What You Missed If You Missed the Internet of Things Conference

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

While a universally accepted definition of the IoT may still elude many, the conference did land on some solid examples of how IoT technologies are helping to improve business.


Last week, RFID Journal convened its 13th annual end-user RFID Journal LIVE! conference and exhibition, where thousands of attendees gathered to hear about how they can put radio frequency identification technologies to work. After offering the Internet of Things as an RFID conference track for two years, the company launched the Internet of Things Conference as a standalone event co-located with this year’s LIVE! conference.

Over the course of two days, a wide range of speakers discussed everything from technology basics to security concerns and case studies. But they all had a similar, unspoken message: Trying to define the Internet of Things is pure folly. Every vendor, analyst and even end user seems to have a slightly different set of parameters for what is and is not part of the IoT. But attendees all had a similar response to this message: They don’t care about defining it. What they do care about is whether it works and how it can help their business.

Here at IOT Journal, we cover the many types of technologies that companies can use to connect products or business processes to the Internet, including ZigBee, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, RFID and new technologies that might emerge, as well as the business and consumer applications of these technologies. The conference lineup reflected that. Here’s a quick review of the highlights, culled from our live-tweeting during the event.

Steve Halliday (@RFIDMan), a consultant in the RFID industry and the president of RAIN RFID, an industry organization that positions passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID as an enabling technology for the IoT, talked about the hundreds of technology standards—around 400!—that are related to the IoT. And George Daddis, the CEO of RFID tag maker Omni-ID, was quite frank in his assessment of what is and is not IoT. His position, like Halliday’s, is that RFID is an important enabler of the Internet of Things, and he went so far as to say that Omni-ID has repositioned itself in the marketplace as an IoT (as opposed to RFID) company in order to capture some of the current buzz around the IoT.

Mike Liard, a long-time automatic-identification industry analyst, also spoke about the confusion regarding what is and is not IoT. But he warned that vendors run the risk of diluting the impact of the IoT in the rush to just label things as IoT for marketing’s sake. He added that the buzz surrounding the Internet of Things requires that potential business users scrutinize marketing claims carefully, and make sure their needs are met by the technology’s capabilities.

Dan Lohrmann (@govcso), whose long career as an IT security professional included stints at the National Security Agency (NSA) and working for the State of Michigan as its chief security officer, made a lively, impassioned pitch to companies about the importance of putting security considerations ahead of pressures to get an IoT-related product or service out the door and into the marketplace.

Lohrmann stressed the importance of working with third-party security experts before launching an IoT product or service, because outside experts are likely to find potential data-security vulnerabilities that you or your colleagues had never even considered.

In a session that showcased the wide applicability of IoT technology, Vincent Rothier (@vincentrouthier), the chief storyteller at communications agency the SAGA, discussed how the group uses a mix of old and new technologies (such as voice-activated picture books, and teaching music with the help of Bluetooth) to educate and inspire audiences.

For the first time, the RFID Journal LIVE! Awards included an Internet of Things category, and representatives from two of the three finalists talked about how their firms have used the IoT to change how they do business. David Wong, project director at the Fukui Shell Nucleus Factory in Japan, described how his firm uses RFID to authenticate and track pearls. And Steve Hershberger, the CEO of SteadyServ, outlined the ways in which his firm is helping beer distributors and bars track the flow of beer and keep stocks adequate and fresh.

Then it was time for lunch, and with all the talk of beer, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of our attendees tipped back a cold one during the break.

The conference wrapped up with sessions by Chuck Evanhoe, the chairman of the Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility (AIM) industry group, who described the evolution that the auto-ID industry has seen in recent years, as sensors become more mature and capable and as costs fall. And Lynn DeRose, GE Research‘s project leader (@Lynn_DeRose_GE), spoke about the many ways in which General Elecetric is using networked sensors and intelligent fabricating systems to upgrade its manufacturing plants, and how that is leading to more uptime and less wasted energy.

Near the end of the conference, all that stood between attendees and the 70-degree San Diego weather and late afternoon sunshine was yours truly. So I mercifully tried to keep my discussion of how to add value to products and services using IoT technology concise and on point. Most of my presentation focused on what business models end users are employing to integrate the IoT into their business. Citing a number of stories I’ve written in recent months, I noted that some companies are using IoT-enabled products to engage with customers in new ways, or as part of new revenue models.

For example, Enlighted uses a pay-per-savings business model. Its energy-management system, based on a range of sensors integrated into LED lighting, reduces its customers’ energy bill significantly. But rather than paying for the technology outright, a customer pays a percentage of the savings to Enlighted. It’s a model that helped the firm land a sizable contract with AT&T, which is expected to bank $8 million annually in lower energy costs.

But if you missed the Internet of Things Conference, worry not. We’ll be posting all of the conference slides, along with audio, in about a week. As for all that San Diego sunshine you also missed… well, your loss. But there will likely be plenty more at next year’s event, when RFID Journal LIVE! goes to Orlando, Fla., on May 3-5, 2016.

Mary Catherine O’Connor is the editor of Internet of Things Journal and a former staff reporter for RFID Journal. She also writes about technology, as it relates to business and the environment, for a range of consumer magazines and newspapers.