I was recently asked by a journalist: ‘what exactly does the often-used phrase “the internet of things” mean to you?’ It was a good and sensible question, as we use a number of such terms as useful concepts to avoid being overly specific. My reply did not do me much credit. I said I saw the term as a convenient way to avoid having to specify the many different things rapidly becoming connected to the internet. It set me thinking.
The next trigger was the announcement in the Japanese press about NEC planning to reduce the price of its RFID tags to around 10% of the current cost. Seemingly, major advancements ‘in the field of semiconductor research’ will mean NEC can accept orders for 10,000 tags at $100 from July. The tags are supposedly compatible to all six global standards. This price breakthrough makes the use of RFID in areas such as retail supply chains much more viable.

If we are talking about Web 2.0, which we can fairly describe as the ‘internet of people’, one of the big issues is identity management. Before we can participate in any place or activity, the first rule is to identify the person. That’s pretty tricky – mainly because people are not quite so straightforward in terms of their activities as shall we say a box of carrots. However, as their activities have (we hope) higher value, then perhaps the cost of creating and maintaining that Identity is less of an issue. The breakthrough of RFID into the mass market might provide the ability to give a wide variety of objects a unique and (relatively) permanent identity.
The ability to associate a service ‘profile’ to a shared device such as a car, or more particularly an element of a car – such as the gearbox – opens a whole new set of thoughts about building cars. The possibilities around customisation for the discerning customer become more exciting, whilst it is still viable to provide full down-stream management and maintenance for all the unique items. Now that would truly be an ‘internet of things’; not necessarily wireless or wired equipped in their own right, but uniquely identified and aligned, to their own unique online profiles. The list of things that this could benefit is huge and surely limited only by imagination. Or is it?
Actually, the limitations are now caused by RFID reading technology and the whole new set of capabilities to provide and manage the content alignment, access, updating etc. It’s the reading technology that is more of a barrier in the short term. That’s why I like the look of the newly announced DAILY RFID $48 reader that plugs into the USB slot of a PC. The cost is in the right zone for mass adoption. However, the really important feature is the USB plug-in which makes it perfectly feasible for a service engineer to read the device history and profile from his existing enterprise supplied notebook PC, or even just a web book.
Which leads to my final point: the ‘internet of things’ is also the ‘web of services’, or more accurately the ‘web of shared services’. This is because the value is not created internally for lower cost administration (the traditional role of IT as we know it) but externally, to do business with others. It’s back to the topic of clouds and the ability to decouple the elements and reassemble them to suit the requirements of multiple stakeholders. That is, of course, my second point that will need to be addressed: the whole alignment and use of content or processes.
It will happen. After all, nearly fifty years of computing history tells us it’s a game of leapfrog the way we serially identify and address the next limiting issue in the chain of value. Actually, when you think about it, the abilities such as Open Source, Apps Shops, etc suggest that it will be solved quicker than you might think and that the global adoption rate will be fast. Just wait for the first iPhone App!