Visit to view our range of Smart Glasses and Connectivity solutions and products

What is the IoT?

A while ago, I would have only known what the letters stand for and not what it actually is, and I don’t think I’m alone on this. However, the IoT is all around us and will continue to grow. I have been on a steep learning curve and thinking about this made me wonder about what we think we know and what are the common misconceptions about IoT? I have created my top five list of what I believe are the main misconceptions about IoT and here I will try and debunk them (in a non-techie way!) for you.

IoT is only about wearable and the consumer market

Wearables such as wristbands, smart fridges or thermostats are of course examples of IoT applications which are well known, ask most of the public for examples and this would be it. However, there are so many more examples of IoT in the business environment away from the more obvious ones. For example, within urban environments IoT can monitor air quality, provide adaptive traffic control and environmental monitoring. On construction sites, IoT can monitor PPE usage and provide predictive maintenance. IoT can be found in all industries, for more information drop me a line and I will provide you with further examples.

IoT is only for large businesses, it is too complicated for SMEs 

The reason many solutions are only implemented by bigger business is because they pay large consultancies to demonstrate the economics; find the right supplier and this should come as part of the package, therefore making it much more viable for a SME to evaluate and implement.

There are many solutions that are simple to install and have business impact that any businesses can deploy to start their IoT journey, for example:

The IoT is not secure

Security has to be one of the key points and I would strongly advise anyone interested in IoT to talk with their security advisor about. It is most definitely not a straightforward one line answer, the reality is that almost any system has vulnerabilities, so it is about designing the solution so that these potential vulnerabilities become impotent.

For instance, it may be possible to intercept the data from a parking sensor, however by ensuring there is no pathway from this device back into the cloud, network security is maintained, and any potential data interception is entirely meaningless.  

Security should be like an onion with many layers, each layer providing a different type and level of protection because hacking a system should not be as easy as knowing a password or IP address.

IoT is expensive

It is certainly possible to blow the budget on high end systems, however unless the system is being deployed for ecological benefit (which is priceless) the general purpose of using IoT in a busines environment is to generate savings, gains or increase output. All of which result in a return on investment and therefore are not an additional cost burden to a business. With Capex and Opex options commonly available, cashflow doesn’t need to be negatively impacted either.

The technology adoption curve dictates that as IoT becomes mainstream prices will decrease and therefore utilisation increases. A real-world example of technology adoption in industry is the car industry, where Formula 1 drives innovation that filters down into the cars that you and I drive at an affordable price.

IoT will steal our jobs!

People have always feared technical change, the most obvious example are the luddites, a secret oath-based organisation of textile workers in the 19th century, they were well known for destroying textile machinery in protest, which stemmed from the fear of losing their jobs to machinery. Jobs were lost but others grew and what was gained was a better quality of life, better health, and the creation of less harmful and dangerous jobs. There will be some job losses, Gartner predicts that 1.8M jobs will be eliminated but more positively 2.3M jobs will be created with AI. There will be new economies and new businesses developing. Our lives will be changed but we can’t replace humanity, for example would you be happy with a robot cutting your hair?

This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding misconceptions and questions around the IoT. It’s interesting to look beneath the fears and drill down on the possibilities of IoT.

We enjoy questions and would be more than happy to answer any concerns or dispel any myths that you may have heard around the IoT in a user-friendly non-techie way. Please contact us if you have queries, which are not in my top 5 and we will be happy to help you.

Never before has it been possible to collect so much data. However, the data is worthless until you can mine it for information, which in turn is useless unless you can understand it. It’s disappointing that most companies are still reliant on two-dimensional charts, graphs and tables of impenetrable figures. The underlying data is labour intensive to collect and processing it can take so long that actionable reports are often out of date.Finally, if you decide to respond in a particular way, you will have a further wait before you can evaluate the outcomes. Visual analytics combines the tools needed to perform all these steps but on a much faster timescale.

 How it works 

Briefly, your information resources can be collected automatically by sensors and cameras or by querying a wide variety of company data resources. Once you have a single point of access, data mining or similar pre-programmed algorithms can rapidly extract and organise it. You will then be able to extract meaningful correlations and aggregate key statistics. At the monitoring end, the salient information is provided in visual forms that human beings can understand at a glance and then respond swiftly. 

Although they are complex, visual analytic systems are extremely flexible. If you can gather digital data on the activities or operations you need to monitor, you can apply visual analytic tools to them. This means it has a role to play in business, security, governance and on industrial production lines. 

With many tools now available in the Cloud, it is within the reach of small to medium sized businesses for the first time. Many visual analytic systems are configurable using simple drag-and-drop interfaces, so although you need to understand your own operational requirements to design them, you don’t need skilled specialist IT teams to operate them for you. 

If you can collect your data in real-time, such as from remote sensors and cameras linked across the IoT, then you can not only respond in real-time, but view the consequences of that response in real-time too. Many analytic suites also enable you to explore the consequences of a policy or production line change before you commit to it, as well as to identify historical trends.

 Ease of use 

Data science and statistical analysis isn’t something that everyone has time to understand, but pointing and clicking with a mouse is now commonplace. Visual analytic interfaces are designed for operational managers, to help them focus on their own areas of expertise and their own specific issues. Business managers and operational technicians can collaborate to devise solutions without needing to refer to IT specialists or external consultants. 

Development is also simple. Sophisticated analytic systems can be built up without ever having to call in a coding team. Your solutions can be built in the Cloud, inside your intranet, or close to critical points in your operational infrastructure. The absence of a steep learning curve means there is a rapid return on investment for the company. 

Digging deeper 

The flexibility of these systems enables, rather than replaces, human insight and experience. There are many areas where you can use these tools, guided only by your own creativity and imagination. In the course of exploring different data views you are very likely to discover answers to questions that you might never have thought to ask. 

Before data analytics, if a report made you aware of a problem but didn’t explain the cause you would have to request more detailed information from front line departments and then wait for a further report. In contrast, visual analytics lets you explore a succession of views until you find the one that answers your question. You can dig deeper, or change the way you examine it with a single click until you find the view that makes the answer clear. As a result, your analyses are more thorough, more penetrating and, critically, up to date. 

Front line decisions 

Analytic resources can be used to create a leaner, more agile enterprise, by making your front-line teams and managers more self-sufficient. Visual systems can reveal exactly where your production line bottlenecks are happening, or to predict where they are going to occur in the future. You can then make prompt adjustments to keep production flowing. 

Access to a visual analytics dashboard can empower every member of your organisation by revealing exactly how their process is performing and whether it is keeping pace with other dependent processes. It can also be used to track management objectives, such as KPIs and other project landmarks.

The last decade has seen huge advances in artificial intelligence, smart devices and video analytics. The next will see a dramatic increase in the devices built from them. In fact, demand will be so high that we need to start thinking about our capacity to deliver them. 

One bottleneck is the networks over which we expect them to connect. As 5G rolls out, 4G is still patchy outside urban areas and the capacity of our networks to carry 5G traffic has been questioned. Its rollout was also somewhat muted by attacks on phone masts by protesters. 

Data centres are also feeling the strain. As more companies, individuals and devices link to Cloud services, data centres have to increase capacity, but noise abatement and heat dissipation make expanding or finding new sites a challenge. 

The irony is that only a few emerging technologies need an explosively growing network; demand seems to be driven by people rather than machines. Follow any link to a 4G or 5G website and you quickly discover the benefit of being able to download a 2hr movie in 10 seconds. A strange boast considering that almost everyone now streams, not downloads, movies (and we can’t help wondering why they need them on the move). 

By comparison, a smart meter reports your gas and electricity usage about six times per day, taking about 3 seconds in total. Smart meters also use data maintaining their network but that only raises their usage to about 1 minute. 

Only a few devices need to transmit more than a few kilobytes of information per hour, nothing comparable to a movie download. Visual feeds from cameras are heavier on bandwidth, but how many hours of CCTV footage of empty buildings do we really need to collect on central servers? 

Cloud versus real-time analytics 

The IoT is a outstanding medium for data gathering and remote control; the Cloud is ideal for data storage and leasing advanced applications, but the most exciting frontier is the development of autonomous systems. When we can store sophisticated algorithms on a chip, smart devices are not only less dependent on human management, but also less dependent on networks. Problems such as communication interruption, bandwidth overload, and response latency begin to disappear. 

The obvious example is the self-driving car. Not only are they heavily dependent on advanced image recognition but must perform it at a blistering speed. If they had to depend on a remote server for their analytics, they could never match the response times of human drivers. There are several other reasons for providing self-driving cars with a connection (traffic information for example) but the visual analytics that enable it to drive have to be local. 

Video feeds are also a heavy load on human observers. CCTV security systems will be more effective when the equipment itself can identify salient events. In fact, the raison d'être for driverless cars is to improve on the situational awareness and sluggish responses of tired human drivers. 

Edge computing 

Cloud (or other network) dependence is the weak link in many IoT deployments, impairing its speed and reliability. The alternative is to distribute the processing workload close to the edge of the network - near the device. This is often called “Edge computing”. 

Rapid situational awareness can often be achieved by incorporating AI or video recognition algorithms onto the device itself, or supplying them in a specialised processing unit in close proximity. This infrastructure can still work in symbiosis with distant resources and control systems, but the bulk of the processing is shifted as close as possible to where it is immediately needed. 

In the next few years, real-time information response capabilities will find a multitude of new niches and transform existing ones. For example, video surveillance has been booming for years (in retailing, transport and security systems), but re-establishing those systems on edge architectures will transform their value by making the intelligence they collect actionable. 

Knowing which bus ran you over might be useful in an inquest, but we would rather be warned that the bus is coming. Or consider the difference between scouring a police officer’s bodycam footage to see who fired at them, with a system that can recognise a gun and issue a warning that saves their life. 

Ideal solutions will often be hybrid. Many systems can learn to recognise faces locally, for example at ATMs and robotic checkouts, yet they can still liaise with central repositories when needed. 

Fully autonomous robots are no longer far-fetched, but in the meantime let Net 4 show you how to future proof your video processing systems.

Covid-19 has presented businesses with challenges they have never had to face before. With restrictions dragging on and future lockdowns probable, everyone should be earnestly seeking ways to operate in lockdown conditions, reassure customers they can deliver safe products, and provide safe environments for their workers. Many will soon discover their markets have changed too. Forever. There has never been a better time to discover how revolutionary technologies can help. 

In essence, the Internet-of-Things can connect virtually anything - from air filters to aeroplanes, from cows to combine harvesters, from printers to petrol tankers - so they can be monitored or operated from anywhere. Improved sensors, new data resources, upgraded software and tumbling costs constantly extend the applications to which it can be put. 

Return to work solutions 

The Internet-of-Things is a technology so vast in potential that few businesses appreciate the myriad things it can do. Getting your workers back to work and keeping your customers safe is just scratching the surface, but a very good place to start. You can quickly equip your offices, workshops, warehouses and retail spaces with a range of Covid-19 monitoring and risk minimisation tools using IoT enabled devices. 

Thermal cameras 

Like those already being deployed in airports, thermal cameras can look for signs of illness in your staff or visitors. They are particularly suitable for deployment at controlled entrances, but employees are also grateful for the opportunity to self-test and monitor their own health indicators on a daily basis. Temporary mobile cameras can also be set up at store entrances, allowing staff to warn arrivals if they show signs of a fever.

 Smart cameras 

Your existing CCTV systems, indoor or out, can be linked to smart image processing software and adapted to identify any feature of interest - such as social distancing. They can also be used to track anyone who has been put at risk. Medical facilities can use a CCTV system to monitor the safety of visitors and patients or ensure that employees abide by safe hygiene practices, including the proper use of PPE. For example, our cameras can quickly learn to recognise not only if proper face masks and PPE are being worn, but even if they are being worn correctly. 

Automating human monitoring eliminates many privacy concerns. As no images actually need to be stored, there are no GDPR issues for anyone to worry about. 

Proximity detectors 

A simple social distancing solution can be implemented by issuing every employee or visitor with a wearable device. When two devices come too close, they issue an unobtrusive but audible vibration. IoT connection allows you to go further, identifying workflow bottlenecks and geographical locations that pose social distancing hazards. Even in the absence of infectious hazards, identifying bottlenecks and congestion in your premises is useful information. 

Air quality 

With a few upgrades, most aircon systems can become an excellent defence against the airborne transmission of bacteria, spores and viruses. This enables you to provide strong reassurance to your staff, to customers and to statutory health and safety authorities. A wide variety of air monitoring and filtration units can be installed, guaranteeing you protection against a whole range of old and new health hazards. With IoT feedback, you can quickly identify any high-risk areas and focus solutions on them if necessary. Smart systems can also make that call for you, scaling up protection when it is needed, and reducing your running costs when it isn't. 

Net4 air quality monitoring and filtration solutions are capable of removing almost all bacteria, viruses and particulates (that often carry them) from your indoor environment. The system can also alert you as to the air quality conditions inside the building in real-time, and provide you with data to evaluate the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of your entire HVAC system. 

Effective interventions, rapid results 

Our rapid back to work solutions are often very simple, but can also be highly sophisticated and effective. In either case, you may need some help to spot your many IoT opportunities. Those opportunities are often huge in scope and can involve multiple contractors delivering a wide range of specialist skills and innovative products. That’s where Net4 comes in. We use our proven partner network to ensure that every one of our customers gets the bespoke solution they need, and we make sure it is up and running as quickly as possible. 

Our back to work solutions don’t require you to down tools while they’re implemented, and our specialised experience will help you future-proof your business. Getting back to work is just the start.