Internet of Things, or IoT, is the latest buzz word in the fast-changing tech world and New Zealand businesses need to embrace it, or else be "steamrolled" by it, a business networking event heard in Christchurch today.

The thought-provoking PwC Herald Talk breakfast event was designed to help Cantabrians learn how their business can benefit from IoT - a network of everyday physical devices, cellphones, vehicles, home appliances, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enables them to connect and exchange data.

Keynote speaker Ulrich Frerk told how his company Adroit turns "dumb devices into smart ones".

It's a world of light bulbs controlled by smartphones, fridges that order milk when supplies run low, cars that tell you how to drive. Grab-and-go supermarkets with no lines, checkouts or physical transactions are being trialled by Amazon in the United States.

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"It allows for endless opportunities," said Frerk who, to demonstrate his point, was wearing a "smart" jacket. It featured underarm temperature and moisture sensors, and an external thermostat sensor that could connect with a building's air conditioning system to keep him at the ultimate, comfortable temperature. A light in his breast pocket flashed Twitter alerts.

"Data can help us understand behaviours in a way that traditional research can't," said Frerk.

A recent report estimated a staggering 25 billion IoT devices in the world by 2020. PwC believes it will soon become a multi-trillion dollar industry.

Frerk urged the gathered business leaders to be "aware of new technologies that exist and how they can help you".

"It's not about when you need to do it, but when you should start," he said.

Russell Craig, Microsoft New Zealand's national technology officer, said businesses here are already investing heavily in IoT technology, in a country where the desire for innovative technology has always been very strong.

He is excited by the innovation particularly in the primary sector, as well as transport.
Samantha Ramlu, managing director and co-founder of creative innovations agency Method, said it was important for businesses to work out how they can meaningfully use the technology to improve their business.

While teller-less supermarkets might not seem realistic for New Zealanders today, the technology will "definitely" arrive here, and in the meantime, companies should be looking at smaller ways of utilising the IoT, Ramlu said.

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