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Internet of Things | What does it mean?
Internet of Things – What does it mean and how to embrace it?
At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, IoT, or the ‘Internet of Things’, was the trending buzzword. Samsung CEO BK Yoon even went so far as to boldly state that in five years all Samsung hardware devices will be IoT ready, with televisions connected by 2017.
On top of this, Gartner predicts that by 2020 a staggering 26 billion objects will be IoT connected; in other words, IP-enabled, interactive, and ‘smart’. In fact, this growing global market could hit a worth of $7.1 trillion by that date.
Of course, these figures ought to be treated as speculation for now. Google’s foray into Virtual Reality with their Glass didn’t really have as much of an impact as had been initially anticipated, and even smartwatches are still being quietly accepted. Technology may be ever-changing, but humans are creatures of habit and not all are as keen or fast to embrace new technological developments. But if, to play devil’s advocate, these predictions do come about, what will IoT actually mean to us?
To explain the concept of IoT in as simple terms as possible, and to use a real-world example, let us take Continuity, which is available on Apple’s iOS8. You can start a task on your Apple Mac, move on to your iPad, and later pick it up on your iPhone whilst also being able to simultaneously interface with the Apple Carplay in your connected car. The point of all this is that you are interacting continuously and seamlessly with a number of ‘smart things’ in your world. This is just the beginning of what IoT offers and can do.
After all, technology is supposed to make life easier, not harder. This may seem to be the case for IoT at first, but on reflection the security challenges it faces are not only monumental in number, but they are of the highest importance in a time of heightened sensitive data and increasingly aggressive and destructive cyber security breaches. Despite this fear factor, major players such as Microsoft, IBM and Cisco are already committing to and investing in IoT. If we were to take this as an encouraging sign that the hype is becoming reality, just how and where will it be used, and what are the benefits of embracing this technological buzzword – in other words, what can IoT do for businesses?
Two Approaches to IoT
There are two elements to how we can embrace and use IoT. The first is aimed at consumers. More ‘smart’ devices will emerge. Inanimate and ‘dumb’ objects such as toasters, kettles and refrigerators will be ‘smartened’ up with real-time sensors that will respond to internal and external data and will be able to ‘communicate’ with you and each other. In fact, in the early noughties, when IoT was starting out as a budding concept, IBM dubbed it as M2M (machine-to-machine). Fast forward to five years from now, and even clothes will be connected with embedded sensors; earphones or your shirt will be able to tell you your heart rate and temperature, just in case you can’t figure out by yourself whether you’re hot or cold. We will be cocooned by ripples of data. There will be different mechanisms for communication between certain clusters of ‘things’, just as how networks of servers communicate; no need to write a grocery list, your fridge, oven and toaster will put their heads together and make one for you, which they will probably drop you in an SMS or a Whatsapp message.
Sarcasm aside, this ‘fun’ consumer side of IoT will lead us to be hyper-aware of pretty much everything around us. Personal health statistics, environment optimisation, even behavioural predictions such as personal spend preferences or triggers; we will be able to monitor them all – in effect, monitor ourselves. However, this will also mean that there will be much personal data, such as health, that we may not want shared with or known by others, that will essentially be ‘open’ and prey to being tapped into. How do we ensure that our private details remain just that – private?
The second element of how and where IoT can be used is the business side, which of itself will comprise two imperatives. The first will concern the manufacturers of these physical ‘smart’ objects; what data should be measured and why, how should this data be used and when, how can these sensors be made virtually invisible. The second will apply for all businesses – how can IoT data be used to understand and optimise business processes, tools, communications, and buying and selling behaviour?
Businesses Already Using IoT
The name of the game for any business is competitive edge, and using IoT to gain this advantage will be a key skill required for CIOs. They will need to figure out the quantity and meaningful uses of real-time data collated from a number of sources and how to best analyse it for optimum results. These last two factors are the most essential in getting the most business benefit from the IoT. Simply harvesting data from numerous devices is not the business differentiator. What is, however, is the generation of actionable business insights following the harvest. It is about interpreting, understanding, and then acting on these insights, and the trick of getting IoT right will be capturing and analysing better quality data and information, more quickly.
The Nordic industry, for example, is already embracing the Internet of Things in its industrial sector. Swedish giant Ericsson is applying its connectivity management, telecommunications and service enablement technologies to create IoT systems for its transportation, utilities and public security sectors. For example, their container management platform for shipping companies is used to monitor containers on board cargo vessels, to analyse their data and trigger alerts if there are any problems, such as a rise in temperature in a refrigerated container. Their technology is also behind the connected cloud service for Volvo. The car’s safety system allows it to identify dangerous situations and immediately alert other cars. Currently this is only available on Volvos, but the long term plan is to share this data with all cars and road authorities. Tesla, the American automotive and energy storage company, have input into their cars software that automatically downloads an update if repairs are needed and autonomously schedules a valet to pick it up and bring it into a Tesla facility.
On a consumer side, Ralph Lauren’s Polo Tech Shirt streams athletic performance biometrics such as heart rate, energy output and movement intensity to the cloud. Nest Labs have created a thermostat that allows users to control the temperature of their homes from their smartphone or tablet, and also helps customers save money on their energy bills with its Auto-Schedule feature. By teaching the thermostat efficient temperatures at certain times of the day, it will learn to build you a personalised schedule. Furthermore, the Auto-Away feature automatically turns to an energy-efficient ‘Away’ temperature when you are on holiday.
A Matter of Security
Whilst IoT for both consumer and business can bring a heightened level of useful data, as always with new technology there are risks. For businesses, the enterprise risk management issues revolve mostly around privacy, security, theft, and efficiency. The past few years have been riddled with IT security horror stories. We are living in an age where targeted attacks are becoming increasingly more common, complex, and smart. BYOD, for example, is already tricky to keep an eye on, but imagine doing that for big volumes of data that are coming from numerous external sources. The sheer volume of devices coming online will make it more difficult for organisations to keep a detailed track of exactly what data is coming from which source. With the data floodgates flung wide open, it will be easier for viruses, Trojans, malware, ransomware and every other IT security threat nightmare to attach themselves to the data and trickle through past security.
The wireless local area network (WLAN) is a factor that CIOs should pay extremely careful attention to if they want to minimise the plethora of security risks that come with using IoT. IoT capacity, network traffic, and maximum secure coverage across a company’s site are features that should be carefully considered and planned. The cloud will play a fundamental part in machine-to-machine interactions, especially for transmission, storage, and analysis. Therefore, choosing the right cloud solution is imperative, as the wrong choice could lead to scalability repercussions. System scalability is the ability to monitor multiple devices and store and process their data in the cloud; operational scalability focuses on minimising false alarms that may arise as a result of the increasing volumes of devices connected to the wireless network. If the wrong cloud solution is picked, these scalabilities will be negatively affected, giving ease of access to security breaches. But many institutions in the Financial Services are still hesitant to embrace the cloud. If they decide to venture into the world of IoT, they will have no choice but to take a leap of faith up into the clouds.
But security is not just a case of protective software. The human factor is just as important as the technological one. If left unmanaged, the sheer volume of data sourced can easily turn to clutter. Analytical skills will be even more desired amongst a company’s employees, as data is only useful and meaningful if it is intelligible. On top of this, employees must also be a part of the cloud culture. A cloud solution should not just be overseen by the provider; employees should be trained on how best to manage the space so that they are fully incorporated in the processes of storage, monitoring and security checks. By being able to manage the cloud, it will be easier for them to sift through the torrents of data coming in and pick out that which is relevant to their business, making the final step of analysing it easier.
Yes, the Internet of Things has the potential to be an IT overhaul. It could revolutionise the way we perceive and interact with data and technology. And whilst some may be dubious as to its uses on a consumer level, those businesses that treat it as a creative edge will shoot past their competitors to the top of their game.
As has been highlighted, the biggest pit fall with using IoT for your business is security. But with proper planning and consultations on staff training, risks can be significantly reduced and data made manageable and comprehensible.
For businesses that are interested in exploring the world of IoT and seeing what benefits they will garner, Sentronex can create personalised cloud solutions that are tailor made to suit the needs and regulatory requirements of individual companies. Its dedicated team of Account Managers are also able to consult members of staff across all levels on how best to manage the cloud and be cyber secure. The age of the Internet of Things is coming – will you let it pass you by or reap its benefits?
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