The Internet of Things and its current state

by Lenny Benaicha - August 16, 2016

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Almost eighteen months have passed since we last wrote about the Internet of Things (IoT) and the connectivity issues that come along with it. Low-energy wireless network providers continue to expand their coverage. Sigfox, a French IoT network provider, is currently available in 22 countries with the capacity to serve 340 million people. It’s safe to say that IoT technology and its applications haven’t stopped evolving and a lot has happened since our last article.

One of the challenges we’re currently facing with IoT is terminology and definition. Many companies are jumping on the bandwagon, creating more interest in the technology. That’s perfectly fine, but at the same time it's causing the IoT label to suffer from a lot of misconceptions.

So-called IoT products appearing on the market today may, or may not, have anything to do with IoT at all. Because they are using some sort of connectivity they get labeled as IoT, but in fact, they are using technology that has been around for quite a while now. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but when stuff goes wrong, it puts a dent in IoT’s image. Some of these startups and products that have scaled in a "hyper growth" fashion have not always been fully prepared for possible problems. Then again, with such new technologies, it can prove to be very difficult to foresee every possible outcome.

Petnet

Recently Petnet encountered such a problem. Petnet is a smart feeder that you can set up to automatically manage feeding times, portion sizes and food supply for your cat or dog. Besides the fact that it might make a pet owner's life easier, it contributes to the pet’s health as well by providing a feeding schedule.

Petnet is controlled through an iPhone app that allows you to control the smart feeder via the cloud. A little while ago Petnet’s systems went down and, because their devices depend on instructions received from a central server, many pets were not being fed according to the schedules their owners had set. Due to the holiday season, the incident caused quite an uproar. Many Petnet customers were on holiday, so were depending heavily on the service.

Nest

A similar incident occurred when Nest went offline in the middle of a heat wave in the US. Nest, acquired by Google in February 2014, is a smart connected thermostat that helps you to save money on your energy bill. It learns what temperature you like and then builds its schedule around yours.

A new approach is needed

In both cases, as well as in in many lesser-known cases, many customers have taken to Twitter to openly voice their frustrations. People complained that the companies were hard to reach and, when they finally got hold of customer support, the answers they got were generic, dismissive and unapologetic. It’s hard for any company to prepare for such events, but when they occur companies should realise that their products may impact customers lives in an unprecedented way. This calls for an entire new approach to contingency plans and crisis management.

Downtime and outages are obviously a big problem, but they’re also very noticeable. Security issues on the other hand, might not be so visible but could cause equal, if not far more damage to a company. Due to the lack of protocols, a lot of data used by applications today are passed around without any encryption at all.

An additional challenge arises when companies allow their customers to get frustrated. Depending on the determination and the willingness of the customer and their lawyers, we might see a couple of class action cases. This could result in companies going bust or creating more clarity or restrictions with regards to IoT applications.

With IoT technology moving at an incredible pace, many people are looking to big players like Apple and Google to come up with protocols or to further define IoT standards.

The message here is not to discourage companies from experimenting and building, or to stop customers from buying IoT products and applications, but to create a mind-set and awareness that stuff might still go wrong. Alan Watts once said "The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance”. We are now at the forefront of digital technology, feeling the huge impact and change it has on our lives. The only way to move forward is to stay open-minded and forgiving, as we continue to push the boundaries.

Lenny Benaicha

Strategic Technologist

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