Connectivity: IoT reality vs concept

Russell Haworth

Written by Russell Haworth, CEO at Nominet

Amazon’s best-selling item during the 2017 winter holiday period was the Echo Dot, with millions sold across the world. Alexa, their AI assistant, turned on Christmas lights more than a million times during the season and told tens of millions of jokes. For consumers, IoT devices are something of a novelty, requiring simply a decent Wifi connection to operate. For industry, however, IoT application is complex. It carries the potential to transform our nations and societies, saving time and money, but will require careful handling and deployment. Novelty it is not.

IoT could be a gamechanger for industries in which process is king, saving money and boosting efficiency by linking up systems and processes. IoT will entwine digital advancements into the fabric of industry, underpin the Smart Cities of the future, and offer a lifeline for national services such as the NHS as an increase in demand stretches limited resources. The bigger picture is one of an IoT future that is brighter and better than anything that has gone before.

That said, the concept of IoT isn’t new. It was first introduced in 1999 but there has been noticeable acceleration in recent years thanks to better internet connections, processing power, sophisticated data analytics and the evolution of networking technologies. IoT devices are becoming more affordable and consumers are already enthusiastic; research shows that the average UK household already has 8.3 connected devices. More recently, our own cyber security technology is helping Great Western Railways manage their complex technology ecosystem.

Industry has also already adopted IoT in pockets and reported success to inspire others to follow suit. Gartner estimates that 3.1 billion connected devices are already being used by businesses. Amtrak, one of America’s main railway services, is now working with Siemens to track the data from 900 sensors attached to their trains to identify out why equipment fails to help prevent problems. From 2015 to 2016, train delays dropped by 33%, to the relief of the many frustrated customers.

Despite the hype and enthusiasm, or the rosy-tinted view of a connected future, we cannot overlook the complex digital infrastructure necessary for success. IoT is about Big Data. Devices and sensors serve as information gatherers, with this data shared across networks for analysis and action. Success rests on the handling of the data; it’s about software solutions and platforms. Anyone running an IoT enterprise needs to have robust, intelligent algorithms and the capacity to handle very large amounts of data. Some have also suggested that the current networking systems are not designed to handle the volume of devices and connections required for IoT dreams to become reality; an overhaul of digital infrastructure may be necessary.

On the ground, businesses need to be prepared to meet the costs involved in creating the internal architecture to manage and optimise their IoT data systems. These could involve buying new software or hiring talent with the appropriate skills. Outsourcing is an option, but will need careful consideration for businesses handling sensitive information where the damage could be huge if data is infiltrated.

Society as a whole must also come to terms with a new relationship with their data and perception of privacy. This is one of the areas we explored as part of our Digital Futures Index, finding that over half of British adults worry their personal data will be stolen and 40% believe the Government watches everything they do online. These worries will likely increase, as IoT devices will constantly collect information on users to be stored and shared widely across networks. We all need to embrace convenience over the protection of personal data or the IoT dream can’t truly work.

That said, security must take centre stage to offer the best safeguards possible against those who would disrupt or businesses who would manipulate based on accessible data. This could involve an ethics code, an honour agreement, and robust legislation that protects all users to maintain the integrity of the systems. It would need to cover all parties in the process, from designers and software developers to the companies or people using the IoT devices and systems. It’s a complicated process but will be necessary if consumers are ever to trust IoT fully.

An awareness of the complications of IoT in reality are not meant to put a dampener on ambition; it’s an important part of the journey to success. We mustn’t be dazzled by a dream but face up to a realistic idea of the future.

This article was originally published here and was reposted with permission.

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