It took 200 years for steam engines to transform the first industrial age. In less than 100 years, electrical power generators, utility grids, telephones and radios put a charge into global communications. After the microprocessor’s emergence, it took just 50 years for chips to begin controlling nearly every machine on the planet. In less than 25 years, the Web has expanded from one to more than a billion sites. And it took less than a decade for smartphones to adorn the palms of nearly 2 billion consumers worldwide, including nearly 167 million in India.
Sensing a pattern yet?
Innovative market disruption is taking place at an exponentially faster pace. With the Internet of Things (IoT), the changes will come faster and will be more disruptive than any technological shift the world has experienced. Despite its seemingly overnight arrival, the IoT isn’t a new concept. Futurists have long predicted a day when every machine on the planet would be able to connect and communicate with one another.
But it’s only been in the last few years, with the rise of sensor-laden devices and mobile connectivity, that the IoT has started to look more like reality than fantasy. Indeed, Gartner predicts 26 billion connected devices by 2020, or nearly three for every person on the planet.
In India, the recently announced IoT policy, aimed at transforming the country into a digital empowered society and knowledge economy, is expected to lead to a massive and rapid IoT expansion. The development of 100 smart cities will have a profound effect on how business is conducted in India and around the world.
Businesses that can mine the unprecedented stream of “big data” for real-time insights will improve their productivity and efficiency and also have an advantage in an increasingly competitive global market. The businesses that thrive will be the ones that can quickly analyze data to create new products and services.
Competitive companies are already recognizing that they can use connected devices and machines to improve operational efficiency across the supply chain, from the factory floor to retail showrooms. GE, for example, is using tens of thousands of tiny sensors to collect data about every step in the manufacturing process at what it calls “Brilliant Factories” in the United States. Indian startup, CarIQ, is using mobile apps and sensors in automobiles to connect drivers with service providers such as garages, insurance companies, marketers and roadside assistance providers.
As a society, we had more than a century to adapt to the last technological revolution and the education system responded by teaching a new literacy required for business, versus agricultural training. Farmland gave way to cities and highways, roads and waterways carried local goods to faraway markets, and communications systems — radios, television, telephones — made connectivity an essential part of work and life.
But in the 21st century, innovation is constantly accelerating, and we don’t have a century to adapt to this next technological revolution. Smart businesses will need to recruit and retain employees who can design, code, build and market new products or services to customers based on real-time data. They will need more employees with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and applied Mathematics (STEM). This means academia must also recognize this reality and revamp course curriculum to churn out graduates with the skills needed for the IoT era.
The IoT, the expansion of global networks, massive data centers, machine learning, and artificial intelligence will help to address some of the most pressing challenges we face as a society, including energy, healthcare, transportation, education and food production. But only if we win the race with technology, to minimize the destructive aspects of creative destruction, and to prepare for the changes ahead.
(About the author: This article has been written by Rajiv Kapur, Managing Director, Broadcom India.)