In building out the Internet of Things, the world is undergoing a transformation on a scale similar to the Industrial Revolution, essentially a fourth wave of the Internet when nearly everything will be connected.

The early Internet was a collection of documents. Websites served as online brochures or billboards. The second wave was an Internet of commerce when companies such as eBay and Amazon landed tens of billions of dollars in online sales. With the arrival of social media, the third wave became the Internet of people in which Facebook, for example, connects roughly a third of humanity to generate hundreds of billions of dollars.

Now we are embarking on the fourth wave, the Internet of Things, which promises to dwarf every phase that came before. The IoT can be defined as a network of physical devices including appliances, vehicles, buildings, warehouses, pipelines and other infrastructure fitted with sensors and actuators that enable the objects to collect and share data with a central controller.

IoT investments will top $6 trillion over the next five years, and some 24 billion IoT devices will be installed by 2020, according to BusinessInsider. Just this year alone, enterprises will spend ₹15.68 lakh crore ($232 billion) on initiatives to build out the IoT, according to International Data Corp.

Such market momentum is causing organisations to view IoT as increasingly strategic to their business growth. Yet developing a comprehensive IoT strategy still remains the biggest challenge for industry adoption, according to 46.3% of 200 IT professionals surveyed by Northeastern University-Silicon Valley at the recent Sensors Expo & Conference in San Jose, Calif.

Increased efficiency is the main reason that businesses are investing in IoT development, according to 38.3% of respondents, followed by the pursuit of a competitive market advantage (28.4%). Other drivers for IoT investment include market share growth (15.9%) and cost savings (14.9%).

Hardware engineering is the area of most current expertise in the IoT field, according to 30.4% of survey respondents. The area of greatest interest for further skills training involves sensors development (57.7%), followed by systems design and integration (32.3%) and data analytics (28.9%). Other technical skills that respondents are interested in acquiring include artificial intelligence and machine learning (27.4%), and security (20.9%).

All of those technical skills will become increasingly valuable for IT managers, engineers and developers over the coming years. However, the growing concern is that hardware professionals will view the rollout of IoT as a sensor issue, while networking people will focus on the need to move data around seamlessly. Meanwhile, computer science people will try to solve issues involving cloud computing, machine learning and security.

The enormity of this IoT evolution will require our society to devise more holistic, multidisciplinary strategies to unite these functional silos. The goal should be to create effective training programs that can prepare people with the necessary skills required by the overall IoT industry.

In the near term, the best IoT strategy for organisations is to start with small pilot projects to gain some needed experience with IoT systems until specific business cases can be established and understood. So start small and be prepared to fail, but then learn quickly from setbacks to fine-tune your approach to IoT.