IoT Need to Know: Unravelling the Internet of Things

Imagine a heating system that remembers when you turned it down and by how much, and learns to do this automatically, according to your preferences. Well the Nest Learning Thermostat is not a thing of imagination – it’s widely available in Ireland right now and a good example of a service using the Internet of Things (IoT).

IoT refers to devices that can be assigned an IP address and connect to the Internet to other devices, enabling M2M (Machine to Machine) communication. That means doctors can remotely connect to pacemakers, security cameras feeds can be checked via a phone and our refrigerator orders food when it senses the stocks are low.

In many ways, IoT is like the smart assistant we have on our phone with Google Now and Siri on iOS, just on household and workplace appliances and machines.

The technology is getting more affordable and available, moving IoT from the hands of the first adopters and to a mainstream reality.

IoT Now

While we mostly hear IoT spoken about in the future tense, there are plenty of real world examples now, although not yet case studies to suit every type of business.

We’ve collected three examples, recounted below, to inspire CTOs and anyone who aims to future-proof their organisation as part of their job description.

1. Big Industry and Manufacturing

Now new factories can ensure each piece of machinery, from valves to switches, is tagged with sensors capable of feeding data into a collective analytic hub. US-based Sight Machine offers a analytics platform to collect data from manufacturing sensors, automation systems, and other factory systems, then analyses it and delivers insights in real time. It also allows users securely access a web interface remotely on a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

2. In the Office

You may have already heard of the Intel IoT Platform and seen its promising infographic about the future of connectivity. Intel claims its Gateways product allows the connectivity of legacy industrial devices and other systems to cloud-based IoT solutions. The data it collects gives actionable information, like the potential to automate operations and create services.

IT managers should take a look at the product suite’s Gateway Development Kit to judge compatibility for their business needs.

3. In Logistics and Shipping

This year, Swedish telco Ericsson launched Maritime ICT Cloud; a system which connects vessels at sea with shore-based operations, maintenance service providers, customer support centres, fleet/transportation partners, port operations and authorities. This is a step towards automating tasks such as updating traffic, cargo, port, weather and safety information that is currently sent point-to-point rather than made available simultaneously via a network.

If your business could automate and extract improved analytics from trip optimization, cargo monitoring and crew welfare data, it might transform your business.

4. In Vehicles

It’s impossible to talk about the internet of things without talking about the Internet of Cars (IoC). According to Gartner, by 2020, there will be a quarter billion connected vehicles on the road, enabling new in-vehicle services and automated driving capabilities.

Although the IoC conversation is often steered towards the topic of self-driving vehicles, one overlooked by-product of this futurology is entertaining these new passengers. Those in driverless cars will have more time available for consuming media, thus creating an increased demand for in-car entertainment systems similar to those currently found in certain airplanes and taxis.

The Privacy of Things

IoT trends have already caught the attention of regulators in the US and Europe.

In January of this year, The US Federal Trade Commission issued a report which urged companies to adopt best practices to address consumer privacy and security risks when it comes to IoT.

In Europe, The Article 29 Data Protection Working Party also released a paper expressing specific concerns regarding data emanating from wearable computing, home automation and quantified self. It was released to coincide with the launch of the iWatch.

Realisation of IoT in Ireland

In The Second UPC Report on Ireland’s Digital Future: Accelerating Economic Recovery, we spoke about how providing access to high speed broadband is at the forefront of many digital developments and trends. A fundamental requisite for the realisation of IoT is uninterrupted, high quality broadband for the whole country. As the Irish government’s National Broadband Plan delivers such infrastructure through a combination of commercial and State investment in 2015 and 2016, stakeholders around the country should get ready to integrate with IoT.

IoT Strategy for your Business

It’s not a matter of if, but how IoT applies to your business. The real question is, how do you prepare?

There are a number of steps to future proof any organisation looking to keep one eye on IoT.

1. Research Before you Purchase

If there is a need to replace a component in your organisation’s infrastructure in the near future, don’t just plan the acquisition in relation to your short-term needs. Keeping IoT in mind, a business must consider ‘the bigger picture’ and how the replacement item will interact with future systems that may need to be upgraded in 3-5 years. Thankfully embracing IoT doesn’t mean overhauling every legacy system in the building, but interconnectivity should be the key consideration when investing from this point on.

2. Know your Data

We live in an age of analytics. Audit your organisation’s reporting methodology and consider how automation or increased interconnectivity could maximise efficiency in this area. Could a specific investment in your company’s IT save you countless man hours and costs?

3. Secure, Secure, Secure  

For many, the IoT journey starts small. Whether it’s a smart TV in the conference room or an iPad controlled lighting system in the client meeting area, it’s not unusual for an organisation to build an interconnected organisation, piece by piece. One danger that could potentially stem from this approach to IoT is to underestimate the security threats posed by some of the more ‘fringe’ or novelty products in your workplace. Recent research conducted by Proofpoint, the data protection solutions company, revealed 750,000 phishing and spam emails launched by malware in connected televisions and fridges.

The lesson here is to know the detailed functionality of each device and treat its security as seriously as you would your WiFi connection. After all, you don’t want the word getting out that the office toaster got hold of your clients’ bank details.