Is Internet of Things (IoT) for your business? How to use it?

western european IoT market explosion - IDCA new buzzword has exploded in the last 2 years: IoT. Behind this acronym, everybody recognises know the very wide family of connected devices, from portable ones like watches, sensors of any kind included in many industry products, to vehicle/shipping tracking systems. The object of all these devices is to deliver continuous data to their owner to facilitate gathering of information via GSM on a certain topic like body health status, fields hydrometry, or GPS localisation. With the massive decrease of cost of these small sensors, their usage has recently increased massively and opportunities to use them are developed every day.

Among them, there are for sure few business applications that could be of use for any company in the world. But once identifying the right idea, how to put it in place? And what are the pitfalls?Until 2020, Cisco considered in 2011 that about 50 Billions objects may be connected to Internet. Gartner, although more careful on the amount confirmed the trends in 2013 by planning about 26 billions connected objects, and Juniper last Summer up to 39 billions. Considering that about 13 billions objects are already connected Today, these estimates imply an increase between 200 to 400% in the coming 5 years!

Is there anything for me in it?

Most probably yes while considering how various their usage can be: In a recent report, MCKinsey is actually identifying more than 150 different use cases in various business areas. The most classical is most probably in the automotive sector where Volvo, among many others, is pushing a lot in that direction, in the health sector where many systems have been developed under the acronym of e-Health, or in the weather-related industry like Libelium value proposition.  There are actually many other areas that may get profit of such new technologies where maturity is still lower. To take two very recent examples, it is interesting to see how French post is planning to deploy connected buttons on every letterbox to make parcel private shipment easier, or how London city has used Pigeons to work on air quality.

Internet-of-Things-2016-1200x630

All in all, main influencer agree on the opportunities that IoT is offering Today. IDC, in their paper “IoT in Europe 2016: Your land of opportunity” is very well expressing it. The famous startup investor, Matt Turck is even showing how many companies are already investing in it in his recent report. And this is not just to be “trendy”. There are business values behind this.

screenagers and IoT AccentureA few days ago, Accenture has published a paper analysing the generation of “screenagers” who expect from companies more and more continuous and easy-to use access to information. That imply usage of IoT, but in a clever way: “As companies rush to release more and more intelligent devices and IoT applications, consumers have yet to be sold on their value propositions. These devices may be “smart”, but most are not easy to use and don’t offer clear services.
Although the next big thing is not here yet, the smart players are working hard to get it—whatever it will be—in front of screenagers before their competition does.

But How to make it happen?

When it comes to IoT, it comes to high volume of information, continuously delivered,  other said, to big data. As a consequence, IT needs to get prepared to receive this amount of data in order to handle it the right way. Often, business expects this kind of data to be treated immediately. Speed and therefore performance will be a key success factor. “Data center managers will need to deploy more forward-looking capacity management in these areas to be able to proactively meet the business priorities associated with IoT” warned already last year Gartner VP Joe Skorupa (see “IoT will transform the Data Center“). If the infrastructure in place is not ready for such high reactivity, outsourcing IoT data management to the Cloud may be an appropriate way of solving this kind of issue.

A dedicated architecture could be deployed to reply to IoT needs, or at least an adaptation of the existing one. On this, Deloitte has delivered a first but complete overview on the topics to cover while considering IoT implementation by listing the main issues by clear categories and offering a possible reference architecture for IoT:

  • Choice of sensors
  • Networks
  • Right choice of standards (don’t reinvent the wheel!)
  • Enabling augmented behaviour (let the machines speak together or to you)

Deloitte IoT Ref Architecture
Although this is still a challenge, usage of standards will bring some perennity to the implementation as Mr Ahmad Shahzad is confirming on his blog. With thousands of devices connected and filling in all day long the information flow, the lack of standards may drive IT to develop solutions that will become either hard to maintain or very quickly obsolete. To avoid this, InformationWeek is listing 8 OSes that could be used in an IoT reference model. There, one may find as well some interesting IoT Development Best Practices to follow. Big Actors are already working strongly on this subject. For instance, Amazon is offering via AWS nice SDKs supporting C, .NET, Java, Javascript and Arduino and offering connection protocols HTTP and MQTT secured thanks to X.509 authentication system.

As I already suggested when I spoke about Big Data, it may be wise to start small when implementing an IoT solution. This way, integration could be executed in a smoother way and guarantee good chances of success as recently suggested by Gartner.

The two “S” of Issue: Security and Staff

Accenture-Digital-Trust-Info-Thumb[1]As in any new environment, there are some challenges to consider before running for  IoT. The first one, and probably the most important one, is actually the Confidentiality aspect: People are already aware that Internet companies are gathering a lot of information about them without really asking (ah, the “opt-in” policy…). According to Accenture, about 54% of digital customers are cautious about their data privacy. They may then react negatively  while bringing them new connected devices. Accenture delivered a good report on Digital trust in the IoT era that could help handling this subject.

This has therefore to be executed in a clever way. Transparency is most probably a first point to consider while planning to gather data. But an additional approach could be to be clear about the deal with the customer: either offering him money or service for free in return of the usage of data company is aiming for. That is what Altimeter is actually recommending.

IoT barriers eMarketerStill, there may be some concerns on the confidentiality of the data gathered via connected devices: how will you guarantee that this data won’t be hacked by any third party? In such a multi source information flow, this is remaining a big challenge as expressed recently by eMarkeeters. For this reason, making sure that the connected device itself and the information channel are properly secured should be on top concern while setting up an IoT project.

Beyond the crucial data privacy issue comes another challenge any company should consider: human resources. With the phenomenon already initiated by the arrival of Big Data, IoT is even increasing the demand in new skills from the IT staff in matter of customer service and data analysis skills. Already in US, according to Industry body recent survey, although 68% of organizations said they had enough staff to meet current workloads, unfilled positions were a reality at 46%. This is therefore requiring to train people in this direction already Today.

Should I stay or should I GO?

In a process of Digital Transformation, companies do have many tools at hand to rethink their business and develop it. It is of course very difficult to take them all at the same time. As a consequence, prioritisation of areas to focus on is a key success factor.

Among these tools, IoT is clearly an innovative element offering plenty of opportunities where a clever actor could make the difference from competition. Depending on the business this may be seen as a nice “add-on” to plan for the coming year, or a core business development element to work on immediately.

One way or another, what is sure is that IoT is changing the way to offer services and therefore can’t be neglected at all.

dilbert - devops+iot+cloud 1 monkey

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