The Internet of Things (IoT) describes an emerging interconnected world of “things” where new technologies and Big Data analytics are revolutionising our way of life. For Infrastructure Asset Management, in particular, IoT holds exciting possibilities. In this article we briefly define IoT, look at its origins and relate it to what can be seen as an emerging Infrastructure Internet of Things (IIoT).
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a popular term used to describe the new interconnected world of “things”. In the information technology continuum, IoT brings inanimate objects to life via a range of technologies that enable communication between objects or between people and objects.
“Smart objects” populate the connected world of IoT.
From thermostats to generators, smart objects are embedded with both a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag and a sensor to measure data. The RFID tag allows users to communicate with the object. The sensor may capture fluctuations in the surrounding temperature, changes in quantity, or other types of information. Wireless communication allows the smart object to report data over IP networks, such as the internet, to a central database. The data is stored and turned into a human-readable format.
The fundamental shift ushered in by IoT lies in the potential of Big Data analytics and remote monitoring. Data is constantly produced by everything. This data can be gathered, analysed and turned into actionable information. Along with actionable information, remote monitoring opens up the possibility to convert reactive systems into proactive ones and overcome delayed problem management through automatic sense-and-respond capabilities.
The term “Internet of Things”was coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999, a time when the term “internet” was trending and nearly all data was generated and recorded by humans. Ashton used the term internet to draw the attention to the potential of emerging technologies, particularly RFID, to change the status quo. By relating the internet to objects and not people, Ashton believed that information about “things” did not have to rely on manual interaction.
The term IoT only got real traction in 2010. In McKinsey’s 2010 Article, The Internet of Things, Chui, Löffer and Roberts highlighted the potential of new information networks, emerging around IoT, to: “create new business models, improve business processes, and reduce costs and risks”. These new information networks emerge when objects become embedded with sensors and gain the ability to communicate.
Between 2011 and 2014, the popularity of IoT grew rapidly. The Chinese government announced the strategic importance of IoT in their Five-Year-Plan in 2011. At the same time, Gartner included IoT in their “hype-cycle for emerging technologies” list. In 2013, the term entered into the vocabulary of popular technology magazines such as Forbes and Wired. While Google hurtled the term to new consumer heights in 2014 when they announced their acquisition of the home-automation producer of smart thermostats, Nest Labs, for $3.2 billion.
By 2015, the term IoT had become so popular that Data Smart City-Solutions writer, Laura Adler, noted: “the Internet of Things … has become one of the most widely-discussed concepts of the digital age, driving major changes across industries from marketing to renewable energy”. Some well-known examples for Internet of Things applications today are:
Wearable devices/fitness trackers (e.g., Jawbone Up, Fitbit, Pebble)
Home Automation (Examples: Nest, 4Control, Lifx)
Industrial asset monitoring (GE, AGT Intl.)
Smart energy meters
At present, Gartner Inc. has forecast that 8.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2017, with total spending on end-points and services reaching $2 trillion. This translates into a 31% rise in connected devices from 2016, leading to a predicted 20.4 billion by 2020.
It does not take a seasoned engineer to see the potential value of IoT for Infrastructure Asset Management. For Gartner’s Nagayoshi Nakano, monitoring aging and newly constructed public infrastructures has emerged as a critical issue for facility management organisations in both the public and private sphere. Such organisations need to ensure safety and security and reduce maintenance costs.
Monitoring, operating and maintaining infrastructure is an expensive and time consuming endeavour, that relies heavily on human resources. IoT offers potential to harness the data emanating from IoT devices, embedded in infrastructure assets and asset components. The emerging business intelligence helps to inform decision-making, mitigate risk and turn infrastructure management and maintenance into a systematic, proactive and cost-saving process.
While issues such as security, the privacy of information and integration of different systems are emerging challenges, the Infrastructure Internet of Things (IIoT) holds great potential for enhanced infrastructure asset management practices. In a rapidly expanding urban world, IIoT will be a central component of managing risk, ensuring safety and security, building resilience and extending services to growing urban populations.