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Beyond Things: The Internet of Everything, Explained In Four Dimensions

09/24/2013 09:20 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Over the last year I (and many of my colleagues) have spent a lot time talk talking about the Internet of Everything (IoE) and how it's transforming our world. I thought, however, it would be good to pause and clarify what exactly we mean by the Internet of Everything. I've mentioned in the past that IoE consists of four "pillars": People, Process, Data, and Things. Let's take a closer look.

Many people are familiar with the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT). Not only does it have its own Wikipedia article, but last month "the Internet of Things" was added to the Oxford dictionary, which defines it as "a proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data." Therefore, it's not surprising that people might be confused when we start talking about the Internet of Everything (IoE). What's the difference? Is IoE simply a rebranding of IoT?

The fact is, the Internet of Things is just one of four dimensions — people, process, data, and things — we talk about in the Internet of Everything. If we take a closer look at each of these dimensions, and how they work together, we'll begin to see the transformative value of IoE.

People: The ways we connect to the Internet have changed in the last three decades. We've gone from dumb terminals to desktop computers to a variety of mobile devices used today -- laptops, smartphones and tablets. But that's nothing compared to the wave of transformation we are now entering. Google Glass and smart watches are just the beginning of an array of wearable technologies that will radically change the ways we consume and share information. We already have self-monitoring devices such as Fitbit and the Nike FuelBand that enable us to track exercise, monitor heart rates and even monitor the quality of our sleep.

In the next few years, these capabilities will grow profoundly. We'll be able to swallow a pill that can monitor our digestive tract and intelligently send relevant information to our doctors at the right time and in the context of what we're doing. Expectant mothers will wear "smart tattoos" to monitor the health and activity of their babies, and send their doctor an early alert when labor begins. We've only begun to scratch the surface of how wearable technology will transform our lives. In fact, keep an eye out for an upcoming blog where I will go deeper into the wearable technology of the present and the future.

Process: Connecting processes is not something most people think about, but the Internet has already revolutionized the ways businesses manage their supply chains, and how consumers shop -- to name just two. As we continue to "instrument" our world, we'll have visibility into processes we could never see before, providing opportunities to make these processes faster, simpler, and more efficient.

For example, Cisco is working with major retailers to use a fusion of sensors, video, and analytics to improve both store productivity and customer experience. Cameras and sensors in the parking lot can count arriving cars and the number of people coming into the store; combined with sensors on shopping carts and an analysis of store traffic patterns, the system predicts back-ups or slow times at the front registers and automatically adjusts staffing. Customers are happy to avoid long check-out lines, and the store can optimize employee productivity by having neither too many nor too few cashiers available.

dave internet

The Internet of Everything is changing how people and things connect, how we collect and harness data, and how they all work together to enable intelligent processes.


Data: The world is awash in data. By the end of 2013, we will create more new information every 10 minutes than we did in all of human history up to 2008 -- most of it rich media. Not only is the volume of data increasing exponentially, the data itself is becoming richer. For example, we are beginning to move from HD video (720P / 1080P) to even richer video (4K displays). 4K displays have now dropped below the $1,000 price point, making them more accessible than ever before. Camera sensors are getting denser, too. Nokia, for example, introduced their Lumia 1020 phone with a 41-megapixel camera. Granted, these advances are not yet mainstream, but they are coming fast, and this growth in content creation and consumption means the data tsunami will quicken its pace.

It's not just rich media creating all this data. New types of devices that never existed before are starting to create even more information. For example, sensors are now on food to alert you before it spoils. Big Data analytics are helping us make sense of this avalanche of information -- identifying and combining relevant data points in ways that reveal new insights and enable better decision making.

And now, back to Things: Today, less than one percent of the things in the world -- or about 10 billion things -- are connected to the Internet. That number will grow to more than 50 billion in the next decade, which is enough for at least six connected devices for every man, woman, and child on earth. But the real growth will not be in the things we expect to be connected, such as computers, phones, and tablets. The exciting part is in the unexpected things.

Connected cars will lead the way to self-driving cars. Connected water delivery systems will pinpoint leaky pipes and shut off faucets when not in use, reducing the 30 percent of water that is lost due to leaks and waste. Smart buildings will manage themselves better, contributing to smarter, more efficient cities. Even cows and the fields they graze in will be connected to help farmers and ranchers know when to irrigate, when to fertilize, and when to move the herd to a different field, all contributing to improving yield and reducing waste.

The Internet of Everything is built on the connections among people, processes, data, and things. However, it is not about these four dimensions in isolation. Each amplifies the capabilities of the other three. It is in the intersection of all of these elements that the true power of IoE is realized.

How is your organization using the Internet of Everything to improve the world? Share your story and join the #IoE conversation with @CiscoCSR on Twitter.