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The Internet of Things: Golden opportunity for SMEs?

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In March, David Cameron pledged an extra £45m towards its development and now retailers Dixons and Carphone Warehouse have merged in a £3.8bn deal to exploit its potential.

The IoT is rapidly becoming a shorthand term for a whole host of developments which form a Web-linked network of smart devices – from fridges and ovens to major infrastructure such as power stations. Dixons and Carphone Warehouse obviously rate its value. But where does that leave smaller businesses? Will there be opportunities left for all?

It appears to be an open field for inventors. Anyone from babygro manufacturers (now available with sensors to monitor activity, in case you’re interested) to health monitoring specialists are rushing their new ideas to market. They may have only a short window to take advantage of this first-to-market status. When our homes, cars and offices all run on invisible wireless sensors, these will need to be mass produced and consequently costs will plummet, connected products will proliferate and prices will be undercut.

But behind the flashy gadgets and wearable technology, there’s an even wider and more sustainable opportunity for the brave and wise; the management and importantly the analysis of the data produced by these devices. It’s back to the whole big data story, except that the Internet of Things could make today’s volumes look feeble. “A billion is the new million,” is how one senior director summed it up.

Meters that were once read quarterly will now extract data remotely every 15 minutes – around 10,000 more data points per subscriber. Next generation airplanes, such as Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, creates terabytes of sensor data per flight. It’s not just volume either, the variety and velocity of data will also make the management of information difficult.

However, new tools are emerging all the time to help master the complexity of this new big data environment without becoming highly-technical specialists. These simplify the process for those without in-depth programming expertise, while enabling more highly-skilled data scientists to make optimum use of their abilities. Top end consultants are only used as needed, leaving slightly more affordable employees to carry out the rest of the work, so helping stretch the budgets.

In a survey carried out by Talend last year, two of the top three barriers to utilising big data were named as ‘budgetary restrictions’ and ‘skills shortages’. Once the obstacle of complexity is overcome the skills shortages should be less of a problem, opening up the Internet of Things promise to an ever widening circle of businesses.

So this could be where the golden opportunities lie for those prepared to adapt and enhance their skills. In time, the best rewards will come to those able to integrate data from across multiple products and devices, buildings or even whole cities. Even Dixons/Carphone Warehouse are still far off this prize.

Yves de Montcheuil is VP of marketing at Talend.

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