IoT survival guide for businesses
Dermot O’Connell of Dell looks at some of the key opportunities and threats from the IoT, as well as providing businesses with a survival guide to avoid them being left behind in the race for connected everything.
It has been dubbed the fourth industrial revolution, and for many, the arrival of the internet of things (IoT) will be one of the most disruptive technological shifts of all time. Beyond the media hype and talk of connected fridges and household appliances that alert you when you are running out of food, the IoT is going to transform the way businesses think about their manufacturing processes and the way they manage data to make key decisions.
Opportunities for all
Gartner analysts forecast that 4.9 billion connected things will be in use in 2015, up 30 percent from 2014, and will reach 25 billion by 2020. This will be especially important in manufacturing where the ability to network sensors and enable machine-to-machine (M2M) communications will transform design, production and the capability of the overall supply chain. It is the coming together of manufacturing technology and data, but at the same time much more than that. In terms of manufacturing the IoT can act as a bridge between back-end ERP systems, supply chain management and customer facing relationship management tools. It will impact every aspect of manufacturing process and no organisation should sit on the side-lines and watch – they will simply be left behind, as others shift to more effective models.
This is not simply future gazing, either. IDC survey results show that 55.0% of discrete manufacturers are currently researching, piloting, or in production with IoT initiatives.
The declining cost of sensors and increased accessibility to new technologies have already – and will continue to – affect all industries though, not just manufacturing.
In healthcare, although IoT hasn’t really taken off yet, the potential for devices to improve patient care is huge. Some hospitals for example are already using smart beds that can adjust to ensure appropriate support, or alert nurses when a patient is getting up. Other examples of IoT devices could be wearable devices that feedback patient data to doctors when specific care is needed.
Insurance is another interesting sector for IoT. If you think about the sheer volume of consumer devices that can be IoT enabled, insurers will need to ensure that as this trend becomes mainstream, they can deliver the appropriate digital services and add a greater granularity of data to their traditional models of insurance risk modelling.
Facing the challenges of a ‘connected everything’ world
Despite the huge potential opportunity of IoT, cynics would argue that market numbers are sheer speculation, amplified by industry analysts and self-serving tech vendors. The techno-skeptics have been out in force, which is of little surprise given the early stages of IoT adoption we are currently at. I would argue that we should use the cynicism and scepticism as a driver to make the internet of things even more effective, which is why we will consider some of the key challenges facing the technology as it moves into the mainstream and how these can potentially be overcome.
Security and privacy: High stakes, serious consequences
Given the very notion of the technology, it’s unsurprising that security is one of the first areas businesses are considering. We’ve heard everything, from high profile instances of hackers taking control of a connected car from 10 miles away and crashing it into a ditch, through to consumer web cameras and home connected appliances being compromised by hackers, due to their networked state. In the business world, this leads to a need for much broader risk management, not just from external threats but also from employees and poor implementation of the technology.
Safety is another issue. Factories may be reluctant to move to M2M processes, powered by the IoT, due to an inability to predict how these systems will stand up to the test when fully automated. Human suspicion around robotics, and technology more broadly in the workplace is typified by questions around the safety of the connected car. MIT’s Auto-ID Centre Director Kevin Ashton believes rather than questioning if the machines are up to task, the question should be: “Are human-driven cars safe? The answer is no.” More than 3,000 people around the world are killed in car accidents every day, and most of these deaths are caused by human error.”
Helping to accelerate IoT through standardisation
The issue with the development of such an all-inclusive technology is standardisation and interoperability, widely recognized as two of the biggest challenges to the success of IoT. Standards bodies and consortia are important, but many fear it will be tough for companies to come together to agree on terms. Certainly a ‘better together’ approach is what is needed for IoT adoption to accelerate.
One example is the Open Fog Consortium that Dell recently joined along with others such as ARM, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft and the Princeton University Edge Laboratory, with a common goal of reducing the time needed to deliver end-to-end IoT solutions, through the development of an open architecture.
However, despite the ongoing work in this area, everyone is aware that it will take a few years for standards to be fully vetted and adopted, and organisations risk getting left behind if they wait for it to happen before they get going with IoT.
Organisations should instead start small, put security first and architect with analytics in mind.
Experimentation needs to happen as without this organisations will never truly understand the art “of the possible”.
Yet, despite these challenges, the Internet of Things represents a tremendous opportunity for many organisations, and the benefits look set to outweigh the risks. Below, we examine a number a key areas that businesses in this sector should think about if they want to get ahead of the curve and successfully embrace IoT.
Security and Managing the IoT Environment
What are the risks? How will the hazards, risks and exposures affect their operations? Is there a clear strategy for what actions should be taken, such as who needs to be notified, the plans to respond and the mitigation available.
Making Decisions and Shaping Processes:
How will the business apply their people, machines and vehicles to perform their operations at a profit? How can they optimise those decisions using real-time analytics? How can businesses understand the huge pool of data now at their fingertips, to make better decisions about product development, production, customer engagement and supply chain management?
Where to start: Key considerations
Having looked at the risks and some of the questions businesses should be asking, here are a number of key tangible steps for organisations to follow as they look to survive the world of the IoT.
Return on investment should not be a dark art with any technology investment and the IoT isn’t any different. Measure success and put a number on your IoT investments that links back to broader business requirements, such as improving product quality, reducing customer returns or driving new revenue opportunities for firms.
We are about to experience one of the most significant period of technological disruption ever witnessed, with monumental change for businesses of all sizes. IoT will transform the way businesses think about everyday processes and question the very values of common sense. Your companies’ ability to adapt, innovate and thrive in this ambitious new time will determine who tomorrow’s winners and laggards will be. Innovate or die.