5 Ways the IoT Is Not IT
Only a few years ago, the Internet of Things (IoT) was just another much-hyped technology. Since then, the rapid convergence of cloud computing, mobility, and more advanced sensors and software has unleashed a quiet revolution.
Today, the IoT is generating value for businesses. “If you build a solution correctly you can create a platform for future business and generate an ongoing value stream,” states Rob Moyer, vice president of cloud and software solutions at Fremont, Calif.-based distributor SYNNEX Corp.
However, the IoT represents entirely different challenges than conventional IT. Because Internet of Things clients typically aren’t traditional buyers of technology products and services, they have very different needs, expectations, and levels of understanding. To transform the IoT into a viable revenue stream, integrators must understand how to approach the space as well as build internal expertise and skills.
Here’s a look at five ways the IoT is different from IT as you know it, and what you can do to maximize your firm’s performance.
1. IoT buyers are not IT people or departments. While cloud computing, mobility, and other digital technologies have pushed buying decisions past IT departments, the IoT takes the trend a step further. Solutions typically span several domains or departments, and routinely require cross-functional input and expertise. “The IoT is comprised of a lot of different things, including machines, devices, sensors, software, and data collection tools,” says Benson Chan, senior partner at Strategy of Things, a Hayward, Calif., consulting firm.
Buyers are looking for an outcome rather than a specific product, Chan points out. However, in many cases, they aren’t up to speed on the intricacies of the IoT and they don’t understand the technical and IT underpinnings, or where it makes sense within an overall IT framework. Integrators must reduce all the complexity and technical jargon to understandable concepts and solutions.
2. The IoT market is incredibly fragmented. For now, hundreds of vendors offer thousands of IoT products and solutions. Consequently, integrators must assemble IoT systems from myriad components. This means understanding protocols and IoT connectivity options, such as LoRa, SigFox, NB-IoT, and Cat M, which aren’t necessarily compatible with other technologies. “No single vendor offers a complete solution,” Moyer points out. Developing a center of expertise—or establishing a consulting network—is imperative.
“It’s a lot like being a contractor,” Moyer says. “You have to be able to coordinate everything and build a flexible platform the company can grow on.”
3. The IoT is broader than conventional IT. The IoT spans beyond any single tool, technology, or vendor. As a result, it simply isn’t possible to plug in a new server or flash storage array and witness immediate gains. Integrators must generate value across multiple touchpoints and for the customer as a whole. In addition, they must thoroughly understand IoT frameworks and entirely different network configurations, such as “fog networks,” that accommodate devices on the edge.
However, it’s also important to educate clients about the IoT. Boards and C-level executives must understand the strategic elements of the IoT, and recognize that projects are more liquid and require greater flexibility. Locating or developing white papers, e-books, and other educational materials can help with that task.
4. A more extensive roadmap is required for the IoT. Integrators must establish a long-term strategy and solid foundation for their clients. Moyer, who prefers to use vendors with proven track records, says this means vetting manufacturers carefully and ensuring that they’re likely to be in the business for the long haul. The goal is to future-proof an IoT platform to the extent possible.
Benson advises integrators to start a client’s roadmap with small projects, achieve wins, and then grow a larger IoT initiative from there. Many customers balk at IoT adoption, he says, because they fear disruption and change. But paralysis essentially means moving backward. “It’s vital to understand a customer’s risk tolerance and goals and build a foundation for the IoT,” he says.
5. Security must be proactive. The IoT, partly because it dramatically increases the attack surface, ratchets up security risks by an order of magnitude. Conventional security tools aren’t enough. What’s more, too many vendors use old operating systems, outdated firmware, and poorly written code for IoT products. “The security risks are very real,” Benson says. “Not all products and solutions are secure out of the box.”
It’s vital to understand an organization’s risk level and design IoT networks for appropriate protection, Benson adds. This may mean air-gapping systems (running IoT devices on a separate network away from production systems), applying encryption, and thoroughly understanding a manufacturer’s patching and update policies. Adds Moyer: “Security needs to be addressed early in the process, and it has to be built into an IoT initiative at the base level.”
Samuel Greengard is the author of The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015) and writes from West Linn, Ore.