Last Word: Decisions decisions

Who’s going to grasp the data-rich nettle in the path of the Internet of Things?

“The bounding condition in deploying the Internet of Things (IoT) is not going to be the deployment of devices but rather the management and analysis of the data coming off those devices.”

So wrote technologist Dan Woods in Forbes magazine in April 2014, and it’s a view which is echoed by many across the software and communications technologies industries.

There’s no doubt among this crowd that our world is on the brink of being transformed by an explosion of connectivity between smart devices – devices which, as of 2010, outnumber human beings on planet Earth. Intelligent interactions between machines, mobile phones, embedded sensors in biological material and more, offer new potential for service based product sales and innovation say enthusiasts. And while some may be effected to a greater degree and/or more quickly than others, no one will be left untouched.

To hear technologists talk about the revolution in competition and society that the IoT is about to unleash is to imagine a technological utopia in which a bright light is suddenly shone on what PTC CEO Jim Heppelman recently called “the dark side of the moon”. In other words, products in the field.

Case studies from diverse IoT disciples including fishermen, car makers and defence companies show that this vision of pre-emptive service, based on newly effective performance and usage data is, from a deployment perspective, relatively easily achievable. But there are wrinkles in the canvas which still need to be pulled flat – and which could tear in the process.

The rub is data – specifically, big data and how to manage, engineer and decide ownership of it across personal, geographical, political and commercial boundaries – which may include collaborative groups of companies as well as individual organisations.

This is not a new realisation. An increasing mass of articles, published internationally over the past few years by publications including Computer Weekly, CIO.com, Forbes and countless technology blogs, explore the way in which big data and the IoT will change skills sets and business models for companies in multiple sectors around the globe.

Many of these articles also cite security and confusion over data ownership as barriers to full blown exploitation of the IoT.

However, while the barriers have been widely acknowledged, it seems that action on breaking them down is moving slowly.

Firms like PTC, which have identified exploitation of the IoT as a seriously lucrative goal (McKinsey thinks the sale of IoT infrastructure products will create $1.9trn by 2020) are working hard to ensure data security. But the trouble is, they don’t know what rules they are developing for.

Despite increasingly vocal calls for an international body for commercial data regulation, there is little clarity about who is responsible for creating and enforcing laws for data ownership that can deal with the complex, global nature of big data emanating from the IoT.

Action from individual governments or regions is not enough to facilitate this global technology phenomenon.

Just as the challenge of climate change has created a coalition of many global governments to find common standards and targets, the challenge of global data regulation needs ambitious collaboration.