Service providers can take certain steps now to prepare for a future in which even the smallest objects will be able to report their operational status to engineers over the internet, says Philipp Emmenegger.
14 July 2014
Click on any business or tech news site and chances are you'll see an article on tech's latest hot topic, the 'Internet of Things', also known by its acronym IoT.
These stories tout the latest in smart gadgets - internet-connected devices that promise to report and funnel back information on the devices themselves, monitor our interactions with them and track our behaviour as we use them to perform certain tasks.
As well as 'smart' smoke alarms, thermostats, fitness monitors and bicycle locks, there is even a smart fork that manufacturers claim can improve eating habits.
For years now, consumers have been presented with the intriguing notion that their refrigerators will one day know when they are dangerously low on groceries, noting which items require replenishment and even ordering their replacements.
For business, IoT opens up a number of new business model opportunities. According to McKinsey & Company, if a company knows how often or intensely one of its products is used, it may make more sense to create a business model based on usage fees rather than outright sales. Or, for a practical example, if operating environments can be monitored constantly for hazards, and when objects can take corrective action to avoid damage, risks and costs can be better controlled.
Evolution, not revolution
While it is easy to speculate about what might emerge when IoT is a reality, as with all nascent technologies a number of substantial hurdles need to be cleared. According to tech research firm Gartner, seven complex challenges need to be surmounted of which two tend to grab the headlines - security and consumer privacy.
As Gartner notes in its recent report on IoT, the security challenge is in the sheer multitude of devices expected to eventually and automatically run across a multitude of IT systems.
Consumers are particularly uncomfortable with the possible vulnerability of the data that IoT systems will collect on them - especially on any data that tracks their behaviour. Naturally, it's precisely this sort of data that IoT devices and sensors will collect as this information is key to the creation of new and improved services. It is not difficult imagine the damage to market confidence caused by a large-scale consumer data breach.
IoT security issues will affect a company's entire IT system. As more devices are connected to the internet and security complexity increases, the impact on availability requirements will also increase the risk to real-time processes. How should organisations store the massive amounts of consumer and enterprise data that IoT is expected to churn out? What does this mean for storage infrastructure and the inevitable demand for increased storage capacity? How will server technologies be affected and what will be the impact on data centre networks?
Getting ready for change
IoT has the potential to dramatically transform field service maintenance. Picture this scenario when IoT is fully operational: an air conditioner at a university campus breaks down and a sensor detects that a vital part is malfunctioning. The cooling system sends details to the facilities manager, who then immediately dispatches an engineer to repair the problem.
What's missing today is the automated ability for the cooling system to talk to the FM.
Products already on the market allow users to scan the (increasingly ubiquitous) QR codes affixed to items - for example, on a cooling system - and request service, managing the repair process via a branded app. Although the user must manually scan the code and tap in the request, such products can give customers a level of transparency and control.
For FM service providers, the benefit of using this kind of solution is two-fold: customers can self-manage the service process, while service providers take the first steps to see how they will manage these requests within their IT systems. If service providers cannot manage these requests when consumers are asking for them manually, how will they manage the much faster process of multiple machines sending automated requests?
IoT will soon be a reality, but complex challenges lie ahead. Smart devices or smart connections to products can help companies prepare for the inevitable revolution.
Philipp Emmenegger, CEO of coresystems AG