Preparing for a new internet with technology's rapid pace of change

In the technology world, the pace of change is startlingly fast, says Bob Savage, vice president and managing director of Dell EMC Centres of Excellence EMEA.

Photo credit: The first Dell EMC VEX Robotics tournament of the 2016/17 season, held at the Bishopstown GAA Club and hosted by Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh. Some 130 secondary school pupils from 13 schools in Cork, Limerick and Waterford took part. The the national finals in Cork see students compete with their self-built robots completing a number of challenging tasks. The Dell EMC VEX Robotics initiative promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning. Picture: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

“Only a decade ago, mobile internet was a novelty and mostly impractical; now, sites like Facebook report that 90% of its one billion daily active users access the site from a mobile device. In 2006, broadband penetration in Ireland was just over 8%; in 2016, that figure was more than 83%, and that’s excluding mobile networks capable of similar speeds.”

New advancements in hardware and internet connectivity are fast-tracking what some call the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’.

“Previously ‘analogue’ objects — everyday items that we never considered would or ever needed to go online — like kitchen appliances, machines, vehicles and even clothes, are connecting to the internet en masse, creating virtual tons of useful information.

“This so-called ‘Internet of Things’, or ‘Internet of Everything’, is a rapidly accelerating expansion of the internet on an unprecedented scale and has serious significance for businesses and households across the world,” said Mr Savage.

The Internet of Things is already making its way into our homes.

“The Google Home — an internet-connected ‘smart remote’ — connects to your other smart devices, allowing you to adjust your thermostat, control your lights and order a taxi from the comfort of your living room sofa using only your voice. Samsung’s Family Hub, a ‘smart fridge’ with a wi-fi enabled touch-screen, connects to the internet and can automatically order food, suggest recipes and notify you of your groceries’ expiry dates before you head home,” he explains.

For industry, the Internet of Things opens up vast new frontiers of business intelligence, increased efficiency, productivity and globally competitive costs.

“Consider the opportunities for Ireland’s agrifood sector. Internet-connected sensors on farm machinery and Wi-Fi tags on livestock can collect useful data, meaning more efficient use of land, water, feed, fuel and other resources. Data analysis is also helping farmers to more accurately forecast the weather, measure soil conditions and protect against disease. As the planet’s appetite grows, food production, and many other industries, will depend on the precision of data-driven predictions and insight.”

In Ireland, at sites in Dublin, Cork and Limerick, Dell EMC works closely with a number of businesses and organisations developing the next generation of IoT products and services.

“One of the most interesting — and important—is ‘Bluelight’, a system that allows hospitals to track their ambulances and paramedics with sensors, plan their routes in advance, and monitor patients’ conditions en route so doctors are prepared for their arrival.

“This is just one advancement that will have radical positive effects on essential, life-saving infrastructure. Every industry, every service and every process can be transformed in this way, and they will be in the years ahead.”

As more people and businesses connect to the internet using more devices, and more objects connect to the internet for the first time, the size of the internet will grow exponentially, he explains.

“In 2006, there were two billion internet-enabled devices on Earth. Our ‘digital footprint’ that year, the amount of digital data generated globally, was 161 ‘exabytes’, almost 172 billion gigabytes. By 2020, 25 billion devices will be connected to the internet, generating more than 44 ‘zettabytes’— or 44 trillion gigabytes — of information. Businesses, economies and governments will struggle not to be overwhelmed. It’s important that Ireland’s are as resilient as possible, and to do that, we must strive to create a flexible, knowledgeable workforce ready to tackle a fast-changing world of technology driven by the Internet of Things.”

“Ireland has an excellent track record of attracting large tech multinationals, and to continue that, we must prioritise their supply of skilled graduates. The importance of investment in STEM education cannot be overstated, and we plan on working closely with the Government to help enact its Action Plan for Education, which seeks to make Ireland the best place in Europe for education and skills training by 2026. The plan’s new computer science course will be especially valuable; like the tech industry, it must be readily adaptable and changed regularly so it meets contemporary demands.”

“Our technological infrastructure must also grow apace,” he concludes. “While our broadband coverage is improving, there remain many parts of the country with antiquated internet connections. This will harm long-term business development, especially in rural areas, and will make it difficult to adopt more efficient Internet of Things technology, slowing growth. The tectonic plates of established politics and economics are shifting fast.

“Earthquakes like Brexit, combined with exciting advances in technology, present Ireland with an historic opportunity to play a leading role in the industries changing the face of the world,” he said. “Our infrastructure, our businesses and our education system must be prepared for this digital transformation.”

Interview: John Daly

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