The internet of things (IoT) revolution is here, and it's changing the way we interact with and use technology for business and at home. The IoT is a network of billions of physical objects that contain embedded technology. These objects could be TVs, cameras, fridges or light bulbs. In the UK, the average number of devices we have access to in our home is nine, says Statista.

The IoT serves to revolutionise our lives, enabling us to use an array of connected objects and devices to monitor, operate and control our environment. There are many use cases according to which environment we happen to be in, including enterprise adoption. In this article, we’ll consider how the internet of things changes everything for business leaders, and explore some of the gains to be made by embracing IoT in the workplace.

What is the internet of things, and where did it all begin?

The IoT allows us to monitor and track our homes and workplaces, whether it be a lighting system, temperature control or security system. This is made possible through connected devices such as sensors, beacons and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, which capture data and send it to the cloud for analysis and evaluation.

This real-time data enables us to make informed decisions about energy efficiency, security and many other things. On a more personal level, IoT-enabled wearables, such as fitness trackers, enable us to monitor our health and activity levels so we can make better health-related decisions.

In the business world, the IoT is facilitating digital transformation through new paradigms of data collection and analysis, as well as more efficient operations. For instance, the IoT ‘enables healthcare professionals to be more watchful and connect with patients proactively’, according to IoT News. It cites wearable devices as being useful in identifying the best patient treatment. 

The IoT is used to track production processes in real time, and monitor and optimise the supply chain across multiple industries. It is, according to The Independent, ‘a critical operational asset for businesses’, with a market projected to be worth more than $1.3tn globally by 2026.

One can explain how it all began by combining the era of the internet, technological advances and falling costs. The ingredients of the internet of things were there for the mixing, and by osmosis the tech companies created environments in which we could immerse ourselves. While smart homes and smart devices often steal the headlines, it’s at an organisational level that IoT can really shine.

IoT at enterprise level has its ups and downs (but mostly ups)

Enterprise adoption of the internet of things is becoming commonplace. 76% of Enterprise Times survey respondents are ‘prioritising IoT in their business in the next 18 months’, to reduce costs and increase operational efficiencies. Gartner reports that 47% of organisations plan to increase their investments in the IoT.

There are gains to be made by embracing IoT in the workplace, and many use cases. In fact, it now has its own acronym: the Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT. (For simplicity, we'll stick with IoT here.)

Use cases range in scope from manufacturing (streamlining process-driven tasks) to supply chain (real-time product location tracking and data quality management). In the office, we can enjoy printers that order replacement cartridges before they run out, automatic lighting, and heating systems that run according to monitored temperature data. The list of possibilities for IoT scenarios is endless.

Remote working and IoT, however, is arguably a perfect match. Imagine working from home just a few years ago. This may have been before smartphones, decent broadband connections and the ubiquity of PDFs that can be digitally signed. The IoT has perhaps enabled us to be more connected and more efficient than ever before.

The downsides might include employees not being able to switch off from work. Being constantly connected can make employee burnout more of an issue (figures for UK workers are up 48% in the past 12 months – record levels, says HR News). And while more of us are working from home, our lives may feel more connected to technology than ever before. So, while there are many upsides to ubiquitous technology, it may be wise for business leaders to consider how far-reaching their digital transformation is, and to whom it affects.

Security, and the future of IoT

Digital security is a major concern for businesses. In an internet of things era, new technologies enable businesses to track, monitor and control their environment. This allows businesses to optimise operations and reduce costs. The UK government, for example, has an agreement in place called the Technology Code of Practice (TCoP), which it describes as ‘a set of criteria to help government design, build and buy technology’. These guidelines are designed to smooth the journey from legacy infrastructure to a position of digital confidence. And with so much technology at play, there are many risk factors to consider.

To be successful, businesses must ensure their digital security. This means deploying sophisticated monitoring, detection and protection systems to detect, prevent and respond to potential cyber-attacks. The alternative is costly damage to business operations.

Ensure employees are trained and educated on the importance of cybersecurity to avoid mistakes from negligence or ignorance. The National Cyber Security Centre provides an excellent resource for learning more about security hygiene. Businesses could also consider investing in digital security technology, employing experienced cybersecurity professionals, and implementing a set of robust security policies and procedures. Doing so may help protect businesses from the risks associated with digital security.

There’s work still to be done around IoT security law, regulations and standards, but the road ahead looks exciting for organisations. A report by The Telegraph says that by 2023, new technologies such as LP-WAN (lower-power wide-area network) ‘will help drive the next wave of internet of things adoption’. It may increase network coverage, which may help drive greater cost efficiencies.

If we are set to be spending an hour a day in the metaverse by 2026, it may be wise to learn as much as possible about the business benefits of the internet of things first. As the IoT revolution continues, business leaders may discover for themselves how it could reduce costs and increase efficiency, revealing many use cases where it could be employed.

Security is a concern, so cybersecurity systems and processes should be robust, with policies in place to increase awareness of security best practice. The future of IoT looks promising, and if an organisation can find the balance between managing the upsides and downsides, there could be a lot to gain.