Work smart, not hard: Tapping into the IoT

With the IoT growing at an exponential rate, businesses are taking advantage of what it has to offer and looking to use its power to further boost business objectives. However being connected isn’t the biggest challenge; Mikael Schachne, VP Mobility Solutions at BICS believes that instead it is harnessing what the IoT really has to offer – data by the tonne. 

The IoT is a rapidly growing, fully engulfing technology and will eventually touch every industry and every object in its ever-connected path. From turning legacy devices into smart objects, to opening up new insight-based revenue streams for businesses, the IoT has the potential to revolutionise every enterprise in every sector. Consumers too are wising up to the IoT; investing in the technology, driving connected device sales and embracing a culture of data sharing through wearables like FitBit.   

Although the ‘Internet of Things’ is comprised of devices; it could be more accurately described as untapped resources. Not unlike Cerf’s internet, the IoT does encompass interconnected networks through which information can be exchanged and accessed. And sure, the hardware which makes it up does play a key role in the development of this phenomenon. However, the terminology does not do justice to the new experiences, customer service, societal benefits and unfathomable as yet untouched intellect of the ecosystem. The proliferation of ‘smart’ objects we’ve seen in recent years has been given that title based only on their technological capabilities. However it should be because of the intelligence and insight which can be mined from them and turned into something profitable. 

From now and into the future, devices will continue to flood the market. IHS Markit has predicted that the rise in the number of smart objects in 2017 will jump 15%, reaching 20 billion. Designers and manufacturers, as well as those producing software and components, have no doubt seen profits soar as a result of these devices entering the Internet of Things ecosystem. Yet it is the intelligent analysis and use of the data gathered from these gadgets, rather than the physical objects themselves which will really drive profit for all involved. 

According to a survey conducted by 451 Research, approximately 65% of enterprises use IoT solutions for business purposes. The same research projects that enterprise investment in IoT technologies will skyrocket from $215 billion in 2015 to $832 billion in 2020, with businesses continuing to find new use cases for IoT technologies over the next few years. 

However, it is vital that data gathering and analytics strategies keep pace with device development and deployment, or this success will never come to full fruition. Deploying such a strategy requires a collaborative, business-wide approach and for many companies a shift in outlook; the onus to this cultural change is very much on them. The untapped potential of the IoT lies within this different outlook, only then will the huge benefits that it promises surface. 

Even though they may have expertise in data analytics, enterprises and operators alike looking to profit from the IoT – and improve customer experience – will need to re-examine their approach and re-evaluate their knowledge in this area. IoT data really is Big Data: collected from a huge number of sensors, geographies, devices and the cloud, it is unstructured, with streams of information available from an array of sources in real time. The success of any IoT project therefore lies in the ability to intelligently harness and capitalise on the data collected.    

Currently, only one third of organisations in Europe are analysing the vast amounts of data generated by their IoT initiatives, meaning the majority have not yet begun the process of looking to profit from the hidden possibilities. In the long run, this could mean failure to make the most of their investments in this new and exciting area, and losing out on the opportunity the IoT provides. This lack of IoT data insight means consumers are also missing out on potential new, tailored offers and services. New business models should, and need to be adopted to address this, supported by analytics tools to assist companies in monetising data and protecting their bottom line.   

There are a number of factors which are crucial to successful IoT data analytics. Completely continuous, 24/7 visibility of data is essential, with real-time insights needing to be available across the entire spectrum of a company’s IoT project. This encompasses the potentially vast array of devices and sensors, networks and interconnections. A company must also have a clear view of current data, as well as historical network and business intelligence across all technologies and networks that have been deployed.   

A unified platform must provide and collect data on asset performance and even customer behaviour, in order to help companies understand the customer journey in far more granular detail than they may be used to, and manage Quality of Service (QoS) where applicable. This will facilitate improvements to existing services and the launch of new ones, opening up new revenue streams to service providers, keeping them ahead of the curve in terms of market competition. 

Whilst building a connected environment of devices, people and services can be beneficial, on the flip-side, any negative activity can rapidly filter network-wide, causing a disturbance across the entire IoT infrastructure. In short, any disruption on an IoT network can have a significant negative impact not only on the service being provided, but also in terms of reputation for the service provider. Data traffic irregularities on IoT networks need to be spotted immediately, varying from anomalies identified by physical operating equipment, to shifts in consumer behaviour or traffic.   

But what about making IoT networks work in conjunction with operators? APIs have been around for a while, but the IoT is a new area where those who have adopted the technology really make it work for them. All systems functions and properties can be exposed by APIs meaning network services, provisioning and configuration, even statistics and Business Intelligence functions can be harnessed through the data gathered in the IoT. What does this mean in the long run? It means that service providers can finally start to make that increasingly important leap to becoming IT companies. Any worries about the time it will take to implement and execute these functions will be quashed by automation; driving further efficiencies and leaving more time to develop new opportunities. Data is the new currency, and operators are sitting on a deep well of it, just waiting to spend it. 

Security and privacy are also chief concerns when it comes to the IoT. Over a quarter of companies admitted that these points were major obstacles to investment in the IoT, according to The Economist’s Intelligence Unit. Therefore a tool which highlights potential problems in a company’s IoT network will become, and indeed already is crucial to ensuring that a private IoT network – and all associated data and devices – are reliable, safe and performing at optimal levels at all times. 

We are at an exciting time in the development of the IoT. Early investors in devices and services have been reaping the rewards of consumer and industrial adoption and this shows no signs of slowing down in the near future. What is now required is an intelligent approach to the IoT. This will involve companies adopting the analytics tools and methodologies to capitalise on this new era of (extremely) big data. 

Mikael Schachne, VP Mobility Solutions at BICS 

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