An IT admin walks in to his cabin and instantly knows something is wrong. He does not even have to look at his dashboard to identify the problem. Instead, he heads straight to the server room to fix the server which is overheating because of a failed fan.
The IT admin does not have a sixth-sense. He is alerted to the problem by an internet-enabled thermostat in the server room which sensed the rise in temperature and automatically changed the lighting to alert the admin, through an internet-enabled lightbulb and his smart watch.
This is not the plot of a futuristic Sci-Fi movie. It is 2015 and just one example of how the Internet of Things (IoT) is already at work in business.
Every few years, IT communities become awash with new buzzwords and trends that early adopters declare as the next big thing and sceptics decry as impractical and over-hyped. Over time, some fizzle out because of low industry acceptance, while others go on to really disrupt the industry.
From smart cars to watches and even homes, connected technologies are already changing consumer lives, fueling growing expectations and apprehensions. Last year, the government demonstrated its belief in the future potential of technology when it pledged to spend £45m to develop the IoT, more than doubling the funds available to the UK technology firms developing everyday devices that can communicate over the internet.
In the consumer market, IoT technology is already being lapped up. Within just a few months of its launch, Apple claimed 75% of the smartwatch market. As yet, self-driving cars are yet to take to Britain’s roadways. However, with prototypes already being pioneered and app developers racing to create everything from connected entertainment to automated piloting using GPS, when the infrastructure required to make smart cities a reality is sanctioned by local councils and city mayors, IoT could literally find itself in the driving seat.
Outside of very early prototype projects, currently, IoT does not rank highly on the enterprise agenda, which is typically a few years behind the general technology adoption cycle. However, in the not-too-distant future, smart-devices will be the norm – IDC estimates the market will be worth $8.9 Trillion by 2020, with 212 billion connected devices.
With the promise of enhanced business processes and intelligence, IoT is increasingly being touted as a holy amalgamation of big data, mobility and cloud technology. Despite this, in the short term at least, businesses will be reluctant to flow of sensitive data through such internet-enabled devices due to obvious security concerns. The exception is in the large businesses that have already explored the potential of machine-to-machine connectivity in their industries, such as automotive and insurance.
Where smart devices are catching up in day-to-day business is in an entirely different function of operations – facilities. What if your management decides to get internet-enabled LED bulbs and thermostats which connect to the internet? Will the IoT bring additional responsibilities on to the service desk? A definite yes.
Facilities need to be managed – and a tool to manage them. That’s just the start. For example, each bulb in a smart IoT connected environment must be monitored and checked to confirm they are working.
Assuming there are over 100 such appliances in an office environment, consider all the IP addresses that will need to be allocated. Likewise, a mesh network would also be required to control the IP address allocation, where one connected device would result in an ad-hoc network.
As previously non-IT facilities start to be connected to the internet, it will be the job of the IT team to make sure they’re working well. As the volume of devices connected to the network grows, securing it will be even more challenging.
Of course, organisations can get around the security challenge by having a local network dedicated only for these devices, but the management of this expanded estate would nonetheless require a dedicated management tool.
Where large organisations have already invested in machine-to-machine (M2M) interactions and deployed connected devices in their facilities, the purpose has typically been to achieve automation and gather more intelligence.
As yet, smaller businesses do not have to worry about automation and logistics at such large scales and it’s clear that the IoT is definitely not going transform their business operations overnight. However, before long, IoT will be something all IT departments should learn to manage – especially the new generation of IoT-connected devices which would traditionally have been classed and managed as non-IT assets.