22 BUSINESS FEATURE: SMART BUILDINGS
IoT: more than joining the Dots? A regular ﬁxture in the pre-show programme at ISE, the Smart Building Conference this year took the Internet of Things as its overarching theme. Ian McMurray delves a little deeper to ﬁnd out how the two are related
o you ever wonder about the value of market research – especially the forward-looking type? Whether you turn to Lao Tzu, the sixth-century BC Chinese poet (“Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge”) or Nobel prize-winning scientist Nils Bohr (“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future”) it seems that prognostication is fraught with challenges. Take the Internet of Things (IoT), for example. Management consultancy Bain believes the market will be worth $470 billion by 2020. Gartner, on the other hand, forecasts a measly $3 billion in the same timeframe. Business Insider says that $6 trillion will be invested in IoT solutions over the next ﬁve years. General Electric ups the ante, claiming that IoT spend in industry alone will top $16 trillion during the next 15 years. Given the disparity in the numbers, what can we learn from the research? In effect, two things. First: the IoT is a sufficiently signiﬁcant phenomenon that the world and his proverbial wife are predicting its future. And second? Whatever the reality, those are some big numbers. Very big numbers. The fact is that the IoT is coming to an office, factory or home near you – if it hasn’t done already. What does the industry believe is the current state of play?
Abused term “IoT is an abused term,” laughs Bob Snyder, who was content chairman for the Smart Building Conference at this year’s ISE. “Like most tech phrases, it is often bent like a crowbar by vendors hoping to leverage it for commercial value. Of course, IoT already exists – but it is not yet commonplace. Several companies at the Smart Building Conference had case studies they could talk about – like IBM’s Watson IoT. Most people who ‘put down’ IoT expect the same kind of fullblown usage as you see today with the internet itself. We’re a long way from that scenario, but I would guess there are hundreds of IoT installations worldwide in industrial and commercial settings.” Mitch Klein, executive director of the Z-Wave Alliance, sees things similarly. “The Internet of Things is just the latest buzzword,” he believes. “The concept of connected things has been around for decades. Installers in the custom space have seen many companies provide whole home automation solutions before anything was called IoT. And those were machineto-machine systems with connected devices creating what we now call a ‘smart’ home.” Dave Pedigo, CEDIA’s vice president, emerging technologies, is even more positive. “The Internet of Things is already a reality,” he claims. “According to Statista, there are now 23 billion internet-connected devices worldwide, which is nearly triple the number of internet-
Key Points The Internet of Things is still a work in progress – but for many, it is becoming increasingly pervasive In terms of connecting smart devices to automate a range of functions, homes are probably ahead of commercial buildings The DIY home automation phenomenon is not a threat: rather, it is driving interest in professionally installed solutions The differences between smart commercial buildings and smart homes lie primarily in scale and application Whether residential or commercial, the IoT is bringing a substantial opportunity to systems integrators and custom installers connected devices ﬁve years ago. The growth is exponential and rapidly accelerating. Things are changing so fast that it is almost impossible to humanly comprehend. We think that is exactly the point we are at with the proliferation of smart home devices.” Perspectives can, however, depend on the market served. “Yes,” says Kevin Hague, VP of corporate technology for Harman, “the IoT is an installable reality today – but it is not easy to integrate. Especially in the case of smart buildings, many systems are proprietary and special interfaces have to be built for each of them. This increases costs and slows the pace of IoT adoption for enterprise.”