Ben Boswell, Area Vice President of Europe at World Wide Technology, hopes that scepticism will help businesses to achieve real business outcomes.
The proposed applications of IoT, blockchain, Big Data and AI are becoming increasingly radical – and scepticism is keeping pace. Recently, Wall Street signalled that they are not entirely confident in some of the most heavily promoted examples of these technologies.
We can only hope that the time will soon be up for any solutions simply riding on the bandwagon of hype associated with umbrella terms such as IoT or AI. Businesses deserve technology vendors who are honest about the solutions needed to tackle their frustrations and pains, rather than endlessly promoting a list of ‘next-generation’ technologies. Nowhere is this currently more evident than with IoT.
The big, lucrative prizes which are on offer have encouraged many companies to throw caution to the wind when it comes to implementing IoT projects. A study of 3,100 business and IT decision makers across 20 countries found that by 2019, 85 per cent of businesses plan to implement an IoT strategy, with the hope that it will drive innovation and business efficiency.
However, many IoT initiatives rush to deploy technology and fail to align to the business. Not fully understanding the business outcome or the critical underlying IoT infrastructure can lead to a fragmented solution that may not be secure, sustainable or scalable.
Cutting through hype: the right people with the right questions
Companies can remain attentive to the overhyping of IoT by unswervingly taking the question of business outcomes as their starting point – without rushing to simply ‘put a chip in it’. Practically, what this looks like is a willingness to bring together IT with heads of different business lines and on-the-ground employees who deal with the day-to-day operations and business processes that are in question.
This might seem obvious, but while 98 per cent of organisations that have adopted IoT say they have the capability to analyse data, 97 per cent of these businesses reported that they are not extracting and analysing data within corporate networks and using those insights to drive and develop business decisions.
The first task must be to define a set of outcomes specifically enough to make them actionable, then work out how information can be gathered and analysed from different endpoints. The question then becomes how this information can be combined to determine specific patterns and behaviours, which will ultimately provide the basis for new business decisions.
Taking the time to deal with the implications
The difference between a technology project being, at its worst, no more than a vanity project, and at its best, a genuine business transformation, is often down to nothing more than the clear presence of business objectives.
Yet an expensive vanity project is not the worst that can happen as the result of hype. Even where the scope of IoT projects is well defined, concerns around security and privacy issues linger. The range of devices that are now being connected are not known for having a mature software development lifecycle. Some devices placed on the Internet may only be patched every 12-18 months, if that. The rush to stick a chip in it and connect it to the network often obscures the real risks at hand.
The simple – often forgotten – fact underlying this connectivity is that these devices put an extra strain on the network and create reams of data that must be managed, stored and secured. Network visibility is crucial, but the rapid explosion of devices increases the challenge of keeping track of vulnerabilities. Traditionally, IT security focused on the user, but now the focus must be on ‘things’. Segmenting a network, with initiatives such as the introduction of air-gaps between essential and non-essential devices, helps to form a physical barrier against potential devastation.
It’s all in the implementation
When implemented securely and rationally, the real world benefits of Next Big Thing technologies often go above and beyond the original expectations of efficiency and profitability. For IoT to deliver on its promises, though, companies offering it must be realistic about the requirements for security, network, business ideation and data analytics. Companies that sell IoT products without defining the outcome, integrating with networks and ensuring IoT-specific security procedures are in place, leave their customers vulnerable to the negative effects of hype.
Ultimately, businesses need to hold out against the ‘rush mentality’ that they may feel pressured into by the speed of innovation happening around them. Less haste can in this case not only mean more speed, but also less hype.