How organisations can avoid the perils of the IoT ‘Wild West'

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Our workplaces are constantly evolving – with new disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things (IoT) changing the game for employers.

Indeed, recent IDC research has forecast worldwide spending on the Internet of Things (IoT) to reach $772.5 billion this year, with the manufacturing ($189 billion), transportation ($85 billion), and utilities ($73 billion) industries set to lead the charge. This is a critical time for business leaders, as they seek to keep up with such advances to drive productivity gains across an organisation – as well as ensuring they remain a relevant and appealing proposition for talent attraction and retention.   

Yet as an industry, we have been at risk of falling into an IoT ‘wild west’ –where a multitude of big and expensive solutions and a lack of standardisation mean customers can get locked into an unsuitable solution, that's not necessarily providing value, for a long period of time. However, with the recent commoditisation of smart technology in both the consumer and enterprise space, this simply doesn’t have to be the case anymore.

The advent and affordability of integrated virtual assistant and smart home tech such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Hive have the potential to make the difference for enterprises seeking to cut operating costs and improve productivity. Canalys predicts the global smart speaker market is poised to grow to 56.3 million shipments this year, as the technology reaches accelerated adoption across the consumer market. With Amazon launching Alexa for Business – and others sure to follow – this growth is almost certain to be reflected across enterprises.   

Embracing the ‘Internet of Everything’

Changing the context from the 'Internet of Things' to the ‘Integration of Everything' really starts to paint the picture of just how transformative IoT can be. In this context, IoT will underpin a massive platform revolutionising how new and legacy applications, sensors, things, gadgets, people, places, and businesses can easily and efficiently exchange information. In this way, IoT can help automate tasks/processes to create workflows that allow people and organisations to gain insights that they never could have acquired before. This is the real potential behind the Integration of Everything.

That said, with this potential comes challenges. Integrating the new (sensors, gadgets, mobile devices), the old (legacy applications, physical infrastructure) and all of the data they provide or capture will not be easy. IoT could represent the biggest expansion of IT and the decentralisation of computing. While IT departments themselves will not necessarily expand, IT will soon reach into every component of business operations. As this happens, the massive amounts of data generated will need to be managed efficiently and utilised effectively in order to make the effort worthwhile.

How IoT can enhance workflows, driving improved productivity

The introduction of beacons, mobile apps and sensors is making it easier for employees to work, whether in an office building or remotely. Simultaneously, companies are increasing both productivity and office space utilisation. When combined with virtualisation, mobile, and cloud-based technologies, these “smart offices” can determine where an employee is located and automatically connect and configure the right “things” (such as printers, monitors, or VOIP lines), apps and data to securely deliver the optimal workspace. 

That value is measurable. For example, in a smart meeting room with IoT devices, workers can join scheduled meetings or create an instant virtual meeting at the push of a button. Not having to worry about connecting to screens, audio or other devices makes life easier for employees and saves time – 2 minutes saved at the start of every 6-person meeting in a conference room that hosts 5 meetings per day will avoid the waste one person-hour a day, think about how that adds up over a large organisation. Additionally, the IoT workspace provides real-time data on when and how facilities are being used so companies can better focus their investments.

The role of biometrics 

Biometrics is becoming an increasingly important and pervasive tool in consumer environments –providing secure and easy access to apps and data. From smartphone apps that identify users through their fingerprints to organisations authenticating end users through their voices over the phone, biometrics is proving itself to be a modern-day alternative to more traditional PINs and passwords.

As is the case with virtual assistants and smart speakers, this technology isn’t limited to the consumer market. Technology today has the ability to enable organisations to identify and verify who is even in a room – and whether they have the necessary permissions to access certain data and information. If you imagine a meeting scenario in which sensitive topics, such as potential mergers or acquisitions, are being discussed, it is critical that this information is limited to specific circles. 

Workplace biometric technology can use connected devices such as webcams – typically already present in many meeting rooms for video conferencing – to identify those in the room automatically. It can then check that list against the access list for a document being discussed, and alert the document owner or meeting organiser to any anomalies, before proceedings kick off.

Of course, systems like these aren’t ‘bullet-proof’ protection against malicious users trying to view documents they’re not supposed to see. A user could attempt to obscure their face, for example, but as a check against honest, human errors, it should cover most organisations sufficiently. 

Steering clear of the ‘Wild West’

There is an unprecedented level of competition out there, from traditional outsourced IT and facilities management providers, to new, disruptive players entering the marketplace. Considering which can offer organisations the most value, while also avoiding issues such as vendor lock-in, will deliver the most value in the long-term. In practice many organisations will want to consider multi-vendor solutions, taking advantage of APIs, customisable interfaces, and other interoperability features to create solutions tailored to their own needs.

With slow economic growth resulting in organisations seeking new ways to cut costs and drive improved efficiencies, now is the time to consider how a tech-enabled working environment can help achieve these goals.  

James Bulpin, Senior Technology Director at Citrix 

Image Credit: Amedley / Shutterstock