Unlike big data, IoT may live up to the hype

While its 'savior of the global economy' status may be overblown, IoT is further along at this point in its lifecycle than big data ever was

Unlike big data, IoT may live up to the hype
Credit: Thinkstock

Big data has long promised more than it delivers, at least for most enterprises. While a shift to cloud pledges to help, big data deployments are still more discussed than realized, with Gartner insisting that only 14 percent of enterprises have gotten Hadoop off the ground.

Will the other darling of the chattering class, IoT (internet of things), meet the same fate? In fact, IoT might deliver, according to new data from Talend compiled in conjunction with O'Reilly. Dubbing 2016 "the year IoT 'grew up,'" the report declares 2017 the year that "IoT starts to become essential to modern business."

How and where IoT gets real, however, may surprise you.

The new hyped kid on the block

IoT has been proclaimed the $11 trillion savior of the global economy, which has translated into IoT becoming even bigger than big data, at least in terms of general interest. This Google Trends chart shows IoT surpassing big data in search instances around the middle of last year:

iot trend Google Trends

If we get more specific on "big data" and instead use Apache Hadoop, Apache Spark, or MongoDB, all hugely popular big data technologies, the crossover is even more pronounced. IoT has arrived (without its security intact, but why quibble?). Indeed, as the Talend report avers, "[W]hile the buzz around big data is louder, the actual adoption of big data in industry isn't much larger than the adoption of IoT."

That's right: IoT is newer, yet sees nearly as much adoption as big data. In fact, IoT, as the source for incredible amounts of data, could actually be what makes big data real. The question is where.

Betting on boring

The answer to that question, according to the Talend report, which trawled through more than 300TB of live data to glean its insights, is not where the analysts keep insisting:

We found that IoT spending today is for use cases that are much different than those predicted by McKinsey, Gartner, and others. For example, the greatest value/consumer surplus predicted by McKinsey was in factories around predictive maintenance and inventory management, followed by healthcare and smart city–related use cases like public safety and monitoring. While these use cases may be the top producers of surplus in 2025, we do not see much spend on those use cases today. In contrast, home energy and security is low on the McKinsey list, but that's where the market is today, in addition to defense and retail.

It's not that the analysts are wrong when they pick out details like industrial automation as incredibly ripe for IoT disruption, so long as we don't assume "ripe" means "developed to the point of readiness for harvesting or eating." Given the complexity of introducing significant changes into something like factory automation, such industries most definitely are not "ripe" for IoT. The potential is huge, but so are the pitfalls holding back change.

Home energy and security, by contrast, are relatively straightforward. Or, as the report continues, areas like health care are in desperate need of disruption, but the likes of online patient monitoring "seems 100 times more complex than simple home monitoring or personalized displays for in-store customers."

Hence, home energy (9 percent) and security (25 percent) accounts for the biggest chunk of IoT deployments in 2016, with defense (14 percent) and retail (11 percent) also significant. Health care? A mere 4 percent.

Given that regulation and complexity are inimical to real-world IoT adoption, it's perhaps not surprising that unlike big data, which is mostly a big company phenomenon, IoT shows "more continuous adoption ... across large and small companies." As such, IoT deployments are more evenly spread across geographies, rather than following big data's concentration on the coasts.

In sum, IoT could well end up being a truly democratizing trend, a "bottom-up" approach to innovation.