Q&A: IoT adoption for the modern enterprise

1. What do you believe are the main strategies for businesses to deploy IoT correctly?

“We’re seeing huge interest in the use-cases of connected devices in the industrial IoT (IIoT), as this is where the impact will be most profound. However, if IoT is to be truly transformational, it will be important for businesses to move beyond piecemeal investments in point solutions and create more holistic, enterprise-wide implementations. They will need to build a solution that addresses the core business challenges by breaking the silos between things, data, process, and people. To do so, they will have to leverage IoT ecosystem and deploy IoT platform that is robust, secure, and scalable.

“It is also important to remember that IoT adoption is a journey. Those looking to embark upon that path must first lay the initial foundations by digitalising the rest of their operations. This is not a straightforward task, so it is vital that it is viewed as a long-term goal and broken down into small, achievable steps. 

“Organisations of all sizes must drive innovation, while at the same time remaining mindful of their IoT budgets given the experimental nature of many of the use-cases that are being explored. Deploying IIoT test beds will allow for rapid prototyping, use-case testing and evaluation of successes before major budget resources are allocated.”

2. What do you identify as the main reasons for heavy adoption of IoT in businesses?

“Operational efficiency and revenue generation are the key business-drivers behind IIoT adoption. Sectors such as healthcare, manufacturing, transport and agriculture in particular will make use of connected devices for streamlining business processes and improving global supply chains. Eventually, everything from individual machines to entire business ecosystems and operating environments will be controlled by the IIoT.

“Fear of being left behind by more innovative established rivals, or undermined by new competitors that are more agile and able to create an advantage through IoT implementation is also a strong motivator. Businesses are increasingly seeing IoT adoption as a necessity, rather than a possibility.”

3. How can those companies that are in the process of implementing IoT make the most of it?

“Many companies have made inroads into the IoT, but when you peel away the layers, very few have embarked on truly transformative programs. Success depends on an enterprise-wide IoT strategy that centralises a significant portion of the data from connected assets onto a single platform, where it can be used to generate revenues and new opportunities. It is only by doing so that they will reach the ultimate goals of IoT: organisational efficiency, more profitable business models and competitive edge. For example, manufacturers can use sensor data to charge customers based on hours of equipment in operation, or lab equipment providers can detect and automatically replenish supplies.”

3. For businesses that may not be moving towards IoT adoption, why do you feel this is?

“Some of the biggest initial roadblocks enterprises encounter around the IoT are related to security and privacy; on a near daily basis we see stories surrounding high-profile companies falling victim to cyberattacks. As an increasing number of our day-to-day operations are aided by connected devices, we are seeing the attack surface grow concurrently – creating an even greater risk of enterprises falling victim to a cyberattack. This means that the cybersecurity measures we use today will not be fit for purpose for long. 

“Another barrier to adoption is legacy systems: how can enterprises make fifty-year-old systems such as the mainframe and aging physical network infrastructure work with/alongside the IIoT? Businesses cannot afford to simply rip-and-replace the critical IT assets that underpin their critical operations and processes, so they must find ways of integrating the new with the old. The IIoT will depend on an interconnected digital ecosystem that will allow physical infrastructure and machines to share huge volumes of data and communicate seamlessly with newer digital assets.”

“Since IoT is still maturing, the ROI that has been realised by early adopters has so far been limited, which has reduced its appeal as an investment for those that have yet to take the plunge. As with any new technology trend, we are likely to see some businesses taking a ‘wait and see’ approach before committing themselves to IoT; but in doing so, they run the risk of being overtaken by more nimble rivals.”

4. As the use of IoT devices grows, how will security requirements change?

“According to Gartner, about 26 billion devices will be connected by 2020. This is a phenomenal jump from about 4.9 billion connected devices in 2015. Along with the exciting possibilities this five-fold growth brings, this also gives hackers 26 billion targets to infiltrate the network. As more and more devices are connected, the network is becoming increasingly fragile.”

“The prevailing approach is to extend current cybersecurity models to IoT devices because the ‘internet’ aspect of ‘IIoT’ predisposes the notion that cybersecurity is the logical solution. However, there are two factors that challenges traditional cybersecurity solutions in an IoT deployment:

a) The compute resources in ubiquitous IoT devices are significantly constrained in comparison with general compute devices cybersecurity assumes.

b) The sheer volume of IoT devices coupled with irregular communication patterns can overwhelm the scalable limits many cybersecurity components are designed for.

In addition, the sheer scale of IoT devices requires near real-time remediation when a threat is detected and this will require significant change in threat response procedures.”

5. In terms of security, what procedures should businesses put in place to secure their IoT?

“Enterprises must take a proactive approach to IIoT security, constructing fresh security frameworks at a cyber and physical level. On a practical level, this can range from device authentication to protecting data effectively. While each organisation must take tailored approach specific to its own unique needs, there are many key aspects that should be ubiquitous in IIoT adoption, such as threat modelling, secure development, secure manufacturing, data encryption, privacy protection, data segregation, access management, threat detection, secure isolation, live security drills, etc. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but ensuring these basic tenets are covered should go some of the way to securing IIoT.”

“We cannot assume the standard practices of network security will suffice across all forms of devices in this emerging world of hyper-connectivity. Already significant work is on in this space. However, no single entity can solve the security issues on its own. Government agencies, academia and global enterprises will need to collaborate and respond rapidly with measured force to build robust security measures and infrastructure.”

Sukamal Banerjee, Corporate Vice President, HiTech & Communications and Global Head – IoT WoRKSTM, HCL Technologies
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