Gartner recently predicted that there will be 8.4 billion connected ‘things’ in use in 2017, up 31 percent from 2016. The connected economy is driving the development of the Internet of Things (IoT) and CIOs are being asked how the technology can transform their organisation.
I have a lot of sympathy for a CIO who has just been asked how to take advantage of IoT in order to drive business transformation. This is not an easy question to answer, and it’s a question that is increasingly being asked by company boards, across multiple industries.
The burden, and the pressure, of the IoT deployment lies with a CIO. A company that is looking to sell IoT enabled products will put pressure on the CIO to reduce the time to market in order for the company to be competitive. A company looking to IoT to streamline operations will put pressure on the CIO to prove ROI quickly.
Before a CIO begins to look at IoT options, it is always wise to understand exactly what the company wants an IoT solution to achieve. This sounds like an obvious point, but it is sometimes overlooked. Perhaps it is to track assets, or to change the business’s model from selling products to selling services. Then, it’s question of identifying the stakeholder(s) within the organisations that can benefit from the data, how long the data should be kept for and why.
The three fundamental building blocks
Once this information is known, I’d advise that the CIO puts three fundamental building blocks in place. These are: reliable connectivity, data management and analytics. The CIO should be confident that there is the ability to transmit, analyse and interpret large volumes of data arriving in a short period of time.
To give you a specific example, an aircraft manufacturer may turn to IoT in order to reduce the time that planes are sitting on the tarmac and thereby improve the airline’s customer service and efficiency. IoT makes this possible by enabling transmission of data about the aircraft’s engine health, once it has landed.
The CIO, who has been asked to implement the IoT solution, may well be working from a blank sheet of paper, with little confidence on what solution will work. They will need to consider the three fundamental building blocks carefully and how they should be implemented in this scenario.
When considering connectivity, it’s important that the IoT data can be transmitted regardless of where, and when, the airplane lands. When weighing up the connectivity options, the CIO should assess which technology looks to be the most efficient in terms of global availability and data transfer.
A CIO also needs to weigh up the longevity of connectivity technology versus product longevity. For example, it would be a costly error to build, or select, a product that is expected to be out in the field for ten years, but the connectivity required is unlikely to be around in five years’ time. Some mobile operators are turning off their 2G networks and replacing them with 4G networks, whilst others are turning off their 3G networks in favour of 4G technology and others are already talking about moving to 5G technology.
Recently, the US telecoms provider AT&T switched off their 2G network, which meant AT&T customers lost access to their 2G devices. This meant that some businesses had to spend a large sum of money swapping the SIMs in their devices, something I doubt they had catered for at the time of writing their business case. In order to help avoid this scenario, the CIO needs to fully understand the connectivity supplier’s roadmap before embarking on any deployments. You should ask the supplier what their connectivity plans are and seeks assurances from them.
The CIO also needs to carefully consider where the device is likely to be used in future. For example, is the plan to roll out the device to other countries? Creating IoT products specifically for one market can end up being a costly strategy as it can delay the global roll-out of a product, because connectivity technology varies so much across the globe.
In my experience, the usage needs of our customers tend to evolve over time as they deal with changing circumstances in their businesses and markets. It is therefore important to ensure you look for connectivity suppliers that have the flexibility, and the capability, to address any such changes in data usage.
Data management and analytics
When it comes to data management and analytics the CIO will need to know how quickly the data is required, how long it needs to be stored, and who will need to view the data and in what format. For example, will the end user be well versed in data analytics, or will they need intuitive data visualisations? The CIO will also need to consider privacy and security implications of the data stored.
Depending on where any solution is being deployed, attention will need to be paid to legal and regulatory requirements relating to its storage, access and use.
For example, if a solution is being deployed in Germany then the data it generates is required to be stored on German soil, whilst for the rest of EU it is sufficient that the data is stored anywhere on EU soil. Brexit may make these issues more complex. CIOs must also be aware of what part of the data they collect can be monetised within the prevailing laws.
A successful IoT deployment can demonstrate the transformative value of IT
If executed well, the burden of an IoT deployment will be lifted and the technology will serve as an example of the transformative value of IT. In the case of the airline, a reduction of just 1% in the time that an airplane is on the tarmac can translate into 100,000s of air miles per year. So, if you are asked how IoT could transform your organisation, respond by asking what the board wants to achieve. Then think carefully about the three building blocks. What are the connectivity requirements? How should the data be managed? And how should it be analysed for maximum benefit?