We all know Rolls Royce as a luxury car maker yet most of us don't own cars that cost upwards of $350,000. But that doesn't mean that we don't take advantage of other Rolls Royce products. The company has customers in more than 120 countries, comprising more than 400 airlines and leasing customers, 160 armed forces, 4,000 marine customers including 70 navies, and more than 5,000 power and nuclear customers. Most of us have travelled on planes using Rolls Royce engines or are protected by one.

Back in July, Rolls-Royce made a big move. The company decided to take advantage of the cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) technology. The company is installing tens of thousands of sensors on its tens of thousands of airplane engines that is sending data back to its engineers real time. The engineers are using this data to identify any potential problems, manage preventative maintenance and better utilize fuel efficiency so that things are running better and more reliably. Or to put it bluntly: ensuring that planes don't fall from the sky.

Uh...thanks, Rolls-Royce. I like that. I like the Internet of Things. It is happening right now. And big companies are making big investments in this technology to improve their products...and their profits. More examples? Sure.

Rockwell Automation makes equipment and information systems used by oil and gas companies around the world. Its pumps on oil-drilling platforms are connected through the cloud and send data back to engineers throughout the day. Transfer "skids" are equipped with sensors to enable technicians to remotely perform service and maintenance. Fuel pumps send back data on everything from inventory to equipment functioning to a command center. Result: Rockwell customers achieve higher profits through better use of their equipment.

If you visit the new World Trade Center in New York City you'll be among the 3.5 million people riding in a ThyssenKrupp elevator. You, like the building managers, are more than a little interested in making sure that the ride is reliable and safe. ThyssenKrupp has been on a mission to do that. Over the past few years the company has been equipping thousands of its elevators with sensors that are sending back information about each elevator's performance, functioning and potential problems to a control center of technicians. Result: better safety and efficiency through predictive maintenance.

Iowa's Great River Health Systems is a 378-bed hospital that admits 6,000 patients each year and performs 180,000 outpatient procedures. They installed a system that connects devices including two anesthesia workstations, a pharmacy carousel, and 28 medication-dispensing cabinets with servers and a database that manages electronic medical records, inventory, and billing. The system is eliminating time-consuming manual processes, and cutting medication delivery time by two-thirds. Result: an improvement in medication distribution and management without adding employees.

I learned this at Microsoft's Ignite conference earlier this week and all of these examples were taken directly from case studies on Microsoft's Internet of Things website. Microsoft is a client of my company and we're a Microsoft Partner. I sometimes contribute to their blog. So yes, even though there are plenty of great companies doing plenty of great things with sensors, chips and other tools of the IoT world, I'm Microsoft-biased. And no, I'm not being paid by Microsoft to write this.

But I am responsible for learning this stuff. It affects my clients and my readers. You. The Internet of Things is reality. If an inanimate object has a CPU (a central processing unit) and a power source, it can be programmed to talk to other, similar inanimate objects - or to send data somewhere to be analyzed and monitored.

To a software developer, the Internet of Things isn't complicated. It's just sensors with little bits of software that sends data somewhere. Scaling it and securing it isn't easy. But when it's done the right way the data can then be used to prevent bad things from happening and alert people and machines when something has just happened. As the technology evolves, companies will increase productivity and profits. Fewer planes will fall from the sky, elevator breakdowns will decrease and less people will die in hospitals.

Right now, it's the big companies like Rockwell Automation and Rolls-Royce who are doing this. But within the next few years everything from shop floor equipment used by small manufacturers and pickup trucks used by landscapers to plates in a restaurant and inventory items on a grocery store shelf will be equipped with sensors that will warn even the smallest of small business owners when action needs to be taken before a problem occurs. Smart entrepreneurs are thinking about how this will affect their businesses in the next few years.