The Internet of Things is a natural next step for the Internet, and is being driven largely by improvements and adaptation of existing technology. 

The Five Internet Eras

Looking at the evolution of the Internet we can classify it into five eras:

  1. The Internet of Documents -- e-libraries, document based webpages
  2. The Internet of Commerce -- e-commerce, e-banking and stock trading websites
  3. The Internet of Applications -- Web 2.0
  4. The Internet of People -- Social networks
  5. The Internet of Things -- Connected devices and machines

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Each of the first four eras has provided significant benefits in transfer of information and documented knowledge, while creating a new economy around the information produced. By increasing the volume of available human knowledge as well as each person’s access to that data, innovation and new business opportunities stand at the forefront. The Internet of Things will do the same, and more.

Connectivity is Key

The social network revolution of the past decade has been largely driven by human connectivity to the Internet. As more people around the world became connected through the economical availability of devices, they began to form and join networks that enabled efficient communication and access to desired information about others in the network.

The Internet of Things revolution will similarly be driven by inexpensive device connectivity. As the price of embedded computing and sensors drops and performance improves, there is no longer any real barrier to connecting electronic devices to the Internet. The availability and innovation in hyper-local network technology such as Bluetooth Low Energy, and price and performance improvements in other network technologies like ZigBee, Z-Wave, RFID, EnOcean and traditional WiFi has finally brought robust and easy to configure connectivity to the devices in our homes and offices.

Physical connectivity, however, is just step one. Had there been no compelling social network websites, wide-scale human connectivity may have been largely wasted. Fortunately, new Internet of Things web applications and platforms are being deployed to provide the human-to-device, device-to-human and device-to-device communication that connected devices will need to thrive.

A Look at the Potential of the Internet of Things

Once devices are first class members of these networks, the possibilities are endless. Data produced by networks of humans and devices will provide an unprecedented insight into consumer and product behavior.

There will be an incredible deluge of valuable data about how end users are configuring, interacting with and talking about their devices. Existing strategies like sentiment analysis will mark satisfaction or frustration with device performance. In addition, customer defined interactions and connections between devices can identify novel uses and synergies.

For example, a coffee machine manufacturer may find that a number of their customers have manually connected their smart coffee maker to another manufacturer’s smart lighting system. It would seem clear that customers have found it compelling to connect these two systems so that at wakeup time, the bedroom lights slowly come up and coffee begins to brew. Perhaps the manufacturer looks into producing its own brand of smart lighting system. Or maybe the company chooses to target smart lighting systems owners with coffee machine advertisements.

Real time machine data platforms are needed that can mash up the sensor data from their connected devices with structured data of CRM and ERP systems and the unstructured data produced by the social streams of the end users. As these platforms are adopted, a holistic view of the customer and their interaction with connected products can be realized, and through that greater awareness, just-in-time or real time social marketing will be truly realized.

Cable television operators are some of the first to truly take advantage of this opportunity. Every set top box is a network connected IoT device, and one large operator is already using the data generated by those set top boxes to analyze customer interaction with their boxes and services, especially around consumption of content. By monitoring and analyzing data from these devices in real time, this provider is able to prevent outages, provide customized content to its customers, and improve customer satisfaction. Such a strategy has been credited with 3 percent year over year improvements in video views, with additional impact on revenue from advertisers.

Win-win scenarios like this are proof that the Internet of Things can positively impact both business to business as well as business to consumer operations. The benefits are boundless -- so as long as new device and service providers are able to balance innovation with security and privacy concerns -- these types of human/device interactions will become the norm. This is likely the start of a sea change in how we approach customer interaction and satisfaction management and should revolutionize overall customer experience.

Title image by Kevin Renes (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more perspectives on the IoT from this month's editorial focus