The Next Big ‘Things’: It’s definitely time to prepare for the Internet of Things

Around this time last year, we considered on this blog how big wearable technology would become in 2015. Let’s acknowledge that the jury’s still out on that one, and that the question had also been asked about 2014, and even 2013. That’s always the problem with technology predictions—we know the platform will shift, but we don’t often know when, and we usually don’t know to what.

But that won’t stop us from stepping it up a notch. So 2016 is coming up—will this be the year of the Internet of Things? And if it is, what effect will it have on the financial services industry?

As a concept, the Internet of Things is even more nebulous than wearable technology. At least that field is specifically tied to the body—there are only so many things we can actually wear (we hope). IoT, by contrast, refers to just about every ‘thing’ out there, and the possibilities are endless.

In the IoT universe, microchips and sensors can be implanted in every tangible object to ensure that it uses information flow to conduct all functions. As a result, all ‘things’ that are now single-purpose, static and standalone can take on new functions, evolve consistently, and become connected to all other ‘things.’

An electric blanket could download the latest report from the National Weather Service, map it to a sleeping individual’s body mass index, and constantly adjust the temperature to ensure maximum comfort levels all night. (It could also take on health-related functions—for seniors and babies, for example—and relay that information to healthcare providers in real time.) A couch could track exactly who is spending how much time sitting on it, and convey that data to the insurance company, which will have algorithms to adjust monthly premiums accordingly. ‘Smart cement’ could monitor the pressure applied to a building or bridge and send out instant alerts, or even shut off access automatically. Bottom line: If the Internet changed a lot, the Internet of Things will change even more.

But what does this have to do with banking?

First, remember that each of those ‘things’ represents an end point for data to pass through. Sure, few of them will actually become devices regularly used to interact with a financial services institution, or even conduct a transaction. But remember, just a few years ago, the idea that a simple phone—previously used for nothing but talking—would become so critical for commerce and even direct banking would have seemed ludicrous. Today, mobile banking is at the core of so much of our outreach. So yes, the IoT will inevitably introduce a raft of new channels for all kinds of banking, each with its own streams of apps and other tools. Whatever we have now will be dwarfed by what’s coming.

Next, security will become even more of a nightmare than it is now. Volume creates vulnerabilities—the explosion in networked access points represents a wealth of opportunities for rampant disorganized crime, let alone sophisticated criminal enterprises with considerable skills and resources at their disposal. Think identity theft is a problem with the number of mobile devices lying around now? Multiply that number many, many times over—just to encompass the scale of devices offering similar levels of access to financial and other types of confidential data—and you get a sense of the dangers ahead.

Of course, those devices will also generate mountains of information for legitimate use. Big Data will get much, much bigger, and those with the skills and resources can mine it for actionable intelligence that guides every business initiative.

And perhaps most importantly, consider the size. Gartner puts the number of IoT-related devices at somewhere around 26 billion in 2020. The market value is appropriately tagged at $15 trillion. If the financial services industry isn’t deeply in this massive transformation, it deserves to go out of business. This isn’t about technology, it’s about fundamental changes in every aspect of consumer and business activity. We have to be driving the process, and picking winners and losers along the way.

Most of the early attention will be on consumer capabilities, but it’s definitely not going to stay that way. At some point, it will be the business possibilities that get the focus, and that’s when the true potential of this dynamic shift will really start to make a difference. That why this is surely only the first of many such pieces in this space.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer scale—here we are, just trying to cope with the flood of mobile apps, and along comes a new discipline that will potentially introduce many new platforms, each with its own applications. But it’s surely coming, and it would be good to be ready. Any thoughts on which particular trends will emerge first?

Written by Jack Dougal