It looks set to be the chicken-and-egg conundrum of the digital age. Yes, the internet of Things (IoT) is itself becoming a ‘thing’.

Distributed technical architectures that combine sensors, intelligent systems, connectivity, platforms, and analytical capabilities are evolving into fully formed use cases for remote health monitoring, connected cars, smart utilities, and myriad other ‘things’ that are poised to deliver great value and create new markets in the future.

A holistic way to look at it (from a business perspective) is that IoT brings together people, processes, data, and things to make networked connections more relevant by turning information into actions. The ecosystem that makes up the IoT market is consequently both vast and complex, including modules/devices, connectivity, IoT purpose-built platforms, storage, servers, security, analytics software, IT services from consulting to ongoing management of the solutions, and, of course, security.

This is all generating considerable interest right here in the Middle East, with the region’s manufacturing, transportation, utilities, and government sectors are expected to see the fastest growth in IoT spending over the coming years.

In manufacturing, for example, the continual demand for fast-moving consumer goods in the region is incentivising manufacturers to boost productivity by investing in smart technologies, and IoT is finding applications in the areas of food traceability, maintenance and field services, manufacturing operations, and production asset management, among others.

Meanwhile, the desire to improve satisfaction levels among citizens and improve their quality of life has resulted in governments across the region spending heavily on innovative technologies. Here in the Middle East, governments are mainly interested in citizen-centric solutions such as environmental monitoring detection, public infrastructure asset management, public safety and emergency response, and intelligent transportation systems.

In addition, the region has seen notable growth in cross-industry initiatives, which bring together different solutions to create efficiencies. Connected vehicles, smart buildings, and staff identification are considered to be cross-industry fields of collaboration. And assisting this collaboration is the fact that consumers are becoming increasingly tech-savvy and beginning to understand how innovative technologies can positively impact their day-to-day lives. As consumers become more willing to pay for smart features in their vehicles and homes (for example), companies across sectors are collaborating to meet demand.

IoT is fast becoming one of the first innovation accelerators to truly leverage the four technology pillars that make up the 3rd Platform of computing — Big Data, cloud, social, and mobile. While there are a number of use cases built on legacy infrastructure or enabled by data that is produced by the previous generation of 2nd Platform technologies, the four pillars are set to underpin tremendous innovation in the IoT space.

For example, Big Data will help enable real-time decision-making while also providing the engine for powering new data sources. Cloud will allow for variable workloads from connected endpoints, as well as the scalability and flexibility that is crucial for the deluge of data expected from these endpoints. Mobile will enhance field processes and connect endpoints from a variety of (often remote) locations. And social will be an outlet for automated responses from the connected endpoints to interested end users or decision makers.

Despite these opportunities, many ecosystem providers remain uncertain about the products they need to develop due to their lack of knowledge of customers’ specific needs. To maximise value, IDC believes it is important for providers to approach the IoT market with industry-specific solutions that allow customers to realise immediate ROI. Providers therefore need to engage with customers in order to efficiently track and manage their dynamic business needs and provide relevant solutions.

Strategic partnerships between providers within the IoT ecosystem are essential to foster the ongoing development of innovative products and services. Indeed, solutions developed through partnerships have a better chance of addressing specific business problems due to the broader talent pull and expertise involved in their development.

The search for growth opportunities across the region, coupled with depressed oil prices and widespread social and political instability, will prompt organisations to fundamentally rethink their business strategies and operations. Growth will not automatically stem from organisations simply expanding in size, but rather from them integrating the positive elements of digital transformation into routine business processes. Such initiatives will create new opportunities and potential for companies to interact with customers more easily, which will in turn lead to much higher levels of customer satisfaction.

Although providers in the ecosystem may face certain challenges (such as an inevitable reluctance to change), IDC expects that growth will become ever more dependent on innovation. In this environment, those organisations that use innovative products, services, processes, and business models to become leaders in digital transformation will gain competitive advantage and create new markets for their products and services.

In this regard, the use of innovative IoT solutions will widen the spectrum of customer-inspired propositions, enhance customer management capabilities, and lead to the development of leaner operational models. And who knows, it may also one day answer the question of which came first — the internet of Things or the ‘things’ themselves?

The columnist is group vice-president and regional managing director for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey at global ICT market intelligence and advisory firm International Data Corporation (IDC) He can be contacted via Twitter @JyotiIDC