Even the low-end estimates of the number of connected devices in the world by 2020 are mind-blowing.

Gartner, the technology research firm, pegs the number at 26 billion. Cisco Systems estimates 50 billion. Semiconductor giant Intel predicts 200 billion. International Data Corp. forecasts 212 billion.

To paraphrase the late U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen: A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real devices.

Regardless of how the 2020 predictions turn out, the point is clear: The “Internet of Things” is here to stay, it’s getting bigger by the second and the size of the market will be measured in the trillions of dollars within a few years — if it’s not already there.

Read this commentary in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here

A microcosm of what to expect from the Internet of Things took place last Monday at the GE Healthcare Institute in Waukesha, where the third annual Wisconsin Tech Summit attracted 15 major companies and more than 40 emerging firms for 180 “speed dates” to explore potential partnerships.

Whether the major companies were industrial automation experts such as Rockwell Automation Inc., health-related firms such as Promega and GE Healthcare, or plastics manufacturers such as Dickten Masch, most were looking for information management solutions. Many times, those solutions involved devices speaking to other devices or systems.

As broadband internet access becomes nearly ubiquitous, it is easier to connect devices. More devices are being created with Wi-Fi capabilities and built-in sensors, technology costs are falling and smartphone use is exploding.

It’s a global petri dish for the growth of the IoT, which can be defined as connecting any device with an on-and-off switch to the internet. These connections can be people-to-people, people-to-things, things-to-things and much more.

How to manage the IoT revolution is a daunting prospect for people who must worry about storing and safeguarding data, protecting privacy and making sure there’s enough broadband capacity to keep networks running.

One such person is David Cagigal, the chief information officer for the State of Wisconsin. He spends most of his days thinking about how to improve the capacity and security of the state’s cyber-infrastructure, and not just those parts that fall within the public domain.

Extending broadband to the far corners of Wisconsin, finding and lighting “dark fiber” — meaning, high bandwidth optical fiber cable not in use — working with private partners, consolidating data centers and laying plans for recovery from a cyber-disaster are among Cagigal’s goals.

With a largely private business background, Cagigal told Monday’s Tech Summit audience that he sees public-private cooperation as essential to Wisconsin’s economic health. Only if government and business work together, he said, can Wisconsin keep up with other states and the world in terms of high-speed broadband connections. Those connections are necessary for virtually every aspect of modern life, from business to health care, and from education to entertainment.

They’re also critical in a business world that relies on the Internet of Things for everything from production efficiency to logistics to tracking employee safety and customer loyalty.

Cagigal is not alone. Just across the border in Illinois, the state Department of Innovation and Technology — a Cabinet-level equivalent to Wisconsin’s Division of Enterprise Technology — is pushing a plan to become the nation’s first “smart state.” (Hold your Illinois jokes, please.)

In this case, being a “smart state” means embracing the kinds of technologies that are driving the Internet of Things in the private world, putting them to work in the public sphere and generally creating a business climate consistent with a digitally connected world.

It’s a plan that Illinois CIO Hardik Bhatt, with the support of Gov. Bruce Rauner, envisions as fostering economic growth, improving state government operations and helping communities stay competitive.

The federal government is getting into the act, too. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration issued an April 6 Federal Register notice asking IoT players to “identify key issues impacting deployment of these technologies, highlight potential benefits and challenges, and identify potential roles for the federal government…”

Some might argue the Internet of Things has progressed nicely without the federal government so far, but at least Washington, D.C., has taken notice.

From smart homes to connected cars, from manufacturing to health care, and from wearables to energy monitors, the Internet of Things is changing how people live, work and play. Billions of devices can’t all be wrong.