In the fledgling days of the internet, websites were nothing more than digital business cards. Then e-commerce took hold, social media caught on and the mobile revolution connected users 24/7. Those digital business cards have since transformed into traffic navigators, shoe stores and document scanners.
The Internet of Things is the next natural evolution of the web. Simply put, it’s the merger of IT and operational technology. The IoT connects more than devices such as computers, tablets and phones. It will link people, places and things in the physical world — everything from clothes and generators to traffic lights and vacuum cleaners — to gain insights, streamline processes and discover new possibilities.
By networking things that weren’t connected in the past, organizations can speed up and improve existing processes, as well as invent new business models or even entire lines of commerce.
The IoT is as vast as its name implies. The common thread is that each scenario includes a collection of sensors that are networked to gather data points, analyze them and provide insights. This data can give organizations information about their clients and products; it can help them monitor equipment more closely; and it can enable them to automate processes and boost the efficiency of their operations.
An IoT device can take the form of a watch that alerts healthcare providers if a patient’s vital signs exceed set parameters, enabling enhanced care with less need for inpatient treatment. It can also cut hospital readmissions and improve healthcare in rural areas that rely on telemedicine.
Networked sensors can help manufacturers manage equipment. Instead of performing maintenance every few months (regardless of whether it’s necessary or waiting to react when problems develop), users can employ sensors to alert them to anomalies in a piece of equipment’s performance, enabling them to address the situation remotely before issues emerge.
This can save the expense of dispatching technicians and taking equipment offline for repairs. Responsive maintenance can also extend equipment life and help organizations better gauge when a machine is actually nearing the end of its life, as opposed to following a predetermined replacement calendar and decommissioning equipment that may still be useful.
In an IoT deployment, sensors can give trucking companies real-time views of their fleets so they can improve vehicle maintenance, route navigation and management of drivers. They can also track inventory and assets — everything from merchandise shipments to enterprise-owned tablets.
Smart buildings are one of the most recognizable applications of IoT. Sensors can, for instance, turn off lights and airconditioning on a floor after the last employee leaves for the day, then turn them back on when the first person arrives the next morning. Sensors can control heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, as well as windows and fans, and can analyze data to determine the most efficient means of cooling a space based on the current conditions.
IoT can also improve physical security. Sensors can monitor and control cameras, video surveillance equipment and access systems. Not only can they detect outside threats, but they can trigger alarms if authorized personnel exhibit suspicious behavior. For instance, a sensor can notify an administrator if an employee who normally leaves at 5 p.m. every evening is in the office in the middle of the night, or if someone tries to access a sensitive area without authorization.
Along with the possibilities of IoT, however, come significant challenges. The fact that nearly anything can connect to the internet also means that nearly anything can serve as a point of attack. In this environment, organizations must re-examine their security strategies to ensure that they’re comprehensive enough to withstand threats in the age of IoT.
Another major challenge is also an advantage of IoT: Many of its data collection systems already exist. The problem is that IT infrastructure such as customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning systems have traditionally run on completely separate networks (and in different environments) from operational technology such as HVAC systems and manufacturing equipment. So organizations don’t have to start from scratch when implementing IoT initiatives; they just need to merge them onto one network in a common format.
Large enterprises might opt to build systems to handle these challenges, but for many organizations, it makes sense to turn to cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions to integrate systems, provide security and perform data analytics. Organizations can deploy industry-specific, cloud-based services to make IoT initiatives far more feasible in terms of time and cost.
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