While the Internet of Things (IoT) should not be an unfamiliar
term to most IT executives, many consider it primarily a consumer technology that’s dominated by smart watches and refrigerators that will tweet when you’re out of
milk. Many of the IoT concepts have indeed targeted the
consumer, but most of the major technology innovations of the past several
years have originated in the consumer space, and the IoT is no
The “things” are
coming, like it or not
One of the biggest impacts to the enterprise is that the
number and variety of devices connecting to your networks and potentially
consuming IT resources is likely to increase exponentially. Consider that the
typical enterprise today has one or two devices per user. If that enterprise
lacks a BYOD policy, those devices might be part of a dozen or so potential
configurations powered by a handful of operating systems. As BYOD becomes more
widespread, the per-user device count could jump to three or four devices, as
personal laptops, tablets, and smartphones complement the corporate-issued
With the IoT, everything from watches to
fitness monitors to intelligent office furniture comes into the mix. In the
coming months, a single gadget-obsessed individual might walk through your
lobby sporting more connected and communicating devices on his or her person
than an entire department had a couple of years ago.
Traditional ideas around endpoint management, which assumed
that an IT shop must track, manage, and patch every device that’s connected to
its network quickly, become untenable when a single employee might have over a
half-dozen connected devices, each with a highly-customized OS and wildly
different management capabilities. Furthermore, several of these devices may
not even appear on your network, such as using a smartphone or computer to
communicate with a cloud-based service of unknown providence.
Getting ready for the “things”
Just like non-sanctioned smartphones and tablets caught some
organizations flat-footed, so will the onslaught of the IoT,
unless your organization takes the time to develop a strategy and response,
ideally before the problem manifests itself.
While a prohibition against non-sanctioned devices might be
tempting, the experience of most IT leaders with the iPhone provides a clue as
to the limited success of such an effort. All it takes to end the most
well-intentioned device bans is a CEO who wants his or her new connected device
to “just work” while in the office. Rather than a ban on non-work devices,
consider a bandwidth-limited visitor/personal network that’s logically or
physically separated from your core corporate network. This is an easy solution
to the question of personal devices, but not every “thing” that’s likely to wind
up coming through your doors will be a personal device.
Shows like CES are full of consumer devices, but the
underlying technologies powering these devices — lightweight operating systems,
inexpensive hardware, and long battery life — are equally applicable to the
enterprise. While you may not have an influx of quadcopters, a connected
forklift or “smart” pallet is highly likely as prices fall, due to consumer
devices driving down prices. This means hundreds or even thousands of new
devices connecting to your network, sending and receiving information, and
requiring tools and infrastructure to analyze the data they generate.
If there’s not at least a line item in your future budgets — and better yet, an initial technology strategy and lab where you’re testing the
impact of the IoT on your business — you’ll likely be playing a
game of catch-up as your network strains to serve an exponential increase in
devices, and your peers in the business will demand reports from tools you haven’t
yet built. Like it or not, the “invasion of things” is currently underway.
Like most technology shifts, the organizations that are prepared will use the new technology to their
advantage, while the unprepared will struggle to catch up.