No one really knows how many “things” there are deployed today that have IoT characteristics. IDC’s 2013 estimate was about 9.1 billion, growing to about 28 billion by 2020 and over 50 billion by 2025. You can get pretty much any other number you want, but all the estimates are very large. So what are all these IoT things doing and why are they there? Here’s our attempt to map out the IoT landscape (click to enlarge).

IOT map

As you can see, there are a whole lot of possible organizational approaches to the constituent parts of IoT. We have chosen a “halo” approach, looking at how IoT principles will be applied to individual people, their surroundings (vehicles and homes), the organization of those surroundings (towns and cities and the highways and other transit systems that connect them), the range of social activities (essentially commerce, but also travel, hospitality, entertainment and leisure) that go on in those surroundings and finally the underpinnings of those activities (“industrial” including agriculture, energy and transport and logistics). We’re not claiming this is an exhaustive taxonomy (we’ve excluded all military and some law enforcement specific uses) or that this is the best way to organize things, but we think it’s a useful start and has been helpful in explaining the opportunity to the businesses we advise.

The size of the circles aren’t important. They’re basically an indication of how far away from the individual each collection of potential IoT ideas will be implemented, but even that isn’t fully consistent – there will be interactions between people and IoT ideas in the workplace as well as in the home or in the store.

So what we have here are six general areas of opportunity.

1. People

We are already familiar with increasingly powerful and capable portable devices, but most of what we carry around with us on a daily basis isn’t yet “smart” in an IoT sense. Your clothes don’t know how often they’ve been worn or washed. Your shoes don’t know how many steps they have taken. Your keys can’t tell you if you locked the door when you left for work and so on. All these things are likely to be possible within a decade. The ability of all these items to communicate with each other (and with your phone) in a “Personal Area Network” exists today – albeit lacking some important security and privacy features.

We have added in two additional people-focused areas for IoT:

* Personal health, fitness and diet and the broader health care diagnostics and treatment industry. This is likely to be a huge new marketplace as global nutrition and health improves and life expectancy continues to grow along with expectations for a long, active life. Traditional incident-based care provision probably won’t scale economically and a new, predictive and proactive model will be needed. Continuous monitoring of various health and wellness indicators offers the potential to intervene early in many situations that today lead to the development of chronic disease conditions.

* Education and training. Beyond the basic education process, which has been in need of improvement for decades, IoT offers the opportunity to personalize training in and out of the classroom, with teaching and practice tuned to the individual on the basis of measured performance.

2. Vehicles

Our next area of IoT opportunity is vehicles – and for the purposes of our model, this is mostly personal transport, including passenger buses. We’re not assuming that anything fundamental happens to usage patterns here – Uber, Lyft, and ZipCar not withstanding – and cars and light trucks are already sophisticated computing platforms with a lot of data processing to control engine and drive train performance, vehicle handling dynamics and, increasingly, driver assistance and safety. While we may eventually get to fully automated driving, there’s plenty of room in the interim for new ideas around navigation, incident avoidance, dynamic route management, and integrated infotainment.

3. Homes

The “Homes” category consists of four main subcategories:

* Safety and security (locks, cameras, motion detectors, fire/smoke/water/gas/intruder alarms, etc.)

* Infotainment (already moving ahead with Smart TVs and personalized streaming services)

* Environmental controls (also moving with “learning” thermostats)

* Metering

The big opportunities here are related to integration and usability. There are lots of things available today, but they are not simple, standardized, or reliable enough for mass adoption. There are also opportunities with IoT for appliances – from performance tuning, usage optimization, and preventive maintenance to acting as data sources for commerce via automatic “inventory” management. Applainces could also come with “smart” storage spaces that remember what’s in them, help you find things, and remind you to restock – or handle inventory automatically.

4. Towns

From homes we move to the broader social context of neighborhoods, towns, and cities. Now the opportunity is to make structures and collections of structures “smart,” as well as the infrastructure, services, and utilities that connect and support them. Once everything is instrumented, continuously monitored, and analyzed, we can improve the use of capital assets (better traffic flows on highways; better use of structures; easier ingress and egress; more efficient use of energy; more “on demand” rather than regularly scheduled services like trash collection and recycling pick up — and so on) via smart roads, bridges, buildings, and utility infrastructure.

5. Commerce

The “Commerce” category mostly covers “smart” retail in stores (at the store, shelf and SKU level) but also includes mass transit platforms for commuter and long distance rail and air travel, hospitality and entertainment platforms, personalized digital signage, real time individualized pricing (including coupons anddiscounts,) and similar opportunities.

6. Industrial

This is another big potential market covering everything from crops and livestock (farming and ranching in the Agriculture sub-category) to oil and gas production and transportation. In between, there are many opportunities to add to existing telemetry to power continuous analytics at the individual component or system level and to aggregate data for trend analysis, demand management, and capacity planning.

It will be clear that a lot of these opportunities will (or should) interact with each other. The digital “you” that’s represented by your personal area network (PAN) will interact with your vehicle (which has a bigger battery and/or can generate electricity to power a longer range radio for better bandwidth and reach) to estimate travel times, find you the most convenient airport parking, and remember where you left the car when you return. Or order you an Uber ride. If you’re eating out, your PAN can make a reservation, schedule a rendezvous with friends, advise on the diet and the health consequences of your menu selections, remind you to take your meds, and warn you if you shouldn’t be driving home. Your messages, texts, and emails can always find you. Your smart home systems can schedule maintenance visits and the delivery of refills for everyday consumables and can watch for the best price purchase opportunities.

Aggregated demand at the personal level flows to local, regional, and national levels for predictive use and capacity management in the commercial and industrial markets. Short-term fluctuations can be smoothed out or, if that’s not possible, at least planned for and warned about. Pricing can be adjusted. Capacity repurposed. Yields improved.

That’s the potential of IoT – and there’s probably a lot of other things that we haven’t thought of yet. Most of the parts are already available, if immature. We need more work on standards, interoperability guarantees, reliability, resilience, and security – all of which are being worked on. IoT is coming, and there will be very little that it won’t impact to some degree.

John Parkinson is CEO of Entertainment Experience LLC and an Affiliate Partner at Waterstone Management Group. He has served as CTO and in similar capacities for large global companies including TransUnion, Cap Gemini, AXIS Capital, and Ernst & Young Consulting. He currently provides business, technology, and operational strategy advice to a range of global businesses and works with PE investors to select, improve, and monetize portfolio companies through ParkWood Advisors, which he founded in 2005.