The Internet of Things (IoT) is perfectly named. The fact we use the nonspecific term ‘things’ to refer to the wildly proliferating collection of connected devices spanning both the consumer and industrial markets is the clue. Things generally come in random shapes and sizes and typically lack formalised structure and common standards.
This haphazardness is fine for second hand clothes and chocolate selection boxes, but business technology professionals have to be able to align the things of the Internet to the formalised world of corporate technology that we have years creating.
Instrumenting devices, systems & people
Analyst house Gartner predicts that more than half of major new business processes and systems will incorporate some element of the Internet of Things by 2020. The firm says that the impact of the IoT on consumers' lives and corporate business models is rapidly increasing as the cost of ‘instrumenting’ physical things with sensors and connecting them to other things (devices, systems and people) continues to drop. But, the problems also increase in line with this growth.
Gartner also, for example, predicts that by 2020 we will see a black market exceeding US$5 billion that sells fake sensor and video data for enabling criminal activity and compromising personal privacy.
Such difficulties exist at least in part because the underpinning infrastructure of the IoT and its data diffusion mechanisms was never formally defined, not even by any set of de facto standards. The Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that typically glue together IoT transmissions were never designed from the ground up for security, they were built for functionality.
Ultimately, the next phase of development in the IoT will see us work to continually improve data transmission costs, the robustness and availability of mobile connectivity and the validity of the underlying network infrastructures… particularly those that rely on cloud computing as an IoT lifeblood.
There is another problem that businesses and business technology professionals need to address - a tendency to connect ‘things’, just because it is technically feasible, not because there is a solid business case for the connection.
Spam not SPAM
Product development driven by the IoT is often on an innovation curve that outstrips the IT governance, compliance and management curve that should naturally accompany it.
Should we really be building so-called ‘sentient’ thinking fridges without considering the network connection implications? As O2 points out, “By its very nature, the Internet of Things will mean that a lot of very personal data about your life is shared between devices online -- that means that there’s a chance it will fall into the wrong hands. There has already been one case of an Android-based fridge sending out spam emails.”
Of course IoT product development is not restricted to fridges. Connected and instrumented gauges, monitors, sensors and monitoring devices are proliferating in use cases that include: industrial turbines, traffic and pedestrian monitoring systems, home utility control systems, aviation implementations and the buildings that we live and work in as we create so-called smart cities.
Most tangible of all for many of us will be ‘wearables’ in the form of fitness trackers as we build what analysts like to call the ‘quantified self’, a data mountain that tracks and records our every human activity - if we allow it.
Low power devices
As IoT devices proliferate there are some intrinsic limitations of power and compute capacity that have to be overcome for effective business (and personal) benefits. IoT devices have little power. Every smartwatch and every building camera sensor is a limited ‘thing’ in terms of its computer processing speed, its data storage, its ability to network and channel information and most of all its data analytics capabilities. This set of intelligence functions happens in the cloud computing environments and platforms that support the IoT.
Without these underpinning life-giving architectures, a watch would still be a watch and not a smartwatch. Without these underpinning networks and connectivity solutions, a camera would still be a camera and not an IoT sensor. Without these management, automation and data analytics frameworks, it would a case of the Internet and some things, not the Internet of Things.
Firms such as O2 explain how important it is to consider the role of the backend as the front-facing (or at least front-end) aspects of the IoT grow. The firm offers a managed connectivity platform to control IoT end points using Cisco’s Jasper IoT platform and has recently won the biggest global machine-to-machine (m2m) contract to date. The firm’s Smart Home and O2 Drive consumer insurance telematics products provide evidence to suggest that the company is already very much on the IoT journey.
According to O2 itself, the O2 Smart Compliance offering allows an organisation to digitally monitor and record IoT related data tasks in real-time to meet productivity, efficiency, safety and compliance requirements.
Order from chaos
Specifically here then, the solution allows the monitoring of information and tasks through simple workflow check forms (tick a box, provide a comment, add a photo) and so this solution is intended to provide confidence for when something has to be done at a specific asset or location within a given timeframe.
The workflow process here speaks specifically of bringing order to chaos and this is crucially important for the IoT. At the security level we already know that the fight for internal IoT API security is lost because it was never architected in from the start, so security is now focused one level higher at the data transit layer. O2 does this with workflow checks that provide the level of control that was missing at the start, but is now intelligently architected on (one could almost say ‘grafted on’) to real business data flows that channel IoT information.
As IoT technologies flourish further, business will find that that implementation requires a more stringent and more conscientious approach to industry-specific regulations, statutes, insurance conditions and contractual obligations. We need connected knowledge of what actions our IoT devices are performing in terms of digital proof that a task was completed by a specific asset at a specific location at a specifically given time.
Real world applications
Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford, east London, provides what appears to be a relatively prosaic example of this technology in action. IoT allows the Westfield facilities management team to look at the work of the cleaning staff. The cleaners have to sanitise all toilets at least once every hour and check for replacement toilet rolls, hand towels and liquid soap. The IoT investment is justified because of both Health & Safety brand reputation requirements. It allows the Westfield facilities management team to ensure that the cleaning contractors performs these checks and completes these tasks at the right time and that no issues have been identified. IoT allows Westfield to gauge that operations are happening when they are supposed to happen and to extract and retain the intelligence it needs to show compliance.
As a second example, when a train terminates at the station, Train operating companies have to ensure that all passengers have alighted and that no unattended baggage has been left on the train or on the platform. This is to satisfy both security and customer service/punctuality requirements. IoT allows a Train operating companies to ensure that these checks are completed at the right time and that no issues have been identified.
The IoT has already created a maelstrom of data, much of it unstructured, potentially unstable and insecure – and both data volumes and their associated problems are going to grow. Bringing order to this chaos and providing a new regime to allow us to conduct defined and appropriately managed business operations across this new base of data is imperative. The Internet and its platforms, gateways, toolsets and abstraction layers give us networked knowledge, collaborative connection and analytic-based insight. So whether the application is industrial or end user consumer level, an unmanaged chaotic Internet of Things represents too many ‘things’ and not enough Internet.
This article is brought to you in association with O2.