Internet of things
In connection with the steady progress in microelectronics, communication and information technology, the keywords “ubiquitous computing,” “ambient intelligence,” or the “Internet of things” are often heard. The exact differentiation between these concepts is largely academic, says Professor Friedemann Mattern from the Institute of Pervasive Computing at ETH Zurich. What they have in common, explains Mattern, is that they aim to provide “unobtrusive and yet sustainable support for everyday tasks and complete automation and optimization of business processes.”19This is achieved by integrating a multitude of miniaturized processors, sensors and wireless modules in rooms, environments and everyday objects, plus supporting infrastructure systems.
In essence, these concepts are all about integrating everyday items in electronic networks. The idea is to be able to uniquely identify these “smart objects” (e.g. by fitting them with RFID tags) and let them communicate with each other or with their users. This unique identification of objects combined with the option of also making the information linked to the object accessible from anywhere and at any time has already led to the development of efficient processes, new products and innovative services. If the objects are also fitted with sensory capabilities and localization options – e.g. with GPS – then autonomous, quasi-intelligent applications become feasible; these could also include networked object-to-object communication, thus going far beyond the immediate, frequently cited examples of automated stock-keeping, fridges that refill themselves and supermarkets without cash registers.20
At present, the Internet of things is on the cusp of jumping from drawing board to reality. The success of the Internet of things, i.e. the merger of the digital world with physical objects, will depend to a decisive degree on just how well new technologies are accepted in business and society.
Present and future significance
The LIFE 2 Study shows that the Internet of things is already much more than just another industry buzzword. In Germany, 59 percent of the ICT executives surveyed believe that the Internet of things will in future – and this means within the next five years – be very important or important. In the United Kingdom, three-quarters (73%) of ICT executives anticipate this happening. In total, a good two-thirds (67%) of the ICT executives who participated in this survey believe that the Internet of things will play a (very) important role in future. Only three percent of those surveyed believe that the Internet of things will only have very little importance (bottom box) in the future (see Figure 6-5).
The executives were not only asked to assess the general importance of this technology, but also to state how important they thought the Internet of things would be in future, and specifically for their own enterprise. The results corroborated the results of the initial question: More than half of all ICT executives (56%) believe that the Internet of things will be very important or important for their enterprise in the next five years. Executives in the United States headed the field here, with 62% percent believing it will play a (very) important role, followed by Spanish executives (61%). But in Germany, half of the ICT executives expect the technology to play a very important or important role in their own enterprise.
Expectations for the Internet of things
In theory, there are a lot of expectations linked to the Internet of things, for instance a general increase in the efficiency of business processes and a reduction of costs in product logistics and services (by automating and shifting them to the customer). Other expectations include improved customer relationships and new business models based on smart objects and associated services.21
The ICT executives surveyed see one of the biggest advantages of the Internet of things as being cost reduction (44%). For 21 percent, the greatest advantage is better transparency; one in five of the executives (20%) surveyed believes that the standout advantage will be the new business models that will result from the implementation of the Internet of things. 16 percent believe that an increase in consumer protection will be the key advantage of the new technology (see Figure 6-6).
As a rule, new technologies not only provide benefits, they also bring new challenges that need to be tackled. The biggest challenge of the Internet of things is data protection, according to six in ten of the executives surveyed (61%). The new technology means that the wireless messages exchanged through the air interface between the objects need to be protected against unauthorized interception, manipulation and falsification. 26 percent of the ICT executives believe that the main challenge will lie in defining common standards. A further 14 percent see environmental aspects as being the biggest challenge for the Internet of things, i.e. the question of how to deal with all the additional eWaste that is generated when a large quantity of everyday objects has been fitted with microchips and RFID tags.
19 Mattern, Friedemann (2005)
20 Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (2009)
21 Mattern, Friedemann / Floerkemeier, Christian (2010)