Our editor Doug Drinkwater discusses how, for all the hype, the Internet of Things (IoT) still has numerous obstacles to hurdle before wide-scale adoption is possible.
It’s early days for IoT, but we’ve already seen how it can transform industries and the companies within them.
In the last few months alone, we’ve heard, seen and reported on everything. From insurers leveraging telematics, smartphone, wearable and drone data, to manufacturers utilising robotics and internet-connected modules under industrie 4.0 initiatives to become smarter and faster. We’ve seen retailers installing beacons, farmers deploying sensors to save crops and ingestible sensors to improve diet.
It is clear that IoT has the power to overhaul businesses, changing the way they operate, make money, and liaise with their customers. The smart companies realise that IoT is not a gimmick – it’s a business differentiator and a valuable one at that for commoditised industries.
Recently, one alarmed CIO of a large insurer told me, IoT “…has the power to completely change how we operate”.
This is why its many barriers to adoption are so frustrating. Let’s discuss….
Business culture puts the brakes on IoT
Almost undoubtedly the biggest challenge to any (and mainly large) organisations deploying IoT is company culture.
Senior management are usually unconvinced by the need to innovate, and they need to see some significant case studies from other companies before they even consider investing into new technologies or partnering with other companies. This is a tricky balancing act for CIOs and innovation departments, who are caught between showing these examples to influence decision makers, while also being aware that such a delay could see early-adopter competitors move ahead.
It’s not just IoT that is facing these challenges: more broadly, a number of industries – especially those that are highly-regulated – are looking at ways of innovating on the cheap.
Changing company culture is a difficult task – it requires new processes, people and talent, before you even think about technology. However, it can be done through education, awareness and with an open attitude to working with industry partners.
A lack of talent
IoT requires a whole host of new skills and people, from data scientists and analysts to innovation managers and IoT software engineers. Data scientists, in particular, has become a growing profession in recent years, yet many organisations don’t know where to find them.
Smart companies are acquiring and partnering with start-ups for this, getting involved with accelerator programmes and establishing partnerships with universities and other education establishments.
Technically speaking, it is fair to say that there is a huge question mark over IoT in relation to privacy and security. This is for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, these devices are collecting and transmitting huge quantities of data, which could be intercepted (security) or leaked (privacy) if the proper controls are not in place. Sadly, this is often the case with developers and designers prioritising user experience and the rush to market, and all too often leaving security to a later date.
This could soon change – especially with EU regulations levying bigger fines for data breaches and pushing for ‘Privacy by Design’ – but it will remain a significant problem for some time yet.
Standards may ease this path, but it’s also recommended that you identify the right products, and make sure your security measures are up to speed before rolling out these devices.
Legacy systems are a burden to all large companies. These back-end systems are often propriety, closed-systems, which are highly customised to the needs of that business, and sometimes have no further support from the software or hardware suppliers that made them. Some of these may have even gone out of business.
What does this mean for IoT? Essentially, that you have to tread extremely carefully with how these technologies integrate with existing systems.
Wi-Fi or cellular, ZigBee or Bluetooth? How IoT sensors communicate with each other is critical for the IoT ecosystem. Deployments won’t work otherwise, and products will be useless and short-lived.
The standardisation debate on IoT is one for the vendors and it threatens to go on and on in the coming months and years. Open source has to be the way forward.
It is believed that open source holds the key to the future success of IoT, and this is especially true of the data coming from IoT devices.
To actually make sense of this data, companies will not only need the right skills, but also the ability to leverage data that is both open and sharable. There are already questions over who owns the data, and how you make sense of unstructured or structured data. I suspect that in time the answers will come to light.
All of the above is why we last month launched Internet of Business, the new home of IoT news for business.
We’re not interested in the hype and noise, but rather the real business applications of these technologies. We want to hear the best case studies, see cutting edge solutions from vendors of all sizes (especially start-ups) and see if we can address the current obstacles to deployment. We’re the only media site looking at IoT across the different industries.
Doug Drinkwater is Editor of Internet of Business