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Everyone is a Winner with IoT

The eye of the Sea is one thing and the foam another. Let the foam go, and gaze with the eye of the Sea. Day and night foam-flecks are flung from the sea: oh amazing! You behold the foam but not the Sea. We are like boats dashing together; our eyes are darkened, yet we are in clear water.
-- Rumi

I am fairly certain that nearly everyone knows the story about the six blind men coming upon an elephant. Depending on each man's vantage point, the elephant was a rope, a wall, a pillar, a fan, the branch of a tree, or a solid pipe. Eventually, they learned to cooperate and combine their impressions to finally "see" the elephant as a whole.

Internet of Things (IoT) is a lot like that elephant. The owner of a Fitbit might see it as technology to get the wearer off the couch. The homeowner who installed a Nest thermostat might think IoT is a way to lower his or her utility bills. To an athlete wearing a Polo Tech Shirt, IoT is the path towards a leaner, meaner body. Clearly, they are like those blind men whose impressions of IoT has been defined by their personal, and perhaps myopic, experiences.

At my company, Arrow Systems Integration, we were curious as to what our employees had to say about IoT and rather than simply asking, we held a contest. Employees were asked to submit their best ideas for IoT applications that could be used by consumers, businesses, or both. The best idea would win an Apple Watch -- along with the respect and admiration of their coworkers, of course.

I was asked to be one of the judges and had the pleasure of reading through scores of fun and inventive ideas. While some folks leaned more towards comedy (an IoT sensor that monitored their beer supply, and when the pantry was near bare, asked Uber to deliver more), there were lots of interesting, and better yet, workable ideas. I read about IoT devices applicable to consumers, businesses, utility companies, and healthcare providers, and a half dozen other industries.

Here are some short blurbs from a few of my favorite entries describing the IoT-related ideas:

Most companies struggle with how to manage their many conference rooms. Underused rooms, overused rooms, and a lack of adherence to corporate reservation guidelines are all problems.

This person's idea is to create a sensor that monitors activity in vacant rooms. An application on a mobile device would then indicate which rooms are available for impromptu meetings. The application could also list the assets of the room such as telephones, video conferencing equipment, overhead projector, white board, or even a Microsoft Surface Hub. IoT sensors would advertise that a room was in use when any of the room's assets were engaged -- e.g. conference telephone was in use. Subsequently, the room would be marked as available when those assets were no longer in use.

This IoT idea involves delivering better care for patients with diabetes. Diabetics currently use blood glucose meters to monitor their blood sugar levels. The new IoT-enabled meter would not only gather and log readings, but it would also alert the appropriate caregivers (doctor, nurse, nutritionist, family members, etc.) via voice, SMS text, and/or email if blood sugar levels are too high or too low. This not only informs the right parties when there is an impending medical emergency, but it also provides the patient with better control over his or her sugar level. This leads to healthier lives and fewer catastrophic blood sugar levels.

This idea concerns natural gas utilities and their pipeline emissions tracking systems. Gas leaks are not only costly for utilities, but methane is a huge component of greenhouse gas emissions. New and existing pipelines would be installed with IoT sensors that detect and immediately alert operators about leaks.

This IoT idea is geared toward homeowners and household appliances. Smart refrigerators, furnaces, oil burners, thermostats, etc. would detect anomalies and automatically notify consumers before problems turned into disasters. Not only would these IoT-enabled devices save money and prevent serious property damage, but they could be used to significantly reduce insurance claims. In fact, I can envision a day when insurance companies issue discounts to customers that buy these new smart devices.

Any enterprise that uses service cars and trucks is aware of the problems that arise from running, maintaining, and tracking those vehicles. Equipping those vehicles with IoT devices could provide the following features:

Even though I only documented a small number of the contest entries above, I hope you are starting to see that IoT is not unlike the elephant. In fact, the malleability and flexibility of IoT are exactly why it is so important. This is technology that can be molded to fit the needs of businesses, consumers, service providers, municipalities, school districts, etc. It's not a solution looking for a problem; the problems are flocking to IoT faster than solutions can be rolled out.

As for the contest, it was really hard to come up with a single best solution, so the judges and I chose two. While I admit to leaning heavily towards the Uber-delivered beer, that might have sent the wrong message to my fellow coworkers. Instead, Apple watches were awarded for the IoT-enabled conference room and the IoT vehicles. Congratulations to the winners and to all of us for living in such exciting times.

Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.

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