In the Internet of Things, every object can be a device

Office-ObjectsOne of the big societal and technological trends we are experiencing today is the shift to an environment where applications are everywhere. In the early going, we can be excused for thinking that the pervasiveness of software applications is reflected in mobile devices. After all, most of us now carry an application-enabled device, and see it as the nexus of mobile application development.

And we’re right, insofar as mobile platforms from iOS, to Android, Windows Phone 8, and BlackBerry, are the sandboxes where the world’s most talented developers are strutting their stuff. Some of these apps are truly disruptive, and are changing the way we live. But where we are headed is an application environment that is far richer than having a bunch of apps on your smartphone – or even the cloud. In the future, every object will have the potential to have an application imbedded in it. As a result, the world will be a whole lot smarter.

This is called the Internet of Things, and, according to MIT, we are already there. The respected institute has declared 2013 as the “The year of the Internet of Things”, particularly in regard to the growth in sensor technology, which will see software embedded in all manner of objects. In such a pervasive application environment, issues of security and agility are all the more relevant. Enterprises will have to address infrastructure issues related to the challenges of BYOD with an understanding that the very notion of “device” is now fluid. In this context, knowing how embedded software can securely enhance the promise of a distributed application environment is crucial.

These changes in information technology are redefining notions of horizontal and vertical application environments. Certainly, sales personnel in one industry may face similar challenges to those in another, but the types of embedded applications within the enterprise itself will vary greatly. The term “smart” – meaning that objects are application-enabled and connected to back-office analytics – can now apply to cities, the environment, energy, retail, logistics, industrial control, agriculture, building automation, health, manufacturing...In fact, to all industries.

This is far more than RFID. Sensor capabilities in the context of nanotechnology, and assuming declining costs, will make everything from shoes to teacups software-enabled. But getting this shift right comes with a host of challenges.

Those challenges include architectures that address object identification while ensuring interoperability between hardware and software components. Data must not only be secure, but move in a world where authentication and trust issues support workflow (one exciting development is the ability to send “disappearing data” that self-destructs in a pre-established time frame). Within this, middleware is often required, and interfaces must be user-friendly.

And given the industry-specific requirements that will inevitably be a part of the Internet of Things, testing and standardization will take on a whole new role and meaning, with IT specialists required to work with business units that, in the past, have kept technology at arm’s length. Those enterprises that are data driven, and can leverage the incredible potential of an application-everywhere environment, will be ahead of the curve.

It certainly looks like we’re in for an interesting ride. Research from International Data Corporation (IDC) says that over one billion “smart connected devices” were shipped in 2012, at a value of $576.9 billion. That number is expected to hit 2.2 billion in 2017, with the value surging to $814.3 billion. Keep in mind this is IDC’s taxonomy, which is conservative and focusses on smartphones, tablets, and PCs. If we include all application in all objects, we are already connecting billions of objects.