6 Lessons from IoT Ninjas

Monday Aug 3rd 2015 by Ann All
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Early adopters are experiencing Internet of Things successes – and learning hard lessons. Their hits and misses can help companies just embarking on IoT initiatives.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is shaping up to be a bona fide phenomenon, with Gartner estimating that the number of Internet-connected "things" will hit 4.9 billion this year and reach 25 billion by 2020. Given this steep growth trajectory, companies are keen to capitalize on IoT opportunities. As with any nascent technology, though, doing so can be tricky at first. Good thing we can all learn a thing or two from early IoT adopters.

Here are six lessons from early IoT adopters that can help companies with their own Internet of Things initiatives:

Leverage Real-time IoT Data

Tony Cosentino, an analyst with Ventana Research, recently shared his view that IoT's biggest value lies in operational intelligence.

"As IoT is real time or near real time, it is of most value in making immediate or same-day decisions. The faster you can integrate data in the data store and analyze it, the more successful you will be with IoT," he said, adding that companies need to "move beyond a query and report mentality into more of an event-centric mentality."

NinjaThat is what Wind River, a subsidiary of Intel which has an operating system used by many airlines, is doing with its Helix Device Cloud, which collects data from sensors or devices and puts it into the cloud for analysis. While older systems gathered data, then processed it and sent it elsewhere for analysis, now the company siphons off sensor data at the point it is generated, sends one feed on the normal route and another directly to the point of analysis in the cloud.

"To be accurate and responsive enough, you need to go directly to the cloud and not just via control systems. That way, we are able to send the control system alerts or guidance in near-real time," said Chip Downing, the company's senior director of Aerospace Defense.

Analyzing data mid-flight rather than waiting to download it all upon landing allows airlines to tune engines more precisely, alter flight paths to avoid bad weather, take advantage of better winds on a slightly different course and set up maintenance actions on the ground so crews are ready well in advance of a plane's arrival.

Get a Services Mentality

Many IoT early adopters are finding success by creating business models that create new services. For instance, Schneider Electric is now giving away thermostats instead of selling them. The devices have sensors that detect sound, motion and temperature. If the temperature drops or no sound and motion are detected, the system is programmed to conserve energy.

Companies pay a monthly subscription fee for the service and Schneider Electric guarantees a 20 percent energy reduction, which typically yields greater savings than the monthly charge.

The company is also adding IoT sensors to mousetraps so it can offer a rodent removal service rather than just selling traps. Again, this switches the business model from a one-time sale to a monthly subscription fee. The idea is that restaurants, grain stores and other clients will pay to have rodents quickly removed so they do not have to worry about decomposing animals being discovered by customers or health inspectors.

An HP executive told attendees at last year's Connected Cloud Summit that his company now offers a service to consumers in which they connect their printers to the Internet and pay a monthly, usage-based fee to get ink delivered to their homes before they run out. "What's cool about this is that [because of access to the printer] we can improve shipping costs. We can pass on a lot of that savings to the consumer," the executive said, adding, "The real transformation in business models is when you begin to connect consumer IoT and industrial IoT together."

Make IoT Security a Priority

Fiat Chrysler just announced a voluntary safety recall of some 1.4 million vehicles after security researchers were able to exploit a software flaw to remotely commandeer a Jeep Cherokee. This incident spotlighted the security concerns associated with newly connected devices such as automobiles. A study from HP found that all 10 Internet-connected security systems it assessed, including video cameras and motion detectors, contained vulnerabilities that hackers could use to remotely access and control devices.

Given this, it is obviously critical to address security when developing applications for the Internet of Things. Daniel Miessler, a practice principal at HP Fortify, told eSecurity Planet that while there is nothing intrinsic to IoT app development that makes it difficult to code securely, such apps are more complex than many apps because they often contain Web, mobile and networking components.

Among six tips for developing secure IoT applications that Miessler shared: employ developers with appropriate Web development skills; build apps on a platform that handles at least some of the elements of a secure IoT app, such as authentication; and ensure IoT apps have a mechanism to securely update firmware.

Use IoT Development Platforms

For those put off by the potential complexity of developing Internet of Things applications, companies including Xively, ThingWorx, Buglabs, Carriots and Seecontrol offer cloud-based development platforms that provide many elements of IoT infrastructure so companies can focus on building apps that access sensor data without worrying about areas like provisioning and authentication.

Xively, for example, offers a library of connectors -- small bits of code -- that can be inserted onto various sensor manufacturers' control boards. These embedded clients take data from sensors, package it and send it in a published message format to the Xively platform. The platform then stores the data ready for an application to make use of it.

Companies can build apps in their language of preference and access data on Xively's platform using the Xively API, https or other standard means. This speeds the development process. According to Xively's senior product marketing manager, who spoke to Enterprise Apps Today earlier this year, building a first prototype IoT application can take as little as a week.

Consider IoT Infrastructure Challenges

Not surprisingly, many organizations will need to reconsider their infrastructures, given the dramatic increase in data that will be generated by sensors in Internet-connected devices. A highly scalable infrastructure is a necessity, said Andreas Mai, director of Smart Connected Vehicles for Cisco Systems.

Speaking at a conference late last year, Mai said current satellite, cellular and cloud networks will be overwhelmed. One solution he suggested is supplementing cellular networks and the cloud with additional networking from what he termed "the fog." This is, in essence, a localized network that supplements the cloud, satellite and landline systems, perhaps only operating in the vicinity of one junction.

Using connected cars as an example, he said, "It isn’t possible for cars to receive external impulses from traffic lights, mapping programs and other vehicles if it all has to go via the cloud. So the IoT will require a lot more compute power on the edge of the network."  

Understand How IoT Impacts Data Management

Achieving the promised benefits of the Internet of Things will be tough without first considering how it will impact data management capabilities. In addition to assessing their infrastructures and determining where changes may be needed to support new demands created by the IoT, organizations will also need to evaluate their data management processes, workflow and staffing.

Mobeen Khan, executive director of Product Marketing Management at AT&T, which is beginning to use sensor data from its land line and cellular networks to attain better control and optimization of field services, said organizations must determine what type of data is important, what should be transmitted immediately, what should be stored and for how long, and what information should be simply discarded. Those that do not complete this exercise will end up with an overwhelming pile of data, when only a relatively small amount yields real value.

"Some data just needs to be read and thrown away," said Khan, speaking at a conference late last year.

Takeaway: IoT on Executive Agenda

Companies that employ these best practices and figure out how to use the Internet of Things to solve business problems and/or create new opportunities will gain a real competitive edge.

As IDC analyst Dan Vesset told Enterprise Apps Today just last month, "Rapid growth will elevate data quality, privacy and data governance issues onto the executive agenda. The biggest company in the world right now is Walmart and that might well be because it used data better than other retailers."

Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today and eSecurity Planet. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade, writing about everything from business intelligence to virtualization.

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