What is IoT, really?

A simple question like that incites a wide range of responses from vague like ‘it is about connecting things, gathering data and doing something with it!’ to convinced ones like ‘Oh, it is mostly analytics!’

Would you like to take a pause here and think about your own reply?

What is IoT? Is it data acquisition and control? Is it communication and control? Is it data analysis and machine learning? Or is it applications that make use of these things?

IoT is none of the above individually but all of the above together! It is a great example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. In my favorite analogy, an IoT system is comparable to a human being in terms of functionality. One can identify an equivalent of each of the above IoT components in a human body. Further, just like humans work together to achieve bigger things beyond individual capabilities, different IoT systems can collaborate to build complex use cases to improve process efficiency, prevent failures, and enhance safety and convenience. As a result, IoT is slowly manifesting itself everywhere – from our personal and private lives to the infrastructure, manufacturing, energy, safety and security domains.

IoT generates and processes a lot of data. On the other hand, data – streaming and historic, and analysis of it along with machine learning are essential in order to realize the true potential of IoT. Data and IoT are serving as enablers as well as fueling the Digital transformation in various sectors mentioned above. It is no coincidence that we have Data, Digital, and IoT as three key organizational focus areas.

But as said earlier, IoT is not just about data. The end users care about only the complete, end-to-end solutions, not just a set of components of overall IoT. Building a solution involves many components like sensors and actuators, gateways, cloud platforms, visualization tools, mobile and web applications, security, etc. In addition, it is necessary to have the domain expertise related to the field for which the solution is being built. Almost always, creating an IoT solution demands a wide range of complex skill sets and expertise from diverse yet inter-related fields and collaboration between various entities.

At present, such integration and collaboration are easier said than done. The current IoT industry landscape is complicated because of the abundance of players – a large number of competing IoT platforms with similar capabilities, individual specialized components (e.g. analytics), as well as full solution providers. The lack of standards makes integration and interoperability difficult.

The real challenge and fun of IoT is like using kids’ Lego building blocks. Out of the wide variety of IoT building blocks, the possibilities of what IoT solutions one can build is limited only by the imagination. Whatever one may build, it is important to create the full solution.

To conclude, individual viewpoints about what IoT is may differ, but we can certainly agree upon one thing: An IoT solution is not an IoT solution if it is not end-to-end and complete!