Connecting a lightbulb to the internet seems overly cumbersome and complicated, not to mention, super geeky. Why go through all that work when you can just walk over to the wall and flip the light switch on? Many people don’t want to fumble with their smart phone just to find their way to the bathroom. The truth is that the hassle may not be worth it for most people. But what if you wanted to do more than physically flip that light switch yourself?
I'm sure you’ve heard of the internet of things, also known as IoT for short. If not, here is a brief overview of the basic idea. You take a sensor, device, or appliance, and provide it with a connection to the internet so that it can be accessed over the network. Self-explanatory, right? While that is the technical definition, IoT has become a drop-in term that means so much more. That "more" usually refers to the data associated with having a device connected to the internet. You see, when a device is connected to the internet, you can then monitor, log, and adjust most every function it was manufactured to perform.
Here’s a hypothetical scenario to illustrate the point. Let’s say you’re a business owner and get an electric bill that is double the previous month. With your IoT connected lights, you can open your web browser and see from the log that your lights were on 20% more than they were the previous month. By accessing the log from the previous year, you can see that a similar spike occurred during the same month last year as well. These spikes moved you into a higher tier of energy usage, translating into a significant bump in the electricity bill. From the same logs, you realize that it is only the lighting in the stock room that are accounting for these usage increases—these are the older incandescent bulbs you’ve been reluctant to replace due to retrofit costs. Upon further investigation, you notice that these increases just happen to coincide with your yearly prep for the biggest sale of the year. With this data that you’ve collected from the logs, you are now able to make an informed decision whether to spread the inventory work over two months so as not to move into that higher tier of energy consumption, or to move forward with that long-needed lighting retrofit. This type of historical data allows you to estimate the cost savings and calculate the breakeven point to ensure you make the right choice for your investment.
In the above example, having both the electricity and light usage data was crucial to comparing the usage with the cost. And with IoT, there are many equipment functions within a building that can be interconnected to increase efficiency and reduce expenses. Air conditioners can be linked with a sensor that counts how many people are in the store, a motion sensor can be installed that triggers both lighting and air conditioning, or an alarm system that not only reports when it is armed or disarmed, but can be programmed to turn off everything that’s not being used. The options and possibilities are overwhelmingly endless, and we’re just talking one building.
If you manage multiple buildings, the sheer number of IoT devices can be cumbersome and difficult to track without sophisticated software, or the expertise to make sense of it all. A misconfigured filter could send an alert every time a door is opened, or when the temperature changes a degree. In most cases, it’s not the actual data that is valuable—it’s the interpretation of that data. With great power comes great complexity. Those without the crucial knowledge and skill to manage these connections and decipher the data, can soon lose focus of the big picture, seeing only the glaring problem that the software pops up in the form of an alert.
While connecting a light to the internet might seem pointless to some, real value can be attained with the proper systems in place.
Wesley Faulkner is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Facility Solutions Group (FSG). With over 18 years of experience in product marketing, product management, strategic planning and software/hardware implementation, Wesley’s ability to communicate advanced concepts to general audiences, stakeholders, and engineers has made him a much sought after technical leader. Wesley currently sits on the Advisory Board of SXSW Interactive and is a founding member of Open Austin, a group advocating government data transparency.