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Abstract representation of the Internet of Things

4 executive actions for unleashing possibilities and reaping business value with IoT

  • 28 June 2021 / By Mark Ardito

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been on consumers’ radar for a long time. When the notion first became reality, IoT required lots of money and lots of wires. Not today. Smart homes, smart cars, even smart clothing are becoming commonplace. Similarly, businesses and industries have seen IoT go from expensive hardware to easily implemented and managed systems.

In a recent roundtable, we sat down with a group of CIOs and senior IT leaders, as part of our CIO Community roundtable series, to discuss unlocking the benefits of IoT. Host Mark Ardito was joined by Dan Rosanova, Head of Product Management for Confluent Cloud, alongside this group of technology executives to explore the actions to take to help IT leaders make significant strides towards a successful application of IoT and optimize business value.

IoT has to include IT as well as OT

Before IoT was known as IoT, there was supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA). This system of software and hardware elements allows local or remote control of industrial processes and capture of real-time data to monitor devices. SCADA is operation technology (OT), separate from information technology (IT).

As IoT expands operational capabilities and in some cases replaces SCADA, maximizing business value means including IT—providing cloud infrastructure, maintaining and updating applications, and managing OT-generated data.

Creating an OT-IT interface can create serious risk as the information being transmitted over the network could be vulnerable to incursions from outside. In certain business sectors, there can be a risk that personal identifying information (PII) is included inappropriately in data transmissions, which is another type of risk.

Action

Today there are IoT devices that can manage secure communications and devices that capture consumer data without including PII. Long-life batteries and data storage are also now cost-effective, so this is the time to interconnect OT and IT systems for increased business value.

 

“On-premises” has become the edge, and it’s getting crowded

Edge computing has become a feature of the OT-IT interface. Simply put, the “edge” is the technology that works in the operational unit—what was once called “on-premises.” A factory is an edge, an electric substation is an edge, a motor vehicle can be an edge.

Wherever they are located, edge devices are able to generate huge amounts of data. Processing and analyzing the data can present challenges. Managing all data at the edge burdens those devices and can be expensive in terms of energy.

On the other hand, transmitting data to be analyzed elsewhere can likewise burden IT systems. Where should data be processed and analyzed to get the most benefit?


Action

Get ahead of the edge in terms of data management. Determine what you need now versus what will be useful later. What data is most valuable to process immediately? What data can be analyzed over time? What data needs to be aggregated with similar data from other edges and then analyzed?

Use the edge to process and analyze that data that needs to be as real-time as possible and transmit data that can be analyzed elsewhere via the cloud. This will generate the biggest benefit without burdening OT or IT.

 

Data mesh, not data mess

By itself, data mesh could really be Pandora's box. What if I told you your data could be everywhere? And then what if I told you some of that data is your social security number? Really quickly, this goes from, "Hey, this could be awesome," to, "Oh my god, this is the most terrifying prospect I could be facing."

At the end of the day, leaders want to protect the organization and its consumers. Meaning the ideal scenario would be to extrapolate the data needed at the edge and purge everything else.

Cooler Screens is an example of this becoming a reality. These are real-time digital ads active in some cooler sections of Walgreens stores. The cooler doors have all been replaced with LCD screens, allowing shoppers to see the contents of that cooler, such as mountain Dew, Pepsi, and things of that nature. However, at the same time, it can recognize these shoppers as a person.

Not who you are but what they are. For example, a 44-year-old male with a beard approaches and it determines to show an advertisement for the razor blades that are on sale right now. Edge computing is able to recognize that there is a person there and some of the attributes around that, without storing any data or a photograph.

Action

Understand what data is being generated where and where it's flowing. Based on that information you can then define where you have confidential or sensitive information, like PII, in a data stream. This will identify where there is a need to put gates in place to protect or stop the leaking of private data.

5Gs impact on IoT

Connectivity isn’t an investment in technologies. It’s an investment in possibilities. It means better customer experiences through more choice, better employee experiences through greater productivity, and better business experiences through broader prospects.

The combination of IoT and 5G will allow us to collect and process information in a way that we just can't do today. In the automotive industry, for example, IoT is currently used to connect your smartphone to your vehicle or to break when sensing stopped traffic ahead.

Eventually, we'll move past just a few cars being smart to all cars being smart and that will require a massive amount of bandwidth. A 5G network will provide a fast and secure way for vehicles to continuously communicate with one another about safety situations making autonomous vehicles possible. That's just one small example of the kind of innovation that's yet to come.

Action

Experimentation is key. Some of the 5G players now are following the model that MVNOs followed, Mobile Virtual Network Operators, 20 years ago. With a much more sophisticated incarnation, organizations can lease equipment from the 5G provider and then offer their own services on it.

A company called HyperBlox, in partnership with GCP, is making 5G private network deployment as easy as deploying web applications. . The ability to connect your IoT devices with the speeds and the flexibility of 5G as an enterprise and not rely necessarily on Verizon or AT&T for that data consumption is a whole new concept.

The IoT has the potential to produce significant business value beyond what it’s providing today. Modernizing OT to ensure secure communication with IT and determining where and how data captured at the edge will be processed and analyzed will contribute to faster and better business-critical decisions at all levels of the organization.

These action items from our discussion are a great starting point for executives looking to become insight-driven businesses.

Interested in joining our next roundtable discussion? Join our CIO Community

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