The Internet of Things is still Suffering Growing Pains

“Some call the Internet of Things (IoT), the Intelligence of Things, or the Internet of Everything,” explain analysts from Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). “By whatever name, futurists say it heralds the moment when sensor-driven data connects everything to everything else and artificial and human intelligence become a seamless whole — the planet and virtually everything in and on it transformed into a single, thinking entity.”[1] This vision is not new. Jonathan B. Sallet (@JonSallet), a visiting fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, reports, “The term ‘internet of things’ is said to have been first used in 1985.”[2] Around the turn of the century, my friend Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett (@thomaspmbarnett) wrote, “The defining achievement of the New Economy in the globalization era will be the Evernet, a downstream expression of today’s Internet, which most of us still access almost exclusively through bulky desktop personal computers anywhere from a few minutes to several hours each day. Over the next ten or so years, this notion of being ‘online’ versus ‘offline’ will completely disappear.”[3] Blurring the line between being online and offline is still a few years in the future, but we’re getting closer. I’m pretty sure the vision of the world as “a single, thinking entity” conjures up different feelings in people depending on how they view technology. Whether you consider it a dream or a nightmare, painting the IoT as a “single” network of things is inaccurate. The IoT is a network of networks. “There is no such thing as ‘the’ Internet of Things,” proclaim Boston Consulting Group (BCG) analysts, “today’s market is heavily driven by specific use case scenarios.”[4]

IoT still in Its Infancy

“We are in the earliest phases of a technological transformation,” state HPE analysts, “whose impact will be at least as great as every previous cultural and industrial revolution in human history.” Really? Their prediction may come true if, as they state, everything gets connected. They explain, “Every object, system and technology in our present reality — from office equipment to our physical organs, from defense and security systems to the local grocery store — will be connected, and those connections, thanks to AI-driven data analytics, will make once mute objects into autonomous actors, even co-creators of the future.” The picture they are painting has barely had brush touched to canvas. Sallet agrees the IoT remains in its infancy. “Roughly thirty years [after the term IoT was introduced],” he writes, “this collection of devices, computing, connectivity, and data analysis is still on the horizon, but getting closer each day.”

Most analysts agree the Internet of Things is going to continue to mature. BCG analysts report, “The B2B market for the Internet of Things is taking off. And huge numbers of vendors — including software, hardware, and internet companies; startups; service providers; and telcos — are jockeying for position and market share.” They identified a number of use cases that provide a better understanding of how the IoT is likely to mature over the next decade. Those use cases include:

  • Predictive Maintenance. “IoT technologies can predict or detect when a machine requires maintenance, reducing or eliminating unplanned downtime, extending maintenance cycles, and reducing costs. A host of industries — including discrete manufacturing, transportation and logistics, energy, and health care — can benefit from predictive maintenance.”
  • Self-Optimizing Production. “Connected factories and plants can use IoT to monitor and optimize production processes in real time, making automated adjustments to improve quality, enhance efficiency, and reduce waste.”
  • Automated Inventory Management. “IoT can provide much greater insight into the status of inventory and the supply chain, allowing companies to track inventory location and condition (including, for example, temperature, humidity, and damage).”
  • Smart Meters. “Sensors can be used to monitor utilities — including electricity, gas, and water consumption — in real time. Smart meters can help consumers monitor their usage, reduce the number of technicians needed to read meters, provide real-time billing data, and enable more dynamic pricing.”
  • Track and Trace. “IoT sensors are ideally suited for increasing systems’ efficiency. They can, for example, enhance transparency in order fulfillment and provide information that can help reduce workstation transition times.”
  • Distributed Generation and Storage. “IoT can be used to automate and optimize supply and demand across multiple energy sources. By remotely monitoring and controlling distributed energy generation and storage, companies can balance energy usage across the grid and reduce energy costs.”
  • Connected Cars. “Through new types of sensors, wireless connectivity, and onboard processing units, vehicles are increasingly connected, and many consumers already expect this type of functionality. Connected cars offer enhanced navigation, better safety features, and various creature comforts, including advanced music and entertainment options.”
  • Fleet Management. “In addition to tracking inventory and parcels, IoT is being used to track vehicles in real time. With better information related to fleet location, usage, and condition, companies can be more efficient, reduce maintenance and repair costs, and allow for dynamic rerouting to avoid congestion and delays.”
  • Demand Response. “IoT is starting to change the way end users interact with utilities. Through demand-response programs, customers can allow the remote control of their use of certain appliances — air-conditioning systems, washing machines, and other energy-intensive appliances — during peak-demand periods. These processes can be automated to reduce supply and demand volatility and lower customers’ energy bills.”

As the IoT matures, more and more use cases will be identified. Part of the maturation process includes overcoming some of the troubling challenges still facing IoT implementation.

Internet of Things Challenges

Ahmed Banafa (@BanafaAhmed) insists there are technical challenges that must be overcome, business challenges that must be confronted, and societal concerns that must be addressed.[5] Each of these areas deserves an article; but, let me summarize some of the challenges that lie ahead.

Technical Challenges

Banafa insists there is a broad array of IoT challenges involving security, connectivity, compatibility & longevity, standards, and intelligent analysis & actions. He wisely lists security challenges first. Brian Buntz (@Brian_Buntz) reports the Open Web Application Security Project has identified a comprehensive list of Internet of Things security vulnerabilities that every IoT developer should address.[6] They include: Insecure web interfaces; insufficient authentication and authorization procedures; insecure network services; non-robust encryption protocols; privacy concerns; insecure cloud interfaces; insecure mobile interfaces; insufficient security configurability; insecure software and firmware; and poor physical security. Banafa adds, “Connecting so many devices will be one of the biggest challenges of the future of IoT, and it will defy the very structure of current communication models and the underlying technologies.” Regarding other technology challenges, he writes, “IoT is growing in many different directions, with many different technologies competing to become the standard. This will cause difficulties and require the deployment of extra hardware and software when connecting devices.” The current lack of standards presents other problem.

Business Challenges

Banafa sees three types of IoT users: Consumer IoT (which “includes the connected devices such as smart cars, phones, watches, laptops, connected appliances, and entertainment systems”); commercial IoT (which, “includes things like inventory controls, device trackers, and connected medical devices”); and, industrial IoT (which, “covers such things as connected electric meters, waste water systems, flow gauges, pipeline monitors, manufacturing robots, and other types of connected industrial devices and systems”). He believes the biggest challenge for businesses will be to identify in which of those IoT sectors they belong and generate a business model that provides an appropriate ROI on IoT investments.

Societal Challenges

The biggest societal challenge facing IoT implementation involves privacy. Hans Zandbelt (@hanszandbelt), the founder, CTO, and IAM Architect at Zmart Zone, insists, “Securing identity data for IoT environments must be a foundation of identity and access management infrastructure.”[7] Beyond privacy, Zandbelt sees other challenges. “In the IoT world a breach has the potential to be life threatening,” he writes. For example, a driverless car could cause a fatal accident, or home medical equipment could stop providing life-sustaining aid. Whereas in the past the primary concern was typically the confidentiality of data, in the IoT it is the integrity of the data that may present greater risk.”

Summary

There can be little doubt the Internet of Things is going to mature and grow. “To some,” write HPE analysts, “that raises the dystopic, Matrix-like vision of a world in which algorithm-driven machines manage to outthink and overwhelm their human creators. But to fear that future, according to [Keerti Melkote, co-founder and CTO of Aruba], is to underestimate the critical role of IoT’s designers. ‘The heart of the future lies in data,’ he says. ‘But humans will have to figure out what decisions need to be made on the basis of it.'” Another piece of the picture, of course, will be the cognitive computing platforms that will actually carry out the analysis of all the data that will be generated by the IoT. It will be those systems provide the brains to a network that has the potential of being the nervous system to the world.

Footnotes
[1] HPE, “How IoT Will Change Our Society,” Longitudes, 31 January 2017.
[2] Jonathan B. Sallet, “The internet of (economic) things,” The Brookings Institution, 12 April 2017.
[3] Thomas P.M. Barnett, ““Life After DoDth or: How the Evernet Changes Everything,” USNI Proceedings, May 2000.
[4] Nicolas Hunke, Zia Yusuf, Michael Rüßmann, Florian Schmieg, Akash Bhatia, and Nipun Kalra, “Winning in IoT: It’s All About the Business Processes,” bcg.perspectives, 5 January 2017.
[5] Ahmed Banafa, “3 Major Challenges Facing the Future of IoT,” Datafloq, 6 March 2017.
[6] Brian Buntz, “The Biggest 10 IoT Security Vulnerabilities,” IndustryWeek, 16 February 2017.
[7] Hans Zandbelt, “IoT: security first, innovation second?Computing, 3 February 2017.

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