KuppingerCole Analysts' View on Internet of Things
For a topic so ubiquitous, so potentially disruptive and so overhyped in the media in the recent couple of years, the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) is surprisingly difficult to describe. Although the term itself has appeared in the media nearly a decade ago, there is still no universally agreed definition of what IoT actually is. This, by the way, is a trait it shares with its older cousin, the Cloud.
On the very basic level, however, it should be possible to define IoT as a network of physical objects (“things”) capable of interacting and exchanging information with each other as well as with their owners, operators or other people. The specifics of these communications vary between definitions, but it’s commonly agreed that any embedded smart devices that communicate over the existing Internet infrastructure can be considered “things”. This includes both consumer products, such as smart medical devices, home automation systems, or wearables, and enterprise devices ranging from simple RFID tags to complex industrial process monitoring systems. However, general-purpose computers, mobile phones and tablets are traditionally excluded, although they, of course, are used to monitor or control other “things”.
Looking at this definition, one may ask what exactly is new and revolutionary about IoT? After all, industrial control systems have existed for decades, healthcare institutions have been using smart implanted devices like pacemakers and insulin pumps for years, and even smart household appliances are nothing new. This is true: individual technologies that make IoT possible have existed for several decades and even the concept of “ubiquitous internet” dates back to 1999. However, it’s the relatively recent combination of technology, business and media influences that has finally made IoT on of the hottest conversation topics.
First, continuously decreasing technology costs and growing Internet penetration have made connected devices very popular. Adding an embedded networking module to any device is cheap, yet it can potentially unlock completely new ways of interaction with other devices, creating new business value for manufacturers. Second, massive proliferation of mobile devices encourages people to look for new ways of using them to monitor and control various aspects of their life and work. As for enterprises, the proverbial Computing Troika is forcing them to evolve beyond their perimeter, to become more agile and connected, and the IT is responding by creating new technologies and standards (such as big data analytics, identity federation or even cloud computing) to support these new interactions.
It is its scale and interoperability that fundamentally differentiate the Internet of Things from existing isolated networks of various embedded devices. And this scale is truly massive. Extrapolating the new fashion of making each and every device connected, it is estimated that by 2020, the number of “things” in the world will surpass 200 billion and the IoT market will be worth nearly $9 trillion. Although the industry is facing a lot of potential obstacles on their way to that market, including lack of standards, massive security and privacy-related implications, as well as the need to develop a mature application ecosystem, the business opportunities are simply too lucrative to pass.
Practically every industry is potentially impacted by the IoT revolution, including automotive, healthcare, manufacturing, energy and utilities, transportation, financial, retail and others. Numerous use cases demonstrate that adoption of IoT as a part of business processes can bring generate immediate business value by improving process optimization, providing better intelligence and more efficient planning, enabling real-time reaction to various needs and opportunities and improving customer service.
In addition to various improvements of business processes, IoT enables a huge number of completely new consumer services, from life changing to trivial but “nice to have” ones. One doesn’t need to explain how a doctor’s ability to monitor patient’s vital signs can reduce mortality and improve quality of life or how a connected vehicle improves road safety. IoT benefits don’t end there, and it’s up to manufacturers to introduce completely new kinds of smart devices and persuade consumers that these devices will make their life fundamentally better (this has already worked well for wearable devices, for example).
Of course, IoT market doesn’t just include manufacturers of “things” themselves. Supporting and orchestrating such a huge global infrastructure introduces quite a lot of technological challenges. Obviously, manufacturers of networking hardware will play a major role, and it’s no wonder that companies like Intel or Cisco are among the major IoT proponents. However, being able to address other challenges like providing global-scale identity services for billions of transactions per minute can open up huge business opportunities, and vendors are already moving in to grab an attractive position in this market. Another example of a technology that’s expected to get a substantial boost from IoT is Big Data Analytics, because IoT is all about collecting large amounts of information from sensors, which then needs to be organized and used to make decisions.
Interestingly enough, most of current large-scale IoT deployments seem to be driven not by enterprises, but by government-backed projects. The concept of “smart city”, where networks of sensors are continuously monitoring environmental conditions, managing public transportation and so on, has attracted interest in many countries around the world. Such systems naturally integrate with existing eGovernment solutions; they also enable new business opportunities for various merchants and service companies that can plug directly into the global city network.
In any case, whether you represent a hardware vendor, a manufacturing, a service or an IT company, there is one thing about the Internet of Things you cannot afford: ignore it. The revolution is coming, and although we still have to solve many challenges and address many new risks, the future is full of opportunities.
The phase “Internet of Things” (IoT) was coined to describe the wide range of devices coming on the market with an interface that allows them to be connected to another device or network. There is no question that the explosion in the number of such devices is soon going to change our lives for ever. We are going to be monitoring more, controlling more and communicating more. The recent FTC Staff report indicates there will be 25 billion devices attached to networks this year and 50 billion in 5 years’ time.
It’s generally agreed that there are several categories in the IoT space:
By far the largest category is the smart appliance. For instance, in the building industry it is now normal to have hundreds of IP devices in a building feeding information back to the building information system for HVAC control, security monitoring and physical access devices. This has significantly reduced building maintenance costs for security and access control, and has significantly reduced energy costs by automating thermostat control and even anticipate weather forecast impacts.
In his book “Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think” Peter Diamandis paints a picture of an interconnected world with unprecedented benefits for society. He is convinced that within a few years we will have devices that, with a small blood sample a saliva swab, will provide a better medical diagnosis than many doctors.
So what’s the problem?
For instance, if a building information system can open a security door based on an input from a card swipe reader, the API had better require digital signing and possibly encryption to ensure the control can’t be spoofed. If a health monitor can make an entry in the user’s electronic health record database the API needs to ensure only the appropriate record can be changed.
Another issue is privacy. What if my car that communicates its health to my local garage? That’s of great benefits because I should get better service. But what if the driver’s name and address is also communicated, let alone their credit card details? Social media has already proven that the public at large is notoriously bad at protecting their privacy; it’s up to the industry to avoid innovation that on the surface looks beneficial and benign, but in reality is leading us down a dangerous slippery slope to a situation in which hackers can exploit vulnerabilities.
What can we do?
The Internet of Things (IoT) provides opportunities for organizations to get closer to their customers and to provide products and services that are more closely aligned to their needs. It provides the potential to enhance the quality of life for individuals, through better access to information and more control over their environment. It makes possible more efficient use of infrastructure by more precise control based on detailed and up to data information. It will change the way goods are manufactured by integrating manufacturing machinery, customers and partners allowing greater product customization as well as optimizing costs, processes and logistics.
However the IoT comes with risks the US Federal Trade Commission recently published a report of a workshop they held on this subject. This report, which is limited in its scope to IoT devices sold or used by consumers, identifies three major risks. These risks are enabling unauthorised access and misuse of personal information, facilitating attacks on other systems and creating risks to personal safety. In KuppingerCole’s view the wider risks are summarized in the following figure:
Organizations adopting this technology need to be aware of and manage these risks. As with most new technologies there is often a belief that there is a need to create a new organizational structure. In fact it is more important to ensure that the existing organization understands and addresses the potential risks as well as the potential rewards.
Organizations should take a well governed approach to the IoT by clearly defining the business objectives for its use and by setting constraints. The IoT technology used should be built to be trustworthy and should be used in a way that is compliant with privacy laws and regulations. Finally the organization should be able to audit and assure the organization’s use of the IoT.
The benefits from the IoT come from the vast amount of data that can be collected, analysed and exploited. Hence the challenges of Big Data governance security and management are inextricably linked with the IoT. The data needs to be trustworthy and it should be possible to confirm both its source and integrity. The infrastructure used for the acquisition, storage and analysis of this data needs to be secured; yet the IoT is being built using many existing protocols and technology that are weak and vulnerable.
The devices which form part of the IoT must be designed manufactured, installed and configured to be trustworthy. The security built into these devices for the risks identified today needs to be extensible to be proof against future threats since many of these devices will have lives measured in decades. There are existing low power secure technologies and standards that have been developed for mobile communications and banking, and these should be appropriately adopted, adapted and improved to secure the devices.
Trust in the devices is based on trust in their identities and so these identities need to be properly managed. There are a number of challenges relating to this area but there is no general solution.
Organizations exploiting data from the IoT should do this in a way that complies with laws and regulations. For personal information particular care should be given to aspects such as ensuring informed consent, data minimisation and information stewardship. There is a specific challenge to ensure that users understand and accept that the ownership of the device does not imply complete “ownership” of data. It is important that the lifecycle of data from the IoT properly managed from creation or acquisition to disposal. An organization should have a clear policy which identifies which data needs to be kept, why it needs to be kept and for how long. There should also be a clear policy for the deletion of data that is not retained for compliance or regulatory reasons.
More information on this subject can be found in Advisory Note: Security and the Internet of Everything and Everyone.
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