By Jesse Jones

This article first appeared on the Forrest Firm Blog.

2016 has been a big year in a lot of ways. Often at this time of year, I reflect on the events and people that shaped me as a person and professional, hopefully for the better. I can definitely say that’s the case with one of my summer adventures, participating in RIoT’s MBA in IoT program.

RIoT is an Internet of Things community based in Raleigh and led by a handful of great people and friends, Matthew Davis, Larry Steffann, and Tom Snyder. The organization is devoted to advancing of the IoT, short for “internet of things.” For the uninitiated, the internet of things represents the connection of everyday devices to technology. It’s the convergence of sensors, software, wireless connectivity, data, analytics, innovative power sources, and systems. In other words, it’s short-hand for what makes devices “smart.”

RIoT’s place in the world of the internet of things is bringing together all of the stakeholders related to the industries of the internet of things, including technologists, engineers, business leaders, academics, policy makers, and entrepreneurs. The group accomplishes its mission of advancing the IoT via networking events and education, including the program I attended last summer, the MBA in IoT.

This program, in contrast to RIoT’s Developer Days series for engineers, caters to business professionals and non-engineer stakeholders. RIoT’s first offering of its MBA in IoT was a four-part program covering the overall IoT opportunity, technology components, data tools, and design practices required to be successful in the IoT economy. One of the goals for participants is to leave the class understanding how to scope and move forward with an IoT project.

One of the key points of the program that had real immediacy for me is that the program is that in 2016, we are at the peak of rapid acceleration of the internet of things due to four converging trends of near-ubiquitous and nearly free technology: big data analytics, big data storage, wireless communication, and the ability to make sensors nearly invisible.

It was interesting to have engineers break down the attributes of “things” that could compete in the internet of things. Necessary “thing” components include sensors, microprocessors, an energy source, and communication. It may be easiest to think about fitness wearables, such as FitBits and Apple Watches because those are consumer facing products. However, the IoT opportunity is SO much bigger than consumer products (think healthcare, manufacturing, construction, etc.)  Any IoT product has sensors that take in data from your body (or a machine) as you move about and exercise, as well as microprocessors that receive the data and package it for analysis. Wearables typically derive their power from rechargeable batteries, and communicate to web-based applications that analyze and report relevant data such as the how many steps you walk and how many calories you burn during your daily routines and exercise regimens.  I found it particularly interesting to learn about other ways that engineers are learning to power the IoT device, especially when it can be done with energy that would otherwise be wasted.

We also learned other defining parameters of the internet of things space, such as factors that define the scale of the effect of individual things. Some of these limiting factors range from the hyper-local edge nodes that analyze small amounts of data at sensor level to the more commonly known big data analytics that takes place in cloud-based applications, capable of working through massive amounts of data communicated simultaneously from millions of devices around the world.

As I left the program this summer, I realized that the internet of things isn’t just exciting from a global or national economic standpoint, but that this region is truly a catalyst and beneficiary of this evolution, or as Tom Snyder puts it, “The fourth Industrial Revolution” after manufacturing, services, and technology. For anyone with a stake in the future of the economy in the Triangle and North Carolina—and that’s a lot of us, I’d encourage you to watch RIoT’s site for next year’s edition of the MBA in IoT. I left with a foundational knowledge that will help me as I adapt to the needs of area businesses as they lead development of future applications of the IoT or cope with these developments and their implications for business.