How the Internet of Things is Transforming Canadian Businesses

When we start a discussion about the “internet of things” it’s tempting to talk about the latest in wearable devices like your Microsoft Band or Fitbit but IoT is so much more than a gadget. 

It has, within its foundation, the opportunity to be transformative—and potentially lucrative—for businesses.

IDC estimates the Canadian IoT addressable market will be worth more than $6.5 billion by 2018.

But to back up a little. IoT refers to any thing (or device) that can be connected to the cloud, used to collect data and to provide a mechanism to respond to that data in some way.

From monitoring the energy efficiency of our homes to finding more productive ways to feed the global population, we can have a transformative impact on society by harnessing these connected “things” and turning massive amounts of raw data into actionable insights.

Admittedly, there have been both technical and businesses challenges that have slowed business adoption of the potential for IoT. Business decision makers are trying to gain a better grasp of the expected ROI, cost, and scalability, while IT managers are struggling with integration, interoperability, management, security, and the need to be tailored to specific verticals.

And while examples of how IoT can help businesses might sound like science-fiction (especially when we get into the realm of autonomous cars), there are many, many companies both around the world and around the corner who are already benefitting.

Look at Leamington, Ontario’s NatureFresh Farms, whose “smart building” greenhouses are equipped with sensors to help ensure perfect tomato-growing conditions by automating the opening or closing of the buildings’ windows and curtains, and turning up or down heating systems. NatureFresh is also using sensors and automated systems to feed and water plants, thereby optimizing resources while maximizing yield. 

In Waterloo, Intelligent Mechatronic Systems has created a connected car platform that helps insurance companies reward customers with lower rates by monitoring and providing feedback to improve driving habits. IMS technology is also being used by business owners to improve fleet management by reducing idling and providing greater visibility into corporate vehicle usage patterns.  And, there are many, many more examples already at play in Canada.

Let’s look a little deeper at IoT at work. In a connected fleet of refrigerated trucks, owners can be fed information about cargo in the back of the truck, or in a smart building, managers can check the temperatures on each floor or see what doors are open. People think this communication is one way, but that’s a misnomer. Those millions of sensors aren’t sending information in a one-way flow of traffic to a central repository where we do some smart assessment analytics to determine a course of action.

The reality is we’re not talking about dumb sensors that are feeding information back to you.  Communication between businesses and these devices is bidirectional.  We’re at a stage where you can act on that information and tell that device out there in the middle of nowhere or embedded in your building to do something like open a door to change the temperature. Growsafe Systems has literally put IoT out to pasture. They use a range of technologies to collect data from environmental and biometric sensors each time an animal drinks or eats to provide immediate feedback to ensure optimal animal conditioning and health.

Once communication is two directional, you suddenly open up new security concerns because you need to make sure the communication you are receiving wasn’t intercepted or altered, and that the information you are acting upon is real and accurate.  In this environment, your corporate security framework needs to not only protect traditional devices like your PCs, tablets and smartphones, but it also has to make sure every one of my connections from every one of my sensors or devices is also secure so that I can be assured that the information I am receiving from a device is valid, and the action I am now taking can’t be intercepted.

Establishing a secure connection to millions devices takes a step function forward in the requirement for our industry to deliver that secure connected environment, and as a business helps you to make sure that as you dip the toe into this powerful new world of things, you aren’t doing more harm than good.

Businesses need a comprehensive set of building blocks with a strong ecosystem to address the IoT opportunity (and we’re reaching a point where this is not a vision for the future but rather an implementable reality).  The three key elements that together make IoT viable for business include:

  • Security:  Preserving the integrity of IoT relies on an integrated strategy comprised of IoT-appropriate software products, a robust hardware foundation, as well as the capacity for platforms to securely integrate with third-party security solutions.
  • Silicon:  Processors are smaller, use less energy and are more powerful than ever before, making it possible to put smart technology in more devices.
  • Software: From secure connectivity to the cloud to analytics that can make data actionable, software can integrate all this information into a comprehensive platform that unleashes the power of possibilities for business.

With an eye towards advancing interoperability in this new IoT world, Intel and industry experts have come together to create the Open Interconnect Consortium with the primary goal of defining a common framework to seamlessly connect and manage information flows between computing and IoT devices, regardless of form factor, operating system or service provider.

Common standards defined by the consortium, coupled with advances in security, silicon and software have brought us to a place where we have passed the technological and economic barriers that previously prevented computing from becoming truly pervasive. IDC says there will be approximately 30 billion autonomous “things” attached to the Internet by 2020. Computing can go anywhere now, and we are going to be gaining access to more and more raw data about our company, its employees and its customers. When businesses can turn that data into actionable insights, we enter a new frontier rife with possibilities.

The future winners will be those who can harness the potential and act on the information while ensuring this valuable business asset is secure.