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Making IoT Mainstream

By Special Guest
Valentin Suta, AVP of IoT Practice at Ness Digital Engineering
March 12, 2020

“Dad, what does Login Out mean?” asked my son the other day, pointing to the mobile phone application which came with our smart pet feeder. He is usually pretty good at installing and configuring anything digital, so the question was surprising. As we scoured through the installation guide, which has everything you don’t need and very little you could use, it took us hours to figure out, configure and start using the connected device. Other promised features will probably remain hidden deep under the dreadful user interface, until the manufacturer does a better job of making them easily accessible to the customer.

As IoT technology develops, it is important to balance technical innovation with usability and accessibility. Below are some considerations that will be key to making IoT a truly mainstream technology.

Increased focus on user experience
IoT vendors need to keep in mind that an IoT solution is ultimately a tool to serve a personal or business need, not a goal in itself. Every additional manual step required at installation and every unnecessary mouse click needed during usage lowers the chances that you buy, roll out and adopt that tool. If it has high visibility, be sure that an army of consultants will tear it down and benchmark it low against competition, while the market will be delivering the ultimate verdict itself. Organizations must apply science alongside art to orchestrate the interaction of people, artifacts, processes and infrastructure into a cohesive IoT solution which maximizes value and provides a seamless and memorable customer or employee experience.

Consolidation of IoT marketplaces
We live in a world of proofs of concept (PoCs), with IoT rollouts at scale taking place only in the highly digitalized industries. In others, IoT is still a promise and baby steps need to be taken, starting with connecting all “things” before talking digital twins, augmented reality or predictive maintenance. IoT mega-vendors who have invested billions and developed their own IoT platforms are asking themselves a very legitimate question: where is the money? In the pursuit of ROI, the big players continue to add more targeted and granular features to their standard offerings, like manufacturing execution systems or new supply chain use cases. Now that IoT platforms are up and running, we will see an aggressive hunt for end customers, system integrators, solution and technology providers. All are lured into various IoT marketplaces where they can advertise, sell and buy, while the IoT platform provider is the marketplace regulator and collects the service fee.

Implementation of cybersecurity at all levels
IoT solutions span over multiple layers, connecting a wide range of physical devices with cloud platforms and business processes. Your things are talking, but who’s listening? Where we see opportunity for value creation and innovation, hackers see opportunities as well. With the pressure to deliver being high in the relatively new IoT market, cybersecurity has at times been an afterthought in the design and development process. Luckily, industries have learned from the damage created by exploited vulnerabilities and have become more wary, such that the goal for every new development is now to ensure “security by design,” implementing industry-specific security standards. But a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so information security policies must be strictly enforced during development, production, and later by the customer’s organization to guarantee integrity, confidentiality, availability and non-repudiation.

That said, despite better security, we can expect increased cyberattacks from hackers competing to collect the remaining low hanging fruits from older IoT installations featuring very basic security. Also, new and highly sophisticated attacks will exploit the tiniest cracks left behind when designing and implementing security, or the failures to comply with security policies. The “good guys” in IoT must ramp up focus and spending to implement cybersecurity by the book at all levels, because the “bad guys” are waiting around the corner to grab every opportunity to break into the system. Only solutions that are secure enough to earn user trust will find their way into mainstream adoption.

IoT beyond business
IoT technologies are maturing quickly. Today, we know how to design complex and secure end-to-end solutions which can monitor the ground truth and derive hidden insights from the deluge of data coming from sensors, leading to immense business value. But while IoT will, of course, continue to serve as a great innovation and revenue driver for businesses, we must think bigger. IoT could also be the answer to some of society’s larger challenges like environmental sustainability.

Think of Earth as a patient; IoT can leverage probes, sensors and harnesses to figure out how the patient is really doing and whether the “treatment” we’re providing is effective or not. It can even help raise information-based awareness. We need an increased number of IoT installations to monitor everything from air, soil and water pollution and illegal deforestation to population trends in endangered species, so we can better prepare and implement an action and response strategy.

The Internet of Things is rapidly becoming mainstream technology and, if leveraged correctly, it can not only offer great commercial value to companies and consumers, but also help make the world we live in cleaner, safer and sustainable.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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