Gartner has set out its predictions for growth in the use of connected "things" - network or internet-enabled devices - over the next six years. The analysts forecast there will be almost five billion things connected by the end of next year and 25 billion - or three for every person on the planet - by the end of 2020.
While just about everybody is predicting that the rise of initiatives like the Internet of Things (IoT) and the explosion in the use of wireless devices at work and in the home is creating a step-change in the use of technology, there is not much agreement on just how big or sustained these changes will be. Last year Cisco, which should have as good a handle on this kind of data as anybody, predicted that twice as many devices, about 50 billion, should be connected by the end of 2020.
Gartner vice-president Jim Tully reckons the digital shift has been instigated by a "nexus of forces." The nexus is made up of the cloud, mobile, social and information apps and boosted by the IoT. This "threatens many existing businesses...[leaving them with] no choice but to pursue as they've done with the consumerisation of IT,” said Tully.
He believes this sudden expansion will "boost the economic impact of the IoT as consumers, businesses, city authorities, hospitals and many other entities find new ways in which to exploit the technology".
Gartner estimates the IoT will support total services spending of $69.5 billion in 2015 and $263 billion by 2020.
Innovation will incorporate many ordinary objects
Not surprisingly, while consumer applications will drive the number of connected things, enterprise will account for most of the revenue. Gartner estimates that 2.9 billion connected things will be in use in the consumer sector in 2015 growing to some 13 billion in 2020.
Gartner acknowledges that connected things, such as automated teller machines and airline check-in machines, already exist but it says that new ones, including "many ordinary objects," are also "being reinvented with digital sensing, computing and communications capabilities". This functionality provides both new and previously passive objects with a "digital voice", the analysts say.
“However, CIOs must understand that the most disruptive impact and competitive threats - and, equally, the greatest competitive opportunities - arise not from simply digitalising a product or service, but from creating a new business model and value proposition,” said Gartner vice-president Steve Prentice.
“Organisations must straddle the tension of all the information available from smart things by balancing their desire to collect and analyse it with the risk of its loss or misuse,” he added.
According to Gartner, bosses now face a decision over "the future of security in their enterprise and who governs, manages and operates it". Gartner said that by the end of 2017, over 20 per cent of organisations will have digital security services "devoted to protecting business initiatives using devices and services in IoT".