Is Your Business Prepared for the Internet of Things?
The things are coming. In many homes and offices, they’re already here.
As the Internet expands to engulf nearly every type of device, no longer just computers and smartphones, the Internet of Things (IoT) is the coming wave in computing that’s already arrived.
At home, “connected” devices include cars, refrigerators, smart TV’s, fitness trackers, climate controllers, and more, even light bulbs. Connected business devices may include sophisticated sensors, trackers, and other tools used in health care, manufacturing, e-commerce, government, and just about every industry and sector.
Various studies put the number of connected devices in use by the end of this decade in the tens of billions. Millions already connect to business applications, with many millions to come.
As a result, the Internet of Things is driving massive, rapid change in computing, but also in business itself.
And yet, a 2017 study found that three-quarters of IoT implementations fail for a variety of reasons, including time and cost overruns, improper integrations, and general lack of knowledge and expertise.
So the question now is: Is your business prepared for the Internet of Things?
In this post we’ll look at ways you can prepare now to make your IoT transition a success, no matter your industry or sector.
Many Internets of Things
Perhaps the first thing to note is that deploying the Internet of Things “will place more of a strain on traditional IT infrastructure,” writes State Tech Magazine.
In short, the Internet of Things will challenge your company’s computing, bandwidth, storage, security, and networks in new, larger, and more complex ways:
“The current generation of IT infrastructure was designed for predictable endpoints such as PCs and servers that, once purchased, remained pretty much in place for the years to follow. But the new world of IoT isn’t so monolithic or static. Instead, it covers a far more dynamic world that is services-centric, cloud-based, agile, scale-on-demand, and capex-friendly.”
There are ways that every business and organization can prepare, no matter your industry. But there are differences too.
Let’s start with those.
IoT by Industry
In many industries, the IoT will fundamentally alter the nature of customer service.
“Whether these transformations become competitive advantages or disadvantages will be determined largely by how well customer service departments respond to them,” writes Software Advice. “The IoT will open the doors to many new and creative forms of proactive customer service.”
For example, customer service reps will no longer need to spend valuable time gathering basic information. “It will already be in the system, providing context for the agent. In more advanced scenarios, the devices may resolve the issue before the customer is even aware of it.”
State and local agencies will need to ensure they can “handle the influx of smarter and more numerous devices, sensor networks and connected communications across their geographies,” advises State Tech.
Industrial Strength IoT
The IoT is already changing manufacturing so much it already has a new sub-acronym of its own: IIoT — the Industrial Internet of Things.
The IoT and IIoT share many technologies — including cloud computing, sensors, and data analytics — but use them in different ways.
“IoT applications connect devices across multiple verticals, including agriculture, healthcare, enterprise, consumer and utilities, as well as government and cities,” according to TechTarget’s IoT Agenda website. “IIoT applications, on the other hand, connect machines and devices in such industries as oil and gas, utilities and manufacturing.”
Finally if your business relies on e-commerce, you’ll be deploying IoT to handle more than sales funnels. The IoT handles your whole supply chain: suppliers, product development, fulfillment, shipping, fleet tracking, and back around to customer service.
“The driving philosophy behind IIoT is that smart machines are not only better than humans at capturing and analyzing data in real time, they are better at communicating important information that can be used to drive business decisions faster and more accurately,” according to IoT Agenda.
Many Needs, One Solution
“What this means is developing a system for not just collecting and organizing all that data, but also extracting actionable intelligence from it,” writes WebCreate.me.
“Extracting actionable intelligence” is exactly what Microsoft Azure’s suite of IoT services is built to do. It provides what every business and industry wants: simple integrations with central, easy-to-use controls and data analytics visualization.
“Microsoft has created new technologies to secure IoT endpoints, brought artificial intelligence (AI) to the edge, delivered spatial intelligence, and launched over one hundred new IoT services and capabilities—empowering organizations across industries to thrive with IoT,” according to the Azure website.
We’ve already written in detail about Azure IoT Edge computing. But to sum up briefly:
Azure integrates your diverse mobile and IoT devices with central cloud computing and data analytics into a coherent system where everything works together seamlessly.
That makes Azure a one-stop IoT shop no matter your business or industry. This schematic shows where Azure’s IoT Hub, IoT Edge, and other services fit into an IoT workflow.
Get Prepared for the Internet of Things
For all the differences, there are factors that any business or organization can consider now. You don’t want your IoT implementation to be among the 75% that fail.
1. Develop an IoT vision.
All too often, a shiny new toy catches your eye and you call that a “vision.”
A real vision starts with an inventory of what you have now. Then it considers what you want in one, five, or ten years. That’s not just the number of devices. It’s the number and kinds of people in your organization and how you want them to work together.
What role do you want IoT to play? Defining the mission, purpose, and overall vision of your IoT operations will inform and guide every decision after that. You would do the same with your business as a whole.
2. Update your communications networks
No matter your industry or business, you’ll still need to update your office wi-fi and cellular data service.
The coming 5G standard is the first that’s not backward compatible. That means you won’t be able to use 5G devices on a 4G network like you use 4G devices on 3G. Your current service or infrastructure may become useless.
3. Double down on mobile security.
Cybersecurity must be an integral part of any IoT implementation.
Securing mobile devices like smartphones and tablets that people use for work is hard enough as it is. And makers of other connected devices are, on the whole, even worse. Few build in security features, update firmware, or take other measures that might prevent cyberattacks.
4. Understand how your data moves.
As we said earlier, implementing IoT is going to place greater demands on your network infrastructure. Partly that’s because of how data is stored and handled, partly because you’ll have so much more data than before.
For starters, you’ll need to look at how and where you store data: locally, in the cloud, or both. IoT computing in fact requires the huge capacity and central availability of the cloud for data storage, analytics, and transfer. Azure Cloud Storage integrates seamlessly with its IoT services to provide native integration of all these services.
5. Practice and test first.
Possibly the last thing you want is to complete a huge, costly IoT implementation, only to find out it doesn’t work.
Before that happens, deploy and test your IoT on smaller scales with non-critical systems. Or even on simple consumer devices you might have in your office, like smart climate controls.
6. Prepare your humans, not just your devices.
Even the best technology won’t help if your people can’t (or won’t) use it.
That’s why it’s critical to instill a culture of IoT education and shared ownership among your employees and partners. As with any large-scale technology deployment, resistance to change can ruin your best laid plans — a topic we discuss in depth here.
7. Reimagine teamwork.
Most people use smartphones, tablets, Alexa, and other connected devices every day. That doesn’t mean they can use them collaboratively to get work done.
The IoT offers many opportunities for teams to work smarter, smoother, and more productively. How they’ll do this is exactly the kind of thing to include in your IoT vision (#1 above).
Review the apps and workflows your teams and organization use now, and think creatively about how you’d like to use them. Your employees can provide invaluable input on this. Asking and incorporating their ideas is an excellent way to get buy-in. That creates the kind of company IoT culture (#6) that helps ensure not just successful implementation, but ongoing success.
8. Work with IT experts.
Even these “simple” steps above are a large and complex task to take on yourself. If you don’t have a large in-house IT department, you’ll benefit greatly from outside expertise.
This is where a managed IT services provider like PC Professional comes in. We understand how all these things work, and work together.
The Internet of Things is no small thing. Learn more about our managed IT services and how they can help your organization prepare for the future of business computing.