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5 IoT Trends To Watch In 2021
by Daniel Newman | December 2, 2020
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Over the past few years, we have seen the IoT and its boundless potential take off. With a pandemic fueled 2020, digital transformation accelerated rapidly, and with increased connectivity, thanks to 5G and faster WiFi and improvements in AI and machine learning, IoT looks set to deepen its roots in our lives and industries. As we close out 2020 and look ahead to 2021 and beyond, we see not just growth in the IoT, but increased use cases and trends surrounding them. The following is a deeper look at the biggest trends taking shape in the next year.

Umm—Can You Turn Off Your Alexa?

If there’s one thing the success of Alexa, Ring, Nest, and other smart home devices have taught us, it’s that the IoT is nearly everywhere, if it’s not already. Research shows there will be 35 billion smart devices online by 2021, and that number will rise to 75 billion by 2025.

But the increase in devices isn’t the trend worth noting here. Security is the name of the game. The IoT is still maturing, and in some cases, it is far from private or secure. With so many devices, IT managers are struggling to understand how many devices are actually connected to their networks leaving them vulnerable to attacks. Not to mention, when are devices active and collecting data, and when are they not? As we head into the new year, we’ll likely see an increase in the security surrounding smart devices, including AI-driven, automated ability to scan networks for IoT devices. Leaders in the space will be heads down in the coming year seeking to make their technology more private and secure like Amazon, which unleashed a series of new features in its most recent Alexa Live event that enable users to more readily and easily take control of data and privacy settings. Apple also made a massive campaign in recent times around privacy. I expect amongst big tech for this to be a trend as we seek to build consumer confidence around the applications and experience, while data safety and privacy must also be a consideration.

More Use Cases in More Industries

While the IoT reputably got its start in smart homes and smartwatches/fitness apps, we’ll see a lot more to the IoT in the coming year. This is because the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has been a focal point of industry dating back to the programmable logic controller of the late 1960s. Now, we’re seeing industrial shift to “industry” with, for example, an increase in health care apps (a.k.a. the Internet of Medical Things or IoMT) that allow doctors to monitor patients’ well-being remotely and in-home health apps that allow people to check heart rates from home. Other industries are starting to realize that the IoT can help them, too. Soon we’ll see the IoRT (Internet of Retail Things), IoLT (Internet of Logistics Things), and IoWM (Internet of Workforce Management), as big business realizes that the Internet of Things can monitor, for instance, not just where someone is, but where they are, what they like to buy, and (using analytics) what they’re most likely to buy if prompted in the right place at the right time. In other words: the IoT has the ability to mean big money for almost any industry. Stand by for what’s next.

IoT Helping to Build Digital Twins

The IoT isn’t necessarily a digital twin designer. However, given its ability to collect information throughout a product lifecycle, to process that information in real-time, and to optimize it just as quickly, the IoT may be the perfect partner for the development of digital twins, for almost any application. Especially for things like construction, engineering, and architecture, that could mean huge cost and time savings. Siemens is using the IoT and AI to create digital twins to help customers leverage data for product design, production, and innovation. Being another industrial technology giant, Siemens is further reiterating that this trend toward IoT Is where IoT  trends are going, thanks to smart data and analytics processing.

IoT and Data Analytics

In case you haven’t put it together yet, the IoT is no longer just about monitoring behavior and spitting out data. It’s about processing data quickly and making recommendations (or taking actions) based on those findings. In large part, that’s due to the ability for the IoT to partner with AI and ML technologies to make process the vast amounts of data it receives quickly. Take Honeywell’s new Connected Life Safety Services (CLSS), a cloud platform that helps fire technicians to reduce the time needed for design, installation, commissioning, inspection, maintenance, and reporting of life safety systems. It doesn’t just collect info. It synthesizes it to make smart and informed recommendations and decisions. Honeywell seeks to define a category it calls enterprise performance management (EPM) built on the data and analytics that can be collected and synthesized from an organization’s environment, which was cemented through a recent partnership with Microsoft—another trend that I believe is gaining momentum.

Improving Data Processing at the Edge

In addition to just overall improved data analytics, we see more IoT data processing at the edge. Companies need to make decisions based on IoT data faster than ever before to realize the full value of the devices on the network. With the confluence of 5G networks, an increase in IoT and IIoT devices, and a dramatic increase in the amount of data we are collecting, I don’t see this trend going anywhere but up. Companies like Intel are driving digital transformation through 5G network build-out, and edge computing and IoT plays a big part in that. AWS and NXP just announced another example of this with its new smart vehicle partnership that utilizes NXP’s smart vehicle controller and AWS’s edge and cloud services.

The growth of 5G, cloud computing, and faster and wider WiFi access is only going to continue to feed the growth of the IoT, while the pandemic—which will likely continue throughout the entire 2021—will continue to force the need for remote work and data access. Honestly, these are just a few of the biggest IoT trends in development, but there are so many more likely to emerge as the year continues to unfold—from voting to collecting unemployment. It’s finally an exciting time for the IoT—and I cannot wait to see what 2021 has in store.

Futurum Research provides industry research and analysis. These columns are for educational purposes only and should not be considered in any way investment advice.

The original version of this article was first published on Forbes.

Daniel Newman