In the not too distant future, the Internet of Things (IoT) will have become second nature to most of us. More agile and efficient businesses, together with improved quality of life for citizens are just some of the ways it's already transforming our daily life. By 2020 the number of connected "things" will have reached an incredible 30 billion says IDC providing a $1.7 trillion revenue opportunity for the ecosystem.
But, there is still some way to go, with obstacles to overcome. Most organisations looking to implement IoT want to know what the key challenges are and how can they be managed. New global research from the Wi-SUN Alliance sought the views from organisations already implementing IoT initiatives on IoT technology, the drivers, barriers and benefits, together with their future plans. Security (59%) and cost (46%) were highlighted as the key barriers to IoT adoption; here we take a closer look at these and one further challenge and how they can be overcome:
Managing security risk
When it comes to cybersecurity, the risks are all-too-clear. Large-scale Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) network implementations for Utilities and Smart Cities will form a key part of the critical national infrastructure and make them desirable targets to hackers, who may look to compromise insecure IoT endpoints in an attempt to infiltrate the corporate network and access sensitive customer and business data or to damage or disrupt equipment or services.
Wherever the threat comes from, be it nation states, financially motivated cyber-crime gangs or even hacktivists, the risks are the same and it's worth mentioning that respondents in the US (65%) and UK (64%) see cybersecurity as an even bigger challenge than the global average.
By using the right approach this risk can be managed. Half of the respondents in the research said that proven security with multi-layer protection and continuous monitoring is crucial for any IoT solution. The use of multi-layered security, including digital passports for every device, prevents any compromised IoT endpoint re-joining a network. This together with frequency-hopping, encryption and authentication of all traffic carried over the network helps mitigate against threats such as device spoofing, eavesdropping and signal jamming.
Finally, support for over-the-air (OTA) updates is vital to ensure any device can be patched if it is found to contain vulnerabilities. Some 15,000 new vulnerabilities were discovered in 2016 alone and such systems must be protected - particularly IIoT networks which are required to have long lifespans.
Achieving Senior Executive buy-in
Funding and cost-related challenges are typically driven by the level of boardroom interest in IoT. A third (32%) of respondents claimed that lack of leadership enthusiasm for projects was a major challenge. Yet in order to release those funds and eliminate cost concerns getting board-level buy-in is fundamental.
Therefore, IT decision makers need to think creatively to find ways to engage with the C-suite more effectively and convince them of the project's merits.
Citing real-world examples that showcase the significant business benefits of embracing IoT is a good starting point and there are plenty of them. Canadian electricity supplier BC Hydro rolled out a smart grid of nearly two million meters, connected to help minimise energy inefficiencies. Its advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) enables dynamic power management and predictive maintenance to lower costs for customers and improve its competitive standing in the market. Elsewhere, cities such as Copenhagen, Halifax, London, Miami and Paris have implemented smart street lighting projects which offer local governments the opportunity to drive more efficient use of energy, whilst improving reliability and public safety.
30% of IT leaders who participated in the research said that executives didn't understand the benefits of IoT, while a third claimed the need for proven ROI was holding back implementation so education and proof points are a prerequisite. Finding the right people to target and articulating those benefits in a language they understand will also significantly strengthen the business case.
Choosing the right technology
There are other things that organisations can consider to help them manage security and funding challenges. When evaluating which IoT technology to implement it is very important to take a long-term approach to initial deployments to ensure longevity and flexibility to ensure the network will support a full range of applications in the future, without the need for redesign and associated additional costs. A top criteria for IT chiefs was the type of network with the majority (53%) wanting a combination of star-based and mesh-based networks. Mesh networks provide great reliability and resilience and are easily expandable which can save money and drive RoI.
Performance (53%) is another key requirement for IT leaders. By investing in technologies designed to reduce latency and bandwidth and support bi-directional communications the case becomes even more compelling.
Finally, support for industry standards was cited by over half (52%) of respondents as a key requirement. Open standards, supported by a robust certification program, are vital to ensuring interoperability with as wide a range of products as possible. This is the key to delivering lower prices and providing more choice. Standards also preserve investments by ensuring legacy assets aren't stranded, while prioritising resilience and security.
For organisations already investing in smart city, utilities and industrial IoT (IIoT) projects, the biggest driver for projects was improving network intelligence and connectivity for citizen safety and quality of life (47%). Creation of business efficiencies (42%) and improving the reliability of systems and services (41%) also ranked highly.
It's clear that organisations across the globe are embarking on IoT-driven digital transformation projects to drive efficiencies and business agility as well as to better serve the needs of their customers and citizens. There may be challenges and risks on route but if managed correctly organisations can be more confident and the road to IoT success and productivity should, in the main, be fairly smooth.
Phil Beecher, President of the Wi-SUN Alliance
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