The Internet of Things (IoT) has gained a tremendous head of steam over the last few years. Simply put, the Internet of Things is a system of interconnected physical devices that communicate via the Internet. These Internet of Things devices collect and share data with other devices, applications, and systems, and in many ways the data “talks” to us and the other things it’s connected to. From wearables to industrial sensors, IoT devices generate sensory, biotelemetry, and a myriad of other types of data. The benefits of IoT are wide ranging and more and more companies have begun to realize the potential applications for business. There are also risks and downsides, however, revolving around Internet of Things security and standards.
Read on to find out if your business is ready for the Internet of Things revolution.
What is Internet of Things (IoT)?
IoT is a systems of Internet-connected devices. How these devices connect varies and depends on the purpose of the device. The common methods today include HTTP/S, Bluetooth, RFID readers, FTP, and a host of new communications protocols specific to IoT.
In a nutshell, the Internet of Things is a massive network of connected devices, and that network is growing by the minute. Gartner estimates that by the year 2020, there will be 20.4 billion IoT devices deployed. This massive network of devices in turn, generates and communicates data with other connected devices or systems. The communication of data is key to the value in IoT, allowing consumers or businesses to access raw information, gain insight and make an intelligent decision based on the story the data tells.
While the majority of IoT devices are currently consumer-based, such as smart TVs, vehicles, wearable exercise monitors, and even refrigerators, businesses are also taking advantage, via security cameras, smart building infrastructure, connected electric meters, industrial control systems, GPS systems and RFID chips to name a few use cases.
Processors are more affordable than ever, and due to the abundance of wireless networks, it is now possible to connect just about anything, turning it “smart,” and with data-generating sensors, creating a new intersection between the digital and physical worlds.
Internet of Things Examples
Enterprises are using the Internet of Things as a way to increase the reliability to anything they may be doing that is automated. This is especially true for the manufacturing industry, as an example. Take for instance, the smart factory. Modern automation in multiple areas of production relies on robots building things. Traditional maintenance would mean that production would be slowed or shut down for the purpose of inspection, repair, or replacement. In the realm of IoT, manufacturers gain an advantage. They use devices that are Internet-enabled. Now, companies have access to real-time sensory data generated from the machines doing assembly on the factory floor. Data scientists can design an algorithm to study data and help predict when a possible failure in one of these machines is likely. Predictive analytics on device-generated data allows maintenance to be proactive, minimizing the business downtime.
Monotonous tasks are automated and done by machines, allowing employees to focus on other important business processes. And while industrial automation helps provide capabilities for the company to increase production levels and efficiency, understanding and predicting the health of an object requires stable access to the data. Through IoT connectivity, manufacturers are able to gather and potentially centralize the data from multiple devices. This starts the process whereby real-time health checks, or meaningful long term analytics around that data are possible – and incredibly useful. Within the last decade, we have increased our ability to gather real-time information of what’s happening and perform timely analysis. In this way, manufacturing enterprises are able to capitalize on the “interconnectedness” that comes from the Internet of Things.
Healthcare providers are also looking to take advantage of this rapidly growing technology. Research firm Business Insider Intelligence estimates the industry will spend around $410 billion on devices, services, and software related to IoT by 2022. And within the healthcare sector at large, providers are taking some of the first and most visible steps toward being IoT-enabled.
Hospitals are beginning to embrace the Internet of Things. Several providers are experimenting with the so-called hospital room of the future. With multiple connected health devices, they predict the ability to increase the level of care and improve patient outcomes.
Biotelemetry provides accurate and quick feedback to patients. Real-time data is visualized on monitors, allowing healthcare practitioners to quickly assess the state of a patient. Much of the sensory data can also be stored for use in population studies or potentially model process improvements at an underperforming facility.
There are direct business benefits as well. One of the most cost-inefficient aspects of a hospital is around beds. Sensors can be used to connect and track hospital beds to determine when a bed is free, a way to drastically cut down on emergency waiting room time. In partnering with a New York hospital, GE found that these sensors were able to cut ER wait times by up to four hours, signifying amazing potential for this IoT application through expanded adoption.
Travel and Hospitality
The airline industry has made massive strides in recent years in cutting costs due to lost luggage. However, the SITA Baggage Report 2017, still estimates that globally, mishandled bags represent a $2.3 billion blow. IoT used in baggage tracking could potentially help the industry lower costs of recovering and returning misplaced luggage even as passenger numbers continue to grow.
To turn this around and understand the consumer perspective, imagine a passenger who has just completed a relaxing vacation in Cancun. On their way home they have not one, but two layovers. The airline will place a tag on the luggage at check in. The tag likely RFID or Bluetooth-enabled and is connected, and through the Internet, the airline can track the exact location of the bag. After our imaginary passenger arrives at their final destination, if the luggage is not there locating the bag becomes much simpler. At the lost luggage counter, the airline agent should be able to access the luggage tracking system and pinpoint exactly where the luggage is at that moment.
There may eventually be consumer versions of this type of application, allowing prudent travelers to query the status of their luggage and get information such as location and temperature. Further, there is the potential to include accelerometer measurements to alert the passenger if their luggage is dropped or mishandled. The consumer would optimally be able to monitor their baggage from a smart phone over a secure connection to the IoT luggage tag.
Benefits of Internet of Things
Data, data, data
The amount of data in the world has never been larger than it is today. And looking forward, the speed of generation is increasing constantly, pointing to an even more data rich future. But what good is all that data if we don’t have the ability access, aggregate, analyze and also improve the way that data is used?
The fundamental appeal of IoT is that the devices will generate unprecedented volumes of data. The wealth of information offers the potential for individuals and businesses to make better, more informed decisions. However, the data has to be retrievable.
One challenge with the IoT is how to get the data being generated off the device to a place where it can be meaningfully analysed. For consumers, a lot of these questions are answered by the accompanying applications that pair with wearable heartrate monitors and smart appliances. Businesses are still addressing the challenge around how to get the data. And this doesn’t begin to address the security questions of IoT, but more on that later.
IoT allows for more personalization than ever before. Because all these devices are connected, customers expect a certain level of customer support that is ingrained within the device itself. Services can be adjusted on the fly, and refined based on what a customer is asking for at that particular moment, whatever it might be. Devices are also able to improve over time as they gain more data and can make more accurate decisions tailored to each customers’ needs.
Internet of Things can drastically reduce overhead and lower a business’ expenses. At the same time, IoT will increase efficiency by allowing an enterprise to take advantage of a new business function. For instance, organizations can benefit from knowing exactly how much they need and when in terms of inventory. IoT devices can be used to track 7-eleven Slurpee® machines, or McDonald’s beverage stations. IoT provides better inventory management, which means fresher food gets delivered, and the food is easier to track.
Issues with Internet of Things
As much as we have laid out how useful the Internet of Things can be, there is also a flipside, and it’s one that enterprises must be cognizant of.
Like any other emerging technology, IoT brings an entirely new set of challenges to an enterprise. For those companies prepared to integrate some form of IoT into their organization, there remains a level of confusion around IoT standards, policy, and governance. While IoT shows promise due to the number of devices that are connected, that’s also a potential detriment to the viability of its security. The more devices there are, the more likely there will be a security breach. The sheer volume of devices is alarming.
What is secure today, might not necessarily be secure tomorrow. And that’s a major concern in terms of IoT devices. Imagine hackers being able to access (or even control) a smart car, your wireless router, potentially turn off a heart monitor or change the rhythm of a pacemaker, as scary as that sounds. A more connected world means one security glitch is all it could take to impact the personal data privacy or bring down an enterprise’s security and hold the business hostage.
Standards (or lack thereof)
As IoT devices have grown, many have called for uniform standards, in order to hold companies accountable and eliminate unsecure devices, and with it the security threat that they pose. Manufacturers and providers will have to increase their liability in order to fully make IoT secure. Companies must align efforts with each other around policies such as information sharing.
Technology moves at such a rapid rate; the fear of a device being outdated within just a few years is a real one. As a business, after a big investment on a connected device, whatever it might be, are you supposed to replace it every two years now? What about if your new refrigerator is revealed to have a known vulnerability, leaving the data exposed to the outside world? Sure, we’re talking about a fridge here, but that information would certainly be useful to food manufacturers and distributors.
Technology changes so fast, you have to start to question the vendors and the makers of these devices that power the technology itself. So many companies create these devices, but don’t have a firm strategy in terms of updating the software that runs these things. The risk factor is when the technology is not updated, it fundamentally cannot be as secure or robust as it can be. The result is a network of antiquated things that fails to meet connectivity and security requirements. In other words, the business may not be able to keep up these requirements if there is no way to keep the underlying IoT infrastructure up to date and secure. Further, this puts the business at a disadvantage, meaning the value that IoT promises simply won’t be realized.
Overcoming the security and antiquation challenge of outdated tech means enabling bidirectional connectivity with the hundreds, thousands, or possibly millions of devices on a network. First, the devices need to be connected, then the data being generated needs to collected. Secondly, the flow of information needs to go both ways in order to maintain the devices with batch updates and security patches.
As mentioned above, the number of IoT devices is going to reach over 20 billion by 2020. In addition to security concerns, and technology becoming outdated, a very real concern is just how are you going to maintain a connection without encountering a network bottleneck. As the networks grow, the underlying systems will need major investment, and you will be more dependent than ever on cloud servers to maintain these connections.
Internet of Things Companies
Many major vendors have taken advantage of the potential of IoT by creating hardware and software, and offering the services that stand to reshape multiple facets of businesses that embark on an IoT initiative. Other early adopters and innovative companies have incubated IoT projects or created platforms that are now in full swing and driving significant market interest:
- Amazon’s AWS IoT platform
- Features smart warehouses, core interconnection layer, and sync via AWS Greengrass, the AWS IoT platform started in 2015 that allows consumers to quickly place an order.
- AT&T IoT Platform
- With APIs and device connectivity, the AT&T platform helps developers build, deploy, and scale IoT solutions.
- GE Digital
- Concentrating on next-generation industrial processes, GE is one of the first companies to form a digital ecosystem around IoT with over 700 interconnected companies.
- Google Cloud IoT
- Google’s Cloud Core IoT offering is a managed service to connect devices via protocols such as MQTT and HTTP.
- IBM Watson
- IBM is focusing on artificial intelligence or A.I. as a way to make sense of all the data IoT generates in a number of industries such as automotive where there is potential applications for driverless vehicles. IBM is facing steep competition from Google and Amazon in the so-called A.I. War.
- Microsoft Azure IoT Hub
- Microsoft Azure is a cloud platform that supports data storage for IoT-generated data and is a popular choice of cloud for the infrastructure that sits between the devices and analytics applications.
- Qualcomm produces processors and 4G LTE and 5G modems that can be used in mobile and IoT devices.
The Future of IoT
The future of this cutting-edge technology within the enterprise is going to be very interesting to say the least. Intelligent companies that explore IoT may realize significant business advantage. For instance, a third party logistics outfit can use IoT plus new streams of data and analytics to optimize routes driving down the cost of doing business and increasing operating margins.
However, like any nascent technology, the risks are inherent. The issue will start to evolve from the need to address the challenges outlined above, from what do these things look like, and where are they located, to how can the individual or the organization get the information to an application or a system that’s meaningful?
Through connection, integration, and maintenance, how businesses choose to create worthwhile interactions with their data will determine whether the Internet of Things is successful or not.
For the majority of organizations, IoT remains unknown territory. And going forward, companies must be able to manage these devices and all the data in a responsible, well-governed way in order to minimize risk and fully capitalize on the true potential.