What Has The Internet Of Things Got To Do With UC?
Is IoT about to transform the communications market forever, or would UC be better off focusing on what it does best?
When it comes down to it, predicting future trends in industry is very much a matter of opinion. Different people gaze into the tech crystal ball and draw very different conclusions from what they see.
So it is for the Internet of Things (IoT). For many, the networking of everyday devices, appliances and machinery into smart data sharing networks is the next great revolution in digital technology, set to sweep all before it, including UC.
Others in the UC industry, however, fail to see what all the fuss is about. UC is, first and foremost, about people to people communications through the medium of technology. Leave machines talking to machines to those with an interest in automating systems, and the Big Data analysts striving to eek out productivity and efficiency gains from mountains of digital data.
So it was that No Jitter ran an article earlier this month questioning whether all of the hype about IoT in the UC industry was not just people latching onto another marketing buzzword. By contrast, almost 12 months to the day previously, No Jitter ran an article arguing that there was real value in drawing the concepts of IoT and Unified Communications together.
Of course, there is no definitive right and wrong here. As things stand, the IoT has yet to really take off in a meaningful way, so all the talk is about potential and maybes. In terms of future planning and responding to the market, what telecoms companies need to think about is whether IoT should remain on their radar.
You can see why some are sceptical about its relevance. As mentioned above, IoT involves a different order of communication to UC. Most of its applications are industrial, such as sensors tracking and controlling machine run processes, plugging medical equipment into healthcare databases, integrating security and surveillance networks and creating smart systems for managing utilities provision like energy. Is there a role for integrated voice, video, text and collaboration platforms in all of that?
On the other hand, there are points of convergence UC developers and vendors should be aware of. If IoT was only a matter of machine to machine data sharing, then there probably wouldn’t be much relevance to UC at all. But it also involves machine to person communication, and that raises the question of whether or not there are scenarios where person to person communication could not also be aligned.
Consider one of the more common early uses of IoT technology, the use of smart energy saving devices in the home. We are already familiar with the concept of controlling heating and lighting systems from an app on a mobile phone, which is a good example of how IoT and mobile technology will converge in machine to person communication.
Now what if a smart heating system reports a fault to the homeowner, or indicates that usage habits had changed and the current tariff might not be the best value? Is there not a role here for a comms platform which automatically connects the homeowner to their energy supplier, allowing them to report the fault or enquire about a new tariff from within the same smart device app?
You can come up with countless similar examples, from how emergency services and security personnel could be helped coordinating responses to an alert, to how production data could be shared between workers in a processing plant. Anywhere IoT is used to make data available for people to use, you can make a case for integrating it with UC platforms to support the efficient and flexible sharing of information, and collaborating on what to do with it.
The concern that the IoT buzz could prove to be a distraction for UC vendors, who could have their heads turned away from their core business to their detriment, is valid. However, there is nothing wrong with the principle of breaking into new markets, as long as you have the skills and the business strategy to make it work. With the right expertise in real time communication software and wireless networking technologies, there is no reason why some UC companies can not branch out into IoT successfully.
But more importantly, we shouldn’t get drawn into the assumption that IoT has nothing to do with person to person communication. There are many theoretical scenarios where IoT and UC could converge within the same applications to create a holistic end to end communications system linking machines and people. We do not know for sure how these will pan out just yet, as the technology has not fully taken off. But these represent opportunities that deserve to be kept on the UC industry’s radar.