Emma Mahy, the CEO and co-founder of IoT Solutions Group
The Internet of Things [IoT] has already made tremendous strides in shaping the future of many industries by generating an unprecedented amount of data to improve processes, and has revolutionised the ways in which we live easier, more comfortable lives on an almost minute-by-minute basis.
The market size stood at $250.72 billion in 2019, according to Fortune Business Insights, and given that the adoption of IoT-enabled technology is growing all the time, could skyrocket to as much as $1,463.19 billion by 2027.
Recent European investments in IoT stand as testament to its future importance. For example, through the European research and innovation programme Horizon 2020, the EU has invested approximately €500 million in IoT-related research and deployment.
Though the technology is set to play an increasingly prominent role in everyday life – not just in domestic settings but also in industry – it is clear that the majority of people still do not fully understand what IoT is, or what the possible applications there are for it.
This poses the question: are we doing enough as a society to educate people about IoT and encourage them to discover what benefits it could bring to their lives?
Current state of IoT awareness
A 2019 report by IoT technology company Metova, who surveyed more than 1,000 consumers to determine the public’s current behaviour and awareness when it comes to IoT, found that 75% of people owned an IoT device. Remarkably though, less than one in four said that they fully understood what was actually meant by the term.
This statistic is certainly alarming, not simply because IoT-powered devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo have become common household accessories in recent years, but also given the huge changes that IoT is bringing to a wide range of sectors.
For example, outsourcing and professional services company Capita found that 70% of businesses said that IoT was relevant to them, but more than three quarters of them had an IoT skills gap in their workforce and were therefore unable to capitalise on the technology fully.
As IoT processes are implemented into a greater number of industries, organisations will become increasingly reliant on having workers who can help them to collect data and utilise the tech to its fullest potential.
This means more must be done now to plug the skills gap and teach people why understanding what IoT is and how it can be used, will be vital to the world of work in years to come.
IoT education in early life
One of the ways that the IoT skills gap can begin to be plugged is through educating people about IoT from an early age – particularly in schools.
Though IT subjects now play a more prominent role in the national curriculum, IoT is still not a key part of children’s learning, despite the clear skills shortage within sectors that are already exploring the technology. Also, the majority of IT infrastructure in schools was designed for a less connected age and therefore needs to be overhauled to ensure students can maximise their learning opportunities.
This has been borne out in the most recent Education and Training Monitor published by the European Commission, which notes that 15 per cent of EU pupils do not possess adequate digital skills. The teachers themselves have highlighted their own need for professional development to meet the appropriate level of ICT proficiency for their work – much less those required to educate pupils on IoT topics.
If organisations are to truly make a success of using IoT to boost profitability and efficiency, education leaders must take action now to improve teaching around the subject and encourage more young people to engage with the tech from an early age so that they are better equipped to meet the level of demand for IoT skills once they reach employment age.
The lack of awareness about IoT is not solely down to the quality of education, however; for many, IoT technology is still simply not affordable enough.
Many IoT devices used both in domestic and business settings can be costly and therefore can deter individuals and organisations alike from investing in them.
If certain IoT companies expect to justify the premium price tags they place on their products, they need to provide potential investors with clear proof that the technology works and will add value in the long term.
For organisations in particular, they will want to know that what they are investing in will not only complement existing processes but also bring working costs down, leading to a higher level of profitability overall.
People should be aware, however, that they do not necessarily need to spend excessively on IoT; there are affordable solutions on the market today, though it is fair to say that much more should be done to make IoT more affordable for a greater amount of individuals and organisations.
Real change is needed
Though IoT was already a fast-growing market prior to COVID-19, it is true that the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation and adoption of IoT-powered technologies – meaning IoT will become even more prevalent at a swifter rate than would have been otherwise.
This means that people need to better understand how to harness IoT, not only to benefit their everyday lives but also to improve their career prospects in a growingly digital world. Opportunities are growing more and more prevalent, with initiatives like the EU’s Next Generation IoT community continuing to fund IoT projects.
Organisations must have those on board who can help them to unlock the true potential of IoT, so education needs to be stronger and start from an early age, and the technology needs to be more affordable so that more people can have access to it and the advantages it brings.
At present, we are simply not doing enough to educate people about IoT, so now is the right time to start looking towards a future driven by IoT by preparing the tech smart workforce of tomorrow.