Deepak Kumar has defined the Internet of Things (IoT) as a “collective of Internet-connected consumer devices, manufacturing systems, business tools, customer service appliances, medical equipment, agriculture sensors, and other things.”
At a recent Intel partner event, an executive defined IoT as any device that utilizes a processor and IP address to speak to a broad range of devices and services. As a company that’s focused historically on selling processors across a broad range of devices, it’s understandable for Intel to view the world through this lens.
I suspect that over the next few years we’ll have a better idea of what IoT means, because today it’s defined so widely, almost to the point of being meaningless. But we do have some tangible examples of what IoT means today in the form of fitness trackers, such as Fitbit and smart thermostats such as Nest. But we’re just getting started. Gartner forecasts that by 2020 IoT will have grown to over 26 billion devices.
Many IT professionals, fresh off the BYOD revolution, wonder how IoT will impact their jobs in terms of device management, security, and support of so many non-traditional devices. Putting tablets and phones in the hands of employees has already increased data consumption, often taxing already strained networks.
While discussing this topic with a friend who manages a large farm of Microsoft Exchange servers, he mentioned a primary challenge was waiting for the software tools to catch up to the newest devices. Standardizing a company on a handful of phones or tablets is one way IT can effectively manage and secure a growing number of devices. The IoT naturally shuns standardization and includes devices that are inherently difficult for IT to classify.
The number of new devices demanding access to the network might feel overwhelming, but many IP pros have been prepped for this moment having gone through the shift to BYOD. This won’t be the first time employees show up demanding to connect their consumer devices to a secure network managed by their employer. IT’s involvement in helping companies get up-to-speed on the number of connected devices such as video equipment, projectors and badge readers will help to ease the transition.
One primary hurdle facing IT is the sheer number of devices poised to enter the market. The current IoT market is mostly made up of small companies building niche devices that cater to early adopters. The Pebble watch is a good example of this type of product. Pebble was born as a Kickstarter project that eventually raised over $10 million from 68,000+ backers. An employee might find it difficult to convince IT that his Google Glass is needed in order to do his job. But the waters become murkier when this same employee wants to push the task list from his watch running Android to his company’s Exchange Server. The lines of productivity and entertainment can quickly blur.
IT will face many challenges, but these challenges can also result in new opportunities. Instead of merely rolling with the punches, savvy IT pros will help executives understand how these new devices can help increase employee productivity or cut costs. I think back to the first time my boss put a Motorola pager in my hand that also downloaded my corporate email. It didn’t cut down on my travel, but it did help me feel more connected to my team, and I was able to respond more quickly to urgent matters as well as customer concerns.
The Internet of things is coming our way. It’s best to determine how to harness its potential instead of hoping for the best. Many of us worked for companies that resisted tablets and smartphones. Let’s hope we learned a lot from that experience so we’ll be better prepared for the next onslaught.
Patrick Barry via Flickr