The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on our daily lives, including our work lives. It has also affected the way we use technology to manage both our personal and our working lives in these dramatic times. This is clearly evidenced by Gartner’s 2021 technology trends report. And particularly by the first trend in there: the Internet of Behaviours (IoB).
To explain this new technology trend, Gartner cites the example of employees at an industrial site who returned to their workplace after it had been closed for a while due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon their return, they noticed a number of changes in their familiar working environment. Sensors or RFID tags were being used now, for instance, to determine whether the employees were indeed washing their hands regularly. Then there also was the introduction of computer vision, to determine if they were complying with mask protocol and having their masks on correctly. Finally, smart speakers on the factory floor were now used to warn them of protocol violations.
What’s more, all that behavioural data was being collected and analysed by their employer to influence how they behaved at work. The collection, analysis and use of such data to drive behaviours is what Gartner refers to as the Internet of Behaviours (IoB). And according to that technology research firm, “as organisations improve not only the amount of data they capture, but also how they combine data from different sources and use that data, the IoB will continue to affect how organisations interact with people.” In other words: this is one new tech trend that is definitely here to stay.
As demonstrated by the above example of COVID-19 protocol monitoring, the IoB is about using data to change behaviours. It doesn’t have to limit itself to the data and behaviours in the workplace, though. In recent years, we have seen an increase in technologies that gather the data of daily life. All that daily-life data, which spans both the digital and physical world, can now be used to influence all kinds of behaviours through feedback loops. Take driving behaviours, for instance: from sudden braking to aggressive turns, all of those behaviours can be closely monitored by telematics in today’s commercial vehicles. Companies can then analyse and use that behavioural data to improve driver performance, routing and safety.
In theory and in principle, the IoB can gather, combine and process data from a host of sources, including commercial customer data, citizen data processed by public-sector and government agencies, social media, public domain deployments of facial recognition, and location tracking. In practice, what does put limitations on the use of IoB technologies are ethical and societal constraints. As an example, Gartner refers to the use of wearables, such as fitness trackers, by health insurance companies to track their clients’ physical activities and reduce their premiums. Those same companies could also use wearables, however, to monitor their clients’ grocery purchases and, if they buy too many unhealthy items, to increase their premiums. In both cases privacy laws, which vary from region to region, will greatly impact the adoption and scale of the IoB applications.
The IoB is one of Gartner’s nine strategic technology trends for this year. It falls under the theme of ‘People centricity’. As these trends do not operate independently of each other, but rather build on and reinforce each other, I will present Gartner’s other trends and themes in my next blog post.