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Trends in IoT: The 2021 landscape and beyond

By: Mark Budd, Head of Innovation, Zurich Insurance

The ubiquity of consumer IoT devices like Alexa and Nest demonstrates clearly that the IoT trend is only moving in one direction. And greater connectivity thanks to faster WIFI and greater 5G coverage go hand in hand with AI and machine learning in allowing IoT to set down roots and grow in the commercial space too.

New commercial building projects seem like a good place to start when looking at the future adoption of IoT. The application of smart infrastructure at the very start of construction planning is given - and ensuring that there will be no need for further digital transformation in the buildings' short-term future is of paramount importance to those commissioning such ‘smart’ projects. Indeed, industrial uses of IoT technology will overtake consumer ones in the next decade. In smart corporate buildings, for example, IoT can facilitate individual and dedicated temperature control (an individual wants the air con on, and their colleague six feet away has other ideas!) and locate unoccupied desks (especially pertinent to strict in-office pandemic guidelines). Likewise, those that manage buildings will be able to exploit the boundless potential of IoT by measuring a plethora of energy usage metrics. In many industries, building maintenance represents the second-highest cost to businesses after employee salaries so measuring desk occupancy can save money but will also ensure that employees get the most out of their time at a desk or in a meeting room. Further afield, industrial uses of IoT technology could have other uses -  churches can ensure only the parts of their buildings that are being used are heated and hospitals can track bed usage and keep tabs on the important itinerary, like half-used oxygen tanks, to ensure wastage is kept to a minimum. 

Looking to the insurance industry, physical and ‘wearable’ IoT devices are fast becoming outdated. In the past, many motor insurers offered money off premiums to drivers willing to install a physical black box in their car – on the lookout for excessive speed, unreasonable acceleration, aggressive cornering, and overzealous braking – to be analysed with the aim of encouraging better driver behaviour. However, today, such retrofitted physical hardware is unnecessary. Modern production cars are so heavily integrated with IoT technology, that they can monitor all of this information seamlessly.

"Industrial uses of IoT technology will overtake consumer ones in the next decade"

Any discussion on the future of IoT must address the thorny issue of data security. The IoT landscape is still maturing, and in some cases, it is far from adequately protected or private. In 2021, we'll likely see an increase in the security surrounding smart IoT devices. Tech giants Google and Apple have both embarked on well-meaning and necessary campaigns aimed at acknowledging the need for greater protection and privacy. They recognise that the production of these great reservoirs of IoT data comes with a responsibility: where does the data go and who ultimately takes ownership? The broadmindedness of those producing the data, you and I, has a definite limit. Therefore, so as not to engender a widespread data-privacy backlash, the future will undoubtedly see tools that allow individuals to sell tranches of their data, or more likely, offer the ability to apply a discount to a particular good or service.

The universal connectivity facilitated by IoT is undoubtedly lowering the barriers to entry by enabling every type of organisation across the globe to adopt connected solutions. Individual IoT applications have led to more commercial/industrial applications in office buildings and we’re already seeing further steps emerge to take the trend beyond that. Entire smart cities that knit physical infrastructure together with digital technologies will make those that live in the lead more efficient and content lives.

The physical technology is now universally available, as is the willingness to adopt IoT so only time will tell how long it will be before it is so seamlessly integrated into our lives that we no longer have any use for the description IoT – it will just be part of our day-to-day.

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