The Internet of Things (IoT) describes physical objects embedded with sensors and actuators that communicate with computing systems via wired or wireless networks—allowing the physical world to be digitally monitored or even controlled.
Does your house have a smart thermostat? Or do you wear a fitness tracker to help you stay physically active? If you do, you are part of the Internet of Things, or IoT. It’s become embedded in our lives, as well as in the way organizations operate.
IoT uses a variety of technologies to connect the digital and physical worlds. Physical objects are embedded with sensors—which can monitor things like temperature or motion, or really any change in environment—and actuators—which receive signals from sensors and then do something in response to those changes. The sensors and actuators communicate via wired (for example, Ethernet) or wireless (for example, WiFi, cellular) networks with computing systems that can monitor or manage the health and actions of connected objects and machines.
The physical objects being monitored don’t have to be manufactured—they can include objects in nature, as well as people and animals. While some organizations might view IoT more expansively, our definition excludes systems in which all the embedded sensors are used just to receive intentional human input, such as smartphone apps, which receive data input primarily through a touchscreen, or other networked computer software, in which the sensors consist of a standard keyboard and mouse.
The constant connectivity that IoT enables, combined with data and analytics, provides new opportunities for companies to innovate products and services, as well as to increase the efficiency of operations. Indeed, IoT has emerged as one of the most significant trends in the digital transformation of business and the economy since the 2010s.