Opinion

From 1982 Coca-Cola vending machine to latest trend: What the Internet of Things means for business

4 min read

15 July 2015

The Internet of Things – it’s a nice catchphrase but what does it really mean and how can businesses harness its capabilities? Gary Smith of Prism Solutions finds out.

The Internet of Things (IoT), is a phrase that was first coined in the late 1990s. It is the art of making a seemingly “stupid” device “smart” and thus giving it the ability to transfer data over a network from machine to machine.

One of the first of these “smart” devices was a Coca-Cola vending machine in 1982. As the story goes, a group of thirsty, frustrated, and innovative computer science students at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania wanted to know the inventory level of their nearby Coca-Cola machine. They installed micro switches that relayed the inventory levels on the machine’s racks and also reported whether the newly loaded drinks were cold yet.

The concept of IoT first became popular outside computer science circles in 1999 due to the Auto-ID Centre at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as similar markets, publishing analyses on the subject. Beginning with radio-frequency identification, the applications soon spread to technologies such as barcodes, near field communication, digital watermarking and QR codes.

Today some common applications can be found in the consumer world and would include examples such as wearable technology that reports to your tablet or smart phone, while tracking an exercise plan. Or what about hive by British Gas that allows you to control your heating from your smart device.

The concept of IoT and its application, however, isn’t as new as it might sound. Parcel delivery companies adopted this idea decades ago. It’s why you can track your package from its origination point along every stop of its journey until it reaches your doorstep.

Read more about the Internet of Things:

So how can businesses leverage the IoT? Let’s take, for example, a business required to spot when IT support is needed. The obvious adoption of this technology is to make the PC device, which is being supported, smart. By inputting data on the PCs expected usage and life cycle, the device could report back to the company, directly notifying that preventative maintenance is required. This is much like when your car tells you it needs a service. 

The advantage here is that the maintenance can be done to prevent downtime and improve the longevity of that device, saving the client money. This same concept could also be used to trigger a real-time alert, reminding the client and supplier of the need to purchase new equipment based on a predefined hardware replacement plan.

It is estimated over 30 billion devices could be connected to the Internet of Things by 2020, and as with all developments in technology there are considerations. Similar to the evolution of cloud computing there has to be some consideration to connectivity, if the time comes that suppliers require clients to have a smart infrastructure then making sure this is practical for that client is key. 

Also, as we open up a world of smart devices transferring data from machine to machine then there is the obvious consideration of data security, including retention and backup of that data.

Gary Smith is the co-founder of Prism Solutions.