IT Pro Panel: How the IoT will change your business

There's no point putting your head in the sand - the Internet of Things (IoT) is coming, and it's got the potential to completely transform the way you work.

The IoT describes a phenomenon in which everyday devices can send and receive data over the internet, and potentially between one another, too.

Everything from your kettle to aircraft parts could and probably will become connected, with the burgeoning industry set to grow as broadband quality and coverage improves.

In fact, analyst firm Gartner predicts there will be 25 billion connected devices by 2020 more than three for every person on the planet.

In 2015 alone, it puts the number of connected machines at 4.9 billion come the end of the year.

So what does this mean for your business?

Our panel of experts are here to discuss the opportunities and challenges you face in our first IT Pro Panel feature.

It's not (all) about your fridge

Neil Crockett, CEO of Digital Catapult, a government-backed initiative designed to create city-wide IoT testbeds, says the IoT is about a lot more than simply the smart home.

"IoT first of all is giving us data points and insights in every direction," he says. "This is not about you talking to the fridge."

Instead, he points to huge benefits for companies, particularly providing context for things like product design.

"If there's IoT embedded in your product, being able to understand how your users are using that product in real-time allows you to design the next product based on consumer input," Crockett says.

"This will fundamentally change the way products are designed, how we think about roadmaps for products, how the consumer dictates the way things are personalised."

Former BT CTO Peter Cochrane adds that companies will have far better insight into their infrastructure, simply by virtue of the fact that everything will be online and talking to a management console.

"There should be significant gains by just by knowing exactly what we own, where it is, and what it can do," he says.

Supply chain insight

Online grocer Ocado believes it could use the IoT to improve its customer delivery service.

James Donkin, general manager at Ocado Technology, the division that powers Ocado, points to smart home technology as a way to tell if a customer is in or not to receive a delivery.

On industrial applications, he says: "The potential is very high for the use of IoT technology for our own assets and value chains.

"Considering the flow of groceries from suppliers through to our customers, environmental questions could be answered."

These include determining what temperatures and G-forces food has been exposed to in transit, as well as using IoT to act as an early warning system for vehicle breakdowns.

Quocirca analyst Clive Longbottom looks at the other side of the supply chain.

He tells IT Pro: "In logistics, the logging of the position and movement of everything from a single item through to crates, pallets and vehicles has already shown how this sector can be transformed."

With all the myriad companies that help build a product, then ship and store it, it's very hard to get much insight into what happens to the product at each step in the process.

Make that product a connected device, make even the pallets connected, and suddenly its entire journey is completely transparent.

Other IoT use cases already happening include the potential to create devices that monitor patients' health, with there even being an ingestible sensor (developed by Proteus Digital Health) that tracks whether medication is being taken regularly.

Public services

Jos Creese, former Hampshire County Council CIO, and now president of the BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, says data is key to running "efficient and effective" public services.

"This is particularly true in support for vulnerable people (old and young) not intervening too soon or too late," he explains.

The smart home comes in handy here, with social and healthcare workers potentially able to pull data from a range of medical and home equipment, from heart monitors to the heating.

"[All this] can help ensure the right support from health and social care professionals, at the right time. This is as much about independent living as it is about intervention," Creese says.

Tech industry trade body TechUK's CEO, Julian David, believes a digital revolution could dramatically alter the service the NHS is able to offer.

He says: "It's estimated that the use of telehealth technologies across the NHS could result in 1 billion in annual savings, with hundreds of thousands of patients' lives improved significantly."