Internet of Things: Revolution or evolution?

Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the technology terms that will appear in every organisation’s strategy document in 2017.

(Skeptical? Our CTO Dan Hushon has put it on his list of technology trends to watch.)

But some of you may be wondering if it’s really a revolutionary change, or simply a fancier badge on something that’s been happening for some time.

This quote from Dr. Shawn DuBravac, chief economist of the Consumer Electronics Association, can answer that:

“It’s safe to say that we are at the start of another industrial revolution. The rise of the connected objects known as the Internet of Things (IoT) will rival past technological marvels, such as the printing press, the steam engine and electricity. From the developed world to the developing world, every corner of the planet will experience profound economic resurgence. Even more remarkable is the speed with which this change will happen. A decade ago there were about 500 million devices connected to the Internet. Today, there are 10 to 20 billion. In five years, there could be 40 to 50 billion.”

And, Gartner:

“Gartner expects the Internet of Things (IoT) to be the most game-changing IT initiative since cloud computing in terms of its impact on both business and enterprise IT. Driven by business desire for increased efficiency and new revenue opportunities, IoT will spur a new wave of IT systems to store and analyze the flood of data generated by thousands or millions of devices, or “things.” The unprecedented volume, velocity and variety of this data will force organizations to change their IT infrastructures — especially their data management and analytics infrastructures — and to adopt new platforms, practices and mindsets.”

According to a RAND Europe study, by 2020, upper estimates of IoT’s annual global economic potential range from $1.4 trillion (about €1.09 trillion) to $14.4 trillion (about €11.2 trillion) – or, roughly, the current GDP of the European Union.

Really? To be fair, IoT is not a single “thing.” As an organisation you don’t just deploy IoT; it’s about changing an organization’s entire business model.

Drawing from RAND Europe’s proper definition of IoT:

“The Internet of Things builds out from today’s Internet by creating a pervasive and self-organising network of connected, identifiable and addressable physical objects enabling application development in and across key vertical sectors through the use of embedded chips, sensors, actuators and low-cost miniaturisation.”

This definition means IoT doesn’t rely on computers to exist. Rather, every object, even the human body, can become a part of IoT if equipped with certain electronic parts. Those parts vary depending on the function the object performs, but they fall into two broad categories:

  • The ability to capture data via sensors. The cost of a sensor has declined significantly (to “dirt cheap”), which means organisations can afford it. The components have become more sophisticated so, for example, the power source will last longer.
  • The ability to transmit the captured data and “do something with it.” It is in this latter part that will create a hurdle for most organisations.

And there is a third prime component that must be examined in IoT: the security of the data. Without this, the rest becomes irrelevant.

The reason for this is that IoT is not a technology looking for a business problem to solve. It’s more about the way the technology can directly support every organisation’s two key forces: saving money  (operational efficiency) and making money (generating revenue). By connecting and instrumenting “things,” business can be more responsive to clients, react faster to issues and create new business opportunities, all of which can help make and save money.

So, organizations will want to do prototypes, pilots, innovation studies, etc., etc. and this will then fall quickly to the IT organisation to support. This work can be segmented into three broad areas:






Infrastructure and platform

Cloud compute, storage and networking

Data ingest Data analytics

Policy and orchestration

Device and platform management



Business applications

Business process

IT services

Egress back to devices

Security, especially considering the much larger potential attack scope

Key challenges likely to be seen include:

  • Integration – device-to-platform-to-enterprise
  • Security – the increase in vulnerabilities
  • Market volatility – immature solutions mean rapid changes
  • New organisational relationships – especially between business units and the enterprise

So what next? It would be dangerous to read the above as yet another big IT transformation project. No, according to Gartner, IoT will be entirely business driven. And in that context, ROI will be the most common question that will need answering before a single sensor gets deployed.

There is no shortage of data in the ongoing data explosion. But to exploit that data, organisations must employ big data and analytics on the right-sized cloud platform.

But even with these challenges, enterprises are starting from a good point. One of the key differences in IoT versus other technology changes (mobile, cloud, social, etc.) is that organisations are making sure they understand it from a business perspective now and in advance of implementing the technology.

IoT is revolutionary and will fundamentally challenge most existing IT departments because of the vast volumes of data involved and the analytics needed to make sense of it. Ensuring that your organisation has an IoT strategy and a suitably staffed team is very much Stage 1 on the journey — and 2017 is the perfect time to get started.

Neil Fagan  Distinguished Architect

Neil Fagan is CTO of the UK Government Security and Intelligence Account in Global Infrastructure Services. He is an enterprise architecture expert, leading teams of architects who work on solutions from initial concept through delivery and support. He has received the Silver President’s Award twice.



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