I was on vacation a few weeks ago, sitting on a beach on Cape Cod, when a friend of mine asked, “Hey, do you have the Shark Tracker app? I want to check to see if there are any sharks in the water today.” Really? This real-time app tracks shark sightings up and down the coast of the Cape. Some of the sharks have even been tagged with sensors and the app tracks them in real time!
This is just one example of the Internet of Things, better known as IoT. Today it’s not just the fact that we are connected 24 hours a day so that we can receive and send text messages, get notifications and alerts, and check our Facebook and LinkedIn accounts every 30 seconds. Just walking through my house, I counted a dozen devices that, in one way or another, are connected. My phone, iPad, television, smart light bulbs, and wireless speakers are all connected through Wi-Fi or LTE. And I haven’t even jumped on to the newest wave of connected devices – things like Google Home, Amazon Echo, a smart thermostat, and even smart doorbells. Granted, some of these are “nice-to-haves,” if not downright ridiculous (do I really need my refrigerator to tell me when I’m almost out of milk?), but they’re coming!
While most of these connections are aimed at consumers today, more are in place or coming soon to manufacturing, retail, and service businesses. This wave of connected devices will affect your enterprise architecture, which makes it an issue for the CIO.
If you work in a service business like healthcare, you need to develop expertise in a wide variety of fitness devices and maybe even connected medical devices. With which devices will your applications integrate? What data will your customers be sending you? How will your systems react to a wide array and volume of information that you’ve never before had to capture and store?
If you’re in the manufacturing sector, you need to learn when and where your products should be equipped with IoT sensors so they can provide real-time information to a central monitoring application. Devices that automatically schedule repair appointments before a refrigerator or air conditioner fails can improve customer satisfaction. They also allow you to gather hard information to improve a product faster and hopefully prevent a recall.
Forming a strategy around IoT requires that you consider how information flows into and out of your company's systems. IoT effectively creates the need for near real-time information exchanges between your customers and the products and services you offer them. It also requires that you realize most applications were never designed to integrate with the diversity of devices or the volume of data available today. In addition, testing all the interfaces and use case scenarios is difficult, if not impossible.
Furthermore, this new onslaught of connected devices changes the product development landscape. Historically, the gap between knowing how a product or service is used and a company’s ability to improve it lay solely with the customer. Unhappy customers would call, send you an email to complain about a service, or let you know about a problem. Your ability to intercede and correct the situation before the customer became dissatisfied, or worse, hurt themselves, was almost non-existent.
While there are a lot of good things that come from IoT, there is also a downside. All this connectivity comes with an increased security risk. Monitoring access to packets of information and connection through APIs is difficult even when you know the connection points. It’s more difficult when you have to use open APIs. If not architected correctly, applications and databases can be vulnerable to all the added connections. Finding ways to lock down networks and throttle connections is the next challenge for infrastructure and security professionals.
Every business, and every CIO, needs to build IoT enablement into strategic planning. No matter your industry, you will be affected by the use of IOT in internal operations and customer-facing products.
Who knows? Maybe someone will come up with an IOT device that can predict the next crisis you’ll need to deal with and give you more than a few hours to resolve it.