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The Internet of Things

17/03/2014

As connectivity improves across the globe and the internet becomes even more important for businesses and consumers alike, a new trend is emerging that could drastically shape how we interact with the world in the near future.

The Internet of Things is a broad catch-all term for a wide variety of different technological advances - fundamentally, it refers to the process whereby devices and tools, from cars to kettles and ovens, are connected to the web.

According to Gartner, the development of this trend is set to take off in 2014, both in terms of enterprise and consumer products.

However, firms need to be prepared for this shift if they are not to be left behind by their more tech-savvy counterparts, as adapting to this kind of internet model will require a great deal of expertise in handling and managing data.

"The problem is that most enterprises and technology vendors have yet to explore the possibilities of an expanded internet and are not operationally or organisationally ready," said Gartner.

Google and Microsoft are among the big firms to get involved in this market, which is likely to be a major factor in the plans made by technology companies over the next few years. The former has purchased Nest, which makes web-connected thermostats for homes and businesses, as well as Nest Protect, a manufacturer of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

Rapid escalation is expected as the internet becomes ever-more embedded into daily life for people in the developed world.

Research firm IDC suggests more than 200 billion items will be connected to the net by 2020, highlighting the degree of traction the Internet of Things is beginning to develop - but concerns still exist about how firms will adapt, particularly when it comes to cyber security.

Obviously, protecting data is extremely important even now, with many UK and international companies investing in their information protection infrastructure to avoid falling foul of the law or losing the trust of their customers.

But the emergence of the Internet of Things will only increase the need for firms to keep a tight handle on their data and ensure malicious hackers cannot access devices. As technology becomes more entwined with the physical world, the risks involved in cyber security become more acute.

For instance, a US security firm recently highlighted the ominous possibilities underlying the Internet of Things by showcasing how Google Glass could be hacked to show what the wearer was looking at.

Previously, a security analyst - McAfee's Barnaby Jack – caused controversy when he devised a cyber attack that could hijack insulin pumps, potentially delivering fatal doses to patients who rely on the tools.

Of course, this is no reason for firms not to embrace the commercial potential inherent in the Internet of Things, but it does highlight the need for strong levels of planning and expertise within the technology department.

Having the correct security processes in place and being aware of the threats and risks involved in any successful cyber attack will be critical if companies are to avoid embarrassing, dangerous and potentially expensive problems.

Connecting devices to the web will open up a new world of opportunity for both consumers and businesses, but the latter will need to embrace the responsibility that comes with the move towards the Internet of Things if they are to retain the trust of their customers.