There are a lot of marketing buzzwords surrounding the Internet of Things (IoT) these days. Enough to dilute the true purpose of the IoT and cause disillusionment for people curious about its real advantages. Many of the endless streams of articles, conferences, and journals focused on the IoT are actually useful and enlightening—but the quality of IoT content as a whole has been impaired by companies stuffing IoT-related buzzwords into every possible phrase to try to increase their search engine ranking.
Wouldn't you like to see more substance behind all that IoT marketing fluff? Wouldn't you like to know why IoT is truly different, effective, and revolutionary? Wouldn't it be great if every IoT article came with a jargon decoder that told you if the IoT in reference was related to IoT concepts in general, or consumer products, or the manufacturing industry, or smart cities, or home automation, or artificial intelligence, and so on?
Well, I wish I could do all that for you in a few paragraphs on this blog post, but I can't. What I can do is give you the three tips that work for me when I’m trying to cut through the hype.
Tip #1: Try It Yourself
One of the best ways to understand the real advantages of the IoT is to try your hand at a personal or professional project that would actually benefit from IoT concepts and applications. I’ve led hundreds of training classes in my career, and I have seen first-hand that personal interest is the best way to truly engage in any new topic.
For example, at my house I've experimented with hooking up my Raspberry Pi to cameras for a DIY security system and installing smart switches and lights to connect to my phone. In the professional world, I've done demos overlaying augmented reality on PLCs, using my tablet to alert me when a PLC has an issue.
The more you actually delve into the world of IoT, the more it comes to life and the huge potential benefits (and pitfalls) of this new wave of technology come into focus. Your project doesn't have to be fancy, expensive, or complicated—it just has to keep your interest. And who knows, maybe that pet project will turn into something bigger and more fruitful than you ever expected!
Tip #2: Stay Up-to-Date, but Stay Skeptical
As so many IoT articles will tell you: “The IoT is here to stay.” There’s really no way to avoid this buzzword-filled content and still stay up-to-date on modern manufacturing technology. You need to follow IoT news so you don’t fall behind your peers and industry leaders—but a healthy dose of skepticism will help you avoid IoT fatigue.
Look at all IoT content with a critical eye. I usually first skim the article (or blog post, or what have you) and identify the main IoT concept at play. Then, I ask myself if it applies to anything I am currently working on or interested in. I look at the author and evaluate how credible they are as a source: Are they the editor of a prominent publication? a marketing employee for a vendor? a blogger just looking for keywords? I also ask myself what the author, organization, or company has to gain from publishing the content: Are they looking for product sales? thought leadership? industry recognition? promotional value? nothing?
This strategy helps me keep IoT "news" in perspective. If at first pass the content is clearly marketing jargon or a glorified product ad, I skip it. I also check the references first—if a piece of content has excellent references, such as published journal papers and studies, I dive in.
Pro tip: The content authors I trust the most are aiming for thought leadership and have some credibility to their name.
Tip #3: Define the IoT in Your Terms
Dig into how the IoT is different than what has come before, and try defining it in your own terms to someone. Just having someone like me define the concepts of the IoT isn't going to do the trick; it is much more effective if you can define the IoT in a way that resonates with you, personally. Through your own projects and research (such as a pet project described in Tip #1), the ideas of the IoT will start to crystallize and have true meaning. And explaining the IoT to someone else will really affirm this understanding.
As a Kepware product trainer, I have the advantage of being able to test my own explanations of the IoT and define how it is meaningful to others on a regular basis. However, if you aren't in this position, you can still easily find people who may have a shared interest in these concepts. Whether it is chatting with a coworker about using Cloud services to connect all the office's digital assets or discussing the pros and cons of the newest smart thermostat with a partner, or any number of IoT-related discussions in-between.
Putting These Tips into Practice
Customers regularly tell me they have been “doing IoT for years." They’re inundated by IoT content and think it’s the same tech they’ve seen before—just a new buzzword for the same data acquisition solutions that manufacturing professionals have created in-house for decades.
But the key aspects of true IoT—such as remote connectivity, enhanced data visibility, and integration of disparate technology—can truly bring benefits like none you've experienced before. I’ve seen it happen with countless Kepware customers who didn’t believe the hype—until they experienced the IoT themselves.
That’s why “Tip #1:Try it Yourself” is so important. In creating your IoT pet project, you will make “Tip #2: Stay Up-to-Date, but Stay Skeptical” easier, too—you’ll be able to better understand what to look for in a quick skim of IoT content because you are a budding IoT expert yourself. You’ll also have enhanced clarity of what true IoT looks like—leading to “Tip #3: Define the IoT in Your Terms.”
One way to get started on an IoT pet project is to download a free version of the ThingWorx® Manufacturing Apps. These apps were designed by IoT experts to kick-start industrial IoT initiatives (and pet projects). They’re free to try and work seamlessly with any OPC server (including KEPServerEX®). Download the ThingWorx Manufacturing Apps free version to learn more about the apps and how they might give you a better sense of what the IoT means to you in the real world—and how you can make those buzzwords work for you.