“Who here has read Flatland?” asks Andrew Milne, Ph.D., the CEO of Tidebreak.
The novella takes place in a two-dimensional world wherein the inhabitants tell each other apart by making contact and discovering the shape of those around them. The main character, a square, one day comes across a circle. That circle then shrinks and grows as time passes, an impossibility in the 2D world the square lives in. Eventually he comes to find that the shape is a sphere which lives in a three-dimensional world that the inhabitants of Flatland can’t even fathom.
“This is where we’re at with the Internet of Things,” says Milne.
We’ve lived in our world with the internet for decades now. For the past ten years it has been an integral part of our lives. We understand the internet. We appreciate it. What the Internet of Things (IoT) promises is to take the internet, in its digital world, and bring it into reality with us. Like the 3D world from the story, we can just barely fathom what the world of IoT will be like.
It’s coming, however. That’s what InfoComm’s “IoT Insights” event in New York City in early September, where Milne and other gathered to speak IoT, was all about – trying to fathom the world of IoT, and getting ready for what that world will do for the future of work.
IoT in the Enterprise
“We are at the apex of the IoT cycle,” says Ed Abrams, Vice President of IoT for Samsung. “It reminds me of the hype cycle around the cloud five or six years ago. The reality is we need to get through that hype and figure out where opportunities really exist.”
The consumerization of IT has made the public focus on IoT in the enterprise. Smart buildings, for example, have seen a huge rise in the past few years in New York City. Businesses know what they want from IoT solutions, they just don’t know how to realize that vision. It’s up to integrators and manufacturers to create the real-world applications.
There are three levels of IoT value proposition in the real world:
- Optimize Physical Assets – IoT devices should be able to make the most out of your technology. Conference rooms should automatically know who enters and pull up the right information based on that person. Sensors should monitor how often different technology is used, temperatures in areas that require ventilation, how often people enter and exit a room, and more. IoT gives you hands where you didn’t have them before, and lets you remotely access other devices.
- Innovate New Products and Services – IoT can help us on two fronts when it comes to creating new products for our customers. Inside the office, optimized systems and automated processes will give employees more time to research, create and collaborate. Outside of the office, the data we collect about customer needs will provide deeper knowledge into what types of products we can create for our customers.
- Transform Customer Engagement – There are three stages of customer impact that IoT provides. First, it serves to ease and accelerate entry into the customer life cycle by personalizing and contextualizing offers. Next, it transforms the post-purchase experience by creating new forms of customer interaction and engagement. Finally, it increases brand affinity and repurchase intent by increasing customer benefits and engagement. All of this is accomplished by collecting data on customers that give us better knowledge into each individual’s needs.
At the center of the value proposition is data visualization, and really this is the entire crux of IoT. We are going to collect millions of points of data, and by analyzing that data and looking at it in the right way we create opportunity. The problem is that there’s going to be a lot of data to sift through, and its up to organizations to determine which information is most valuable. The opportunity is that we’ll know more about every individual customer than ever before.
“Data allows you to trend,” says Richard Blackwell, Founder and President of Linked2. “Trends allow you to predict or know what is going to happen.” IoT will give us knowledge to visualize trends and predict what customers will do next. That’s a huge value.
It’s easy to talk theory, but let’s look at an example.
Real World Internet of Things
JLL Realty recently commissioned HARMAN to develop a connected commercial real-estate solution. The goals for the project included:
- Create a monitored space
- Retrieve relevant data
- Analyze and visualize the data
- Understand building usage
- Secure the facilities
- Move toward AI enables spaces
So HARMAN got to work. Using sensors and systems available on the market, the company built a complex IoT solution into the building that delivered on these goals. JLL can look at the building floor by floor and room by room. The amount of people in each room at any hour of the day can be measured, and people can be tracked around the building using the Mac addresses on their phones as beacons. This also allows JLL to visualize the flow of people in the building to determine hotspots of traffic.
How many mobile devices are in the building and where they are can be looked at in real time. The temperature in different rooms, especially rooms with technical equipment that need to maintain a certain temperature, can be monitored and remotely changed.
For data and analysis, HARMAN chose Microsoft Technology Stack solutions: Event Hubs to capture sensor data, HD Insights for Hadoop Storage, Stream Analytics for real time insights, Azure ML for machine learning, Power BI for visualization and Cortana for perceptual intelligence.
What all of this amounts to is an unprecedented amount of information about JLL’s building.
JLL knows who is in the building, when they are in the building, and where they are within the building. On one end, that helps them identify traffic points for advertisements, artwork, digital signage, etc. On the other end, it helps them evacuate the building or monitor safety in the case of an emergency. JLL knows which conference rooms are used, and what technology within those conference rooms are used. That helps them identify where to put technology, which technologies to install more of, and what technologies are not being utilized. In addition, the servers that power those tech devices are safe because JLL knows the air quality and temperature throughout the building at all times. JLL is still discovering the benefits of monitoring the building in such an in-depth manner.
The Dangers of IoT
It’s not all digital sunshine and rainbows of data in the world of IoT. As with anything connected to the internet, security is always a risk.
“Smart devices are always tracking something, whether you know it or not,” says Josh Srago, AV Design Consultant and Writer on Tech Policy and the AV Industry.
The current challenge of IoT is keeping the mountains of data we collect secure. The same information that lets us keep someone safe by knowing where they are in our building could endanger them in the wrong hands. IoT devices are gateways into the network, and hackers use the weakest link in the network to get around. All they need to do is get in.
We have to think about what information we’re transmitting, where it is being stored, who has access to it, and who has permissions surrounding it. Painting a complete picture of possible areas of weakness is the only way to secure data. Strict requirements for passwords, enhanced security like dual authentication, and ensuring that each user only has access to information they need for their role can help keep data safe.
VPNs allow for restricted access and scheduled access to ensure that only the right people at the right time can see data. VLANS create a separation of data so that a hacker can’t have access to everything at once and has to work harder to penetrate multiple isolated areas of the network. Air gap networks ensure that a network is physically separated from all other networks so viruses can’t make the leap from one to another.
These are only some ways to help, and some of the concerns. The truth is that every device attached to the network is a new way for a hacker to enter the network.
Internet of Things is going to change our world dramatically. It’s going to make things a lot easier, and a lot more dangerous, and a lot more helpful, and a lot more complicated. As with Flatland, it’s going to add an entirely new dimension to our world.
Make sure you’re ready.