While attending Cisco’s Cisco Live event recently, the keynote theme (and indeed a focus message of Cisco’s recent rebrand) ‘The Internet of Everything’ got me thinking about the actual connectedness we’re increasingly experiencing.
For background, there’s been a discussion around the idea of ‘The Internet of Things’ for probably longer than people think – the concept is based on the fact that it’s not only computers that are connected in internet-like systems. The number of addressable (‘connected’) devices in the world is growing at a great enough rate that it’s almost pointless to include an estimate – it’ll have changed by the time you read this. Certainly there are billions, ranging from the obvious – computers and phones – to the growing number of ‘smart’ devices like TVs and beyond into areas like internet-connected cars, and sensors in transport networks that report current conditions to central management hubs. In this context, the idea that there’s an internet of ‘stuff’ that isn’t just computers begins to take shape.
What Cisco are doing with their Internet of Everything idea, if taken literally, still feels a way off, even with this perspective. They note themselves that 99% of all the things in the world aren’t connected. But it’s definitely getting closer, and the specific way they’re actually pitching it as the connection of ‘people, process, data and things’ makes it more within reach. It’s more about the ability to make those connections than it is about the physical reality of a network actually containing everything. I can certainly understand and potentially convey that idea more easily.
Of course, from Cisco’s point of view it’s also a sales position, because their networking products can make it happen. But that aside, it’s clearly actually happening anyway. I think about how much more connected I, my family and my home are today than we were even a year ago. Not just because of the devices we own, but the way we use them, and the benefits we derive from them. And even though we’re a pretty geeky household, we’re by no means fully covered, so we can get even better.
The increasingly key part of Cisco’s definition of ‘everything’ is the ‘data’ component. We’re all familiar with the idea that the amount of data being produced is increasing exponentially, and that we’re all at least partly responsible – every Word document; every Tweet; every bank transaction; this blog post; it all contributes. The challenge is making more of it useful than just noise, and also being aware of how the data around and about us can be and is used by others – because if everything is connected, you can be sure it will be.
The Internet of Everything is a bold idea, but it’s not so bold that it feels impossible. We’re already well on the road, but most people don’t realise it. Which is possibly the biggest flaw in this grand concept. If it’s ‘of Everything’ then as Cisco noted it includes people. We have to understand and accept that we and our data are part of this new interconnected world. Most people aren’t even really aware of the idea of The Internet of Things. Conveying the idea that there’s an Internet of Everything, and we’re part of it, is a whole other challenge.