we can use “smart” cement: cement equipped with sensors to monitor stresses and cracks.  This is cement that alerts us to fix problems before they cause a catastrophe.  And these technologies aren’t limited to the bridge’s structure.  If there’s ice on the bridge, the same sensors in the concrete can detect it and communicate the information via wireless internet to your car.  Once your car knows there’s a hazard ahead, it will instruct the driver to slow down, and if the driver doesn’t slow down, then the car will slow down for him.

This is just one of the ways that sensor-to-machine and machine-to-machine communication can take place.  Sensors on the bridge connect to machines in the car: and information is turned into action.

So, what does this mean to me, a developer?  I am excited about what the future brings.  The Internet of Things is a reality and is becoming increasingly prevalent with each passing day.  For those who want to take advantage of this trend, here are some things you should be doing now.

Make it a habit to run a Google News search every day.  Search for “Internet of Things”.  Every day new companies are announcing new innovations creating an increasingly prevalent presence of connected Things.  New investments, new players, new ideas.  And new threats.  Security is a burgeoning concern.  The whole notion of interconnected things is a blaring neon sign to potential hackers inviting mischief or worse.

Despite increased consumer interest, new scenarios, and multi-million-dollar investments, Internet of Things is still struggling with one of the worst problems of the hi-tech industry – security. The ability of hackers to exploit insecure cameras and DVRs is just an indication of what can potentially go wrong in the world of connected devices.  Recently Twitter, SoundCloud, Spotify, Shopify, and other websites were inaccessible to many users throughout the day. The outages were the result of several distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on the DNS provider DynDNS.  Or closer to home, what if the baby monitor gets hacked and mischievous youths scream obscenities at your innocent one?  This happened to a family in Canada.  Truly the Achilles Heel of Internet of Things is security.  It’s an area we all need to understand better, and prepare ourselves for.

Another thing you can do is, if you’re not familiar already, begin to learn about Big Data.  Business Intelligence (BI) refers to the applications, infrastructure and tools, and best practices that enable access to and analysis of information to improve and optimize decisions and performance.  As you research and continue to learn more about exactly what the Internet of Things is, and where it is going, you can begin to think about how that data is going to get stored, and the ways in which it might be mined.  How might city officials respond to an increase in the frequency of stress signals emanating from the local city bridge?  How would they come to be aware that it will be a problem?  What mechanisms must be in place to be able to solve that problem and similar problems?  These are the types of answers and solutions that you as an IT professional can provide.

The best thing you can do if you don’t already have an immediate project working on the Internet of Things is to understand what impacts there may be to IT and how you might best be able to contribute.  It will depend largely on your interests, your existing skills, and what skills you plan to add to your technology quiver.  But the only way to make those determinations is to dive in and begin to understand what is happening in the world of the Internet of Things.  Then and only then will you begin to be able to answer the questions in this exciting field that will lead to the next wave of IT.

The fact of the matter is the age of the Internet of Things is not only coming soon, it’s here now.  So, don’t hesitate, get started with your research today.  It’s an exciting world of possibilities.

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