The IoT security challenge: Can Information Xchange fill the gap?

Internet of Things platform startup Information Xchange recently emerged from stealth. Here's how the company wants to make IoT play nice with legacy systems in the enterprise.

Image: iStockphoto/MF3d

Leveraging the power of data through the Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the most forward-looking decisions a company can make. But, the tight security requirements of the enterprise can make it difficult to use that data.

On Tuesday, a new startup called Information Xchange (IX) emerged from stealth with the goal of solving that problem. The Austin, Texas-based startup provides a lightweight platform to connect a company's legacy systems to IoT apps and services.

Michael Hathaway, founder and CEO of IX, said that the company came upon the idea almost by accident. Previously, they were focused on energy efficiency monitoring and control, but decided to expand their capabilities when they saw the need emerge in the market.

"[Through] our direct relationships with our customers we found that they were going to be really hesitant to adopt a new technology and embrace the promise of IoT until they could start seeing it work with what they already had," Hathaway said.

Right now, the company is still focused in energy management and services, and building management. The legacy systems in that market typically have data that is locked in a building automation server.

The issue that emerges is that it's difficult to get data from those servers and share it with other applications. Hathaway said their customers are frustrated with their legacy systems and wonder why they can't, for example, just view certain data in a web-based dashboard.

"Our approach is a secure way to get that information out so it can be shared with multiple applications and services," Hathaway said.

For example, say a major university has a food services contractor and all the university's walk-in coolers are on the building automation system. If the contractor wants to check the temperatures in the coolers over the weekend, or simply be notified if something goes wrong via a push notification, it cannot easily be done if the data is tied up in that legacy system. Even though it would normally be a relatively simple IoT implementation.

Of course, tying together systems that are usually far behind a firewall with outside applications poses entirely new security issues. Data exchange with a public internet connection, if handled improperly, could be catastrophic.

Security isn't a monolithic thing, so IX can't perform with a "cookie cutter" implementation, Hathaway said. The platform is distributed, not a big middleware scenario, so it enables the flexibility to handle security at every touch point.

"When you're dealing with large organizations with lots of facilities, you're not doing security for them, you're enforcing their security policies," Hathaway said. "And, you have to enforce them at every layer."

When asked if the platform could handle compliance issues that could arise through HIPAA, for example, Hathaway said IX has the ability to anonymize data, so it is possible, but they aren't doing any medical applications at the moment.

While the company has been working on this for the past 3-4 years, they formally became IX in 2014 to go after this "gaping hole" in the market.

So far, IX has been funded by friends and family and from company revenue, and the company has been working on growing both its revenue and solution set. However, Hathaway said they are in the process of working with new channel partners and ramping them up so that IX can pass the customers along to them.

"We don't scale by dealing with a customer at a time," Hathaway said. "We scale by having our platform enable very large channel partners, who already have hundreds or thousands of customers, to deliver new, revolutionary IoT applications and services."

On the road ahead, Hathaway said the biggest challenge is coordinating the security needs of the corporations with the security needs of the IoT providers. Additionally, there is a challenge of education in terms of helping companies rethink their security policies to account for new technologies. That challenge affects the industry as a whole, he said, but he feels IX is at the forefront.

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