S&T | The Promise and Peril of IoT

S&T | The Promise and Peril of IoT

By Kannan Subbiah 

S&T | The Promise and Peril of IoT

The Internet of Things can be defined as below: 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects or "things" embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity to enable it to achieve greater value and service by exchanging data with the manufacturer, operator and/or other connected.  

As we can see today, there are many things that we use in our daily livelihood are becoming smarter as they have embedded sensors and related electronics and algorithms, so that they collect data in real time and convert the same into useful information. The most common smart things that we see now range from tracking devices, cars, refrigerators, security cameras, ovens and even dustbins. The Healthcare industry is leading in adopting the IoT devices and we have devices which are worn under the skin, that on the positive side help address many of the health concerns.   

The IoT ecosystem primarily has three things: the device itself, with necessary sensors to collect data; the network that the devices use to share the data with the back end systems; and the back end system which apart from applying various analytical and algorithmic processes on the collected data also manages the devices, like rolling out updates, patches, etc. Certain devices may not have the ability to connect to the internet, in which case, the devices reach out to the back end through intermediate broker devices, like smart phones.  

IoT is here to Stay  

More and more IoT devices are coming out and will soon be everywhere and experts predict that the number can grow to 50 billion by year 2020. The IoT will undoubtedly be beneficial, but not without any perils. The pervasive interconnectedness of the IoT devices will also help the businesses in better understanding customer behavior and adopt appropriate business and marketing strategies targeting the specific customers. While the businesses like healthcare service providers may make the most out of this IoT push, it poses many concerns ranging from data security to life safety of those who either directly or indirectly use such devices.   

As the benefits seem to outweigh the drawbacks, it is very likely that IoT is here to stay and the concerns have to be addressed as it matures in the coming years. Let us examine the Promises that IoT era is about to bring in and also the Perils that come along.   

The Promise  

Healthcare  - As mentioned earlier, healthcare providers are among the earliest to adopt the IoT. The wider deployment of electronic medical records (EMRs) and deployment of tele-medicine technology that relies heavily on the type of remote data collection needed IoT to take it further and this convergence is expected to fuel the growth of IoT. With IoT, patients can submit their vitals from home without having to personally visit their physician and thus experiencing an enhanced and timely care, which could be life saving many times. This also helps in healthcare providers innovate further and come up with preventive care plans. Typical IoT devices that we see now are the fitness trackers, smart watches and other wearable devices like smart shoes.  

Automobile - Next to Healthcare, Automobiles makers have shown greater interest in leveraging the IoT and thus the cars are becoming smart with capabilities like driverless cars, parking assist, switching on the A/c remotely, etc. IoT, if not already, will enrich the in car experience of the driver and passengers. The applications include enhanced in-car infotainment, improved safety controls and improved remote maintenance. For example, the car tires are getting smarter with the ability to notify the tire pressure in real time and even extend it further to automatically inflate or deflate the tire on the go. The cars rolling out today already have some level of smartness built in, giving an enhanced safety and driving experience.

Manufacturing - The IoT brings revolutionary changes to society, economy, and technology, in such a manner that no one can just ignore to leverage it for its benefits. Manufacturing companies for that matter are seriously working to leverage IoT to: gain enhanced visibility over the production process; link the production to the business processes; and build responsive monitoring processes that improves the efficiency and quality of the products and services. Application of IoT in the above areas will lead to significant benefits like, securing and monitoring the movement of goods within and outside the factory, improving the quality of the products, preventive maintenance and upkeep of the plant & machinery, etc. When implemented correctly in every stage of the manufacturing process, IoT will be a significant benefit to employees on the manufacturing floor to the shippers and finally to the customer.  

Retail - Retail industry would not want to be left out in this race of adopting the IoT as it has the biggest potential to leverage for a better business results. Being in direct contact with the end consumers, retailers can make use of in-store sensors and can track smartphones throughout the store and record path-to-purchase data that can later be used to optimize store layouts. Check out process can be made easier with smart shopping bags, so that the moment an item is dropped into the bag, the same is added to the order making the billing process a lot easier. IoT is likely to be very useful in fraud prevention, like theft of inventory, etc. Early adopters will be positioned to more quickly deliver IoT-enabled capabilities that can increase revenue, reduce costs and drive a differentiated brand experience. The IoT will be a disruptive force in retail operations.   

Other Benefits - Energy sector is adopting IoT with smart meters and grids to gather real-time data for remote monitoring of resource consumption, malfunctions, etc. Needless to mention, IoT enables building of smarter homes with smart-connected home appliances and thermostats giving an ability to the users to remotely monitor and manage. IoT is also entering our homes in the form of internet-connected light-bulb, thermostat, door lock, washing machine or oven you can control from inside or outside your house.  IoT has the power of transforming our lives by offering the needed sensing, connectivity and intelligence to improve our well-being.   

Having seen the some of the promises, some of which are already real, let us now check out the dangers that come along.  

The Perils 

With IoT devices, consumers are often exposed to newer risks and concerns that these new generation devices and gadgets bring in. The concerns include their own safety, possible effects on networks used apart from the data protection and legal issues.  

Another concern for the businesses is the amount of data produced by all IoT devices. The enormous data produced by various sensors must be transmitted over the networks, needing high performance networks and stored calling for the storage and related infrastructure. The volume of data managed by enterprises between 2015 and 2020 is expected to grow 50 times year-over-year. The concern is not just on the volume, but also on the quality and security of the data. The legal issues around the data ownership, accountability and responsibility cannot be ruled out as well.  

Security & Privacy - IT professionals are no longer just protecting data, circuits, and transmissions, but need to focus on the relationships between “things”, “service to things” and “things to people.” Safety must be ensured along with availability, confidentiality and integrity. IoT devices might expose vulnerabilities, exposing an easy way for hackers to get into networks and databases of personal data. While manufacturers are responsible for the security of their products, organizations and end users are equally responsible deploying and monitoring within their network.   

The ways and means of securing IoT is unclear as the industry is still evolving with thousands of start ups coming with cheaper and basic connected devices, ignoring security and safety in mind. The concerns around security and privacy stems out basically at three levels. The first being from the device itself. The device containing sensors to gather data and to perform certain actions should have a mechanism securely identify and authenticate the host system, so that it respond to the authorized hosts only and not to any. The second being the network used for sending and receiving data. Most of the IoT devices use the wireless protocols like Bluetooth, to reach out to an intermediate device for further connectivity with internet. Securing these networks is very important as well to ensure data protection. The third is the Back End, where the huge volume of data gathered are stored for making it into more meaningful information for further actions.  

The Internet of Things can be a complex market with multiple nodes, and businesses should aim to simplify this process. There’s no better way to assure a customer of the simplicity and security, than communicating regularly. It might seem like a rudimentary thing to do, but the true test of a successful business is to ensure that there’s a process in place amidst all that clutter.   

Other Concerns  

Today's connected cars contain a multitude of computers collecting data, from driving habits to location data to media or entertainment use. With connectivity, data collected by the vehicle’s computers are sent to a manufacturer or third-party and data is received as well in the form of command & control or as updates to the programs & algorithms. In addition to privacy concerns, these technologies potentially allow hackers to remotely access a vehicle’s control systems and thus impact the safety of the human life.  

The consumer behavior is being used to the advantage of the retailers. For example, your trousers might get horrified by your weight gain and in turn will have the TV showing contextual ads about new fad diets, the fridge selling you low-fat yogurt, etc.  

By getting smarter, the things get expensive with a shorter life span. For instance, your mattress may not need replacing every couple of years, but the smart mattress with a sensor inside may need a maintenance and replacement sooner than that. For cheaper connected devices like the kettle, toaster, waist belt, light switches and door knobs; expect replacement of these components to become a new, regular expense. The current generation kids are born with smart devices on hand and are extremely addicted to digital gadgets and the smartphone notifications keep them busy staying away from in-person socialization, leading up for a complete digital burn-out.

About the Author:

Kannan Subbiah (TR RID: J-8107-2016), management professional with 27 years of overall experience in IT Project, Product and program Management, Enterprise & Solution Architecture and Design & Deployment. One can subscribe to his daily digest at Tech-Bytes by Kanna Subbiah and can follow him at twitter - @kannagoldsun
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