Unless you’ve been off the grid for a while, you’ve probably heard of the Internet of Things (IoT). As the digital darling du jour, it’s created a buzz among professionals in about every industry.
So, what’s the big deal, you ask?
Whether you are a digital professional, a business owner, or someone looking to understand just enough to impress your friends at your next cocktail party, we’ve got the 4-1-1 on the “Next Big Thing” and what it could mean for the way you do business.
What Is the IoT?
First things first. What exactly is the IoT? There’s a lot of jargon and tech on the subject, but the idea is simple: The Internet of Things is essentially the network of smart devices and other tangible things with an internet connection. In other words, it’s when smart devices connect with and “talk” to each other.
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For example, one of the most popular IoT applications right now is wearables, like fitness bracelets. Fitness bracelets monitor metrics like steps, heart rate, and calories; they wirelessly sync that data with your computer and smartphone for you to review and track over time.
But the IoT goes beyond simple fitness goals. Nearly anything with a sensor can collect, communicate, and interpret data. In fact, we may see as many as 20.4 billion connected things by 2020, forecasts Gartner. And this has big consequences for the way we conduct business and interact with the world around us.
To stay ahead and remain competitive for the long term, businesses across industries will need to account for the IoT and adapt to this new connected reality. Here are three things you can do to make the most of the IoT in your business.
1. Start Small
The IoT is so broad that developing an application for your business can get overwhelming. Even though there are countless opportunities to create value and increase efficiency within your organization, resist the temptation to go too big too soon.
Instead, experiment with small, focused programs.
A study of over 500 senior executives published by Forbes Insights found that 65% of leading companies focused on learning from small IoT projects before scaling to larger ones.
By ironing out applications on small projects first, your business will have the flexibility to adapt its processes more easily and ultimately save time as your team learns what works best for your organization.
2. Prioritize Security During Development
As the world becomes increasingly connected to the cloud, businesses are jumping to meet both demand and opportunities within the IoT. However, this market boom has created a significant risk for both companies and end-users as security measures take a back seat to tightened timelines.
In fact, a recent study by Osterman Research (sponsored by Trustwave) found that most organizations with IoT devices could be at risk of malware attacks and other security threats.
“We are seeing a lack of familiarity with secure coding concepts resulting in vulnerabilities, some of them a decade old, incorporated into final designs. Because updating IoT devices by nature is more challenging, many remain vulnerable even after patches are issued, and often patches are not even developed,” explains Lawrence Munro, VP of Trustwave SpiderLabs.
Fortunately, the solution is simple: Organizations that want to stay competitive and secure moving forward need to prioritize security during the development phase of IoT applications.
The non-profit IoT Security Foundation recommends the following best practices for businesses considering IoT development:
1. Build security systems into IoT programs at the outset.
2. Include protection for all potential weak points.
3. Clearly inform users what data is required and collected.
4. Remove or anonymize identifiers to protect individual identities.
5. Manage encryption keys securely.
Businesses and organizations can protect against most security threats with careful preventative steps.
3. Remember the IoT Is Not One Size Fits All
The IoT has many potential applications and combinations of architectural components – which is basically just a fancy way of saying that when you’re developing an IoT application, you’re arranging multiple building blocks.
Jim Tully, Vice President at Gartner, identifies five main components of IoT: things, gateways, smartphones, the cloud, and the enterprise. These elements are used in various combinations to work with the IoT.
Consider our earlier example of wearables – the functionality is distributed across more than one architectural component. When a fitness wristband is worn, there is only basic data and application logic attached to the actual device. Much of the data functionality comes when the device then syncs with the smartphone and updates in the app for users to track and share.
So, from a development standpoint, you’re looking at all five of these architectural components built into the structural application of this product: the device itself, the smartphone it pairs with, the cloud where data is stored, the company coordinating the device’s data, and the gateway app.
This type of flexible structure means you’ll want to evaluate your needs, resources, and opportunities to determine the best integration of functions for your business’s unique architecture. What works for one product application may not work for another.
There’s little doubt that the IoT will continue to grow and adapt as technology advances, so now is the time to get on the bandwagon.