5 Inconvenient Truths About IoT

Sometimes it's okay to poke the bear, with the metaphorical bear in this case being the Internet of Things (IoT). Industry analyst Bola Rotibi shares her take based on recent findings.

I was recently asked by the team at Canonical for my thoughts on the misconceptions of IoT. Where to begin?

Mitch Tseng from the Industrial Internet Consortium, who recently co-authored the Consortium's (IIC) Introduction to Edge Computing in IIoT highlighted the backdrop for the inconvenient truths about IoT:

With the advancement of the semiconductor industry, SoC (System on chip) and all kinds of sensors enabled the M2M (Machine-to-Machine) a decade ago. Once people started thinking of linking these devices through the Internet, all of a sudden Internet of Things (IoT) became the hottest subject in the ICT world.  People fanatically boasted millions of devices (things) will be connected through the Internet by 2020; and yet, very few claims were substantiated with tangible plans and deployments. 

As a result there nave been many misconceptions of IoT spread across the industry.  I see this in a number of key area, and think we'd better get them straightened:

1) IoT Is Not New
The biggest misconception surrounding IoT is that it is something new. In fact, conceptually, it is an evolution of a number of initiatives and capabilities that have been around in key industries such as in chemicals, oil and gas, and in manufacturing, energy and utilities.

Many of these industries have, over the last 20-plus years, employed software based control systems to provide more finely tuned control through devices connected to programmable logic controllers (PLCs) of their operation enabling greater levels of efficiency and predictability.  

What today's IoT solutions and capabilities offer is the means to broaden the scope of connected things (devices) and widen the datasets through easier access to data from both inside and outside of the organization to allow for more nuanced decisions and direction.  

2) Meaningful Application of IoT Is Not Always that Simple
In the past, implementing a connected systems framework completely with interfacing client applications would have been an expensive and complex affair, especially when considering the expense of the underlying dedicated infrastructure and processing and programing knowledge set required. In the era of the Internet, people rely on the apps on their mobile phones to connect to the services and an application seems just one click away. However, even with this level of technology and user accessibility, applying IoT successfully in complex environments isn't as simple as the click of an app.

On the plus side, the capabilities and benefits of more finely tuned control and insight is much more accessible to both those industries and a broad range of others.  

Today, there are more things that can incorporate sensor chips with varying ranges of processing capabilities. Connectivity is achieved through standard and widely available communication protocols. With the Internet and a whole plethora of easily accessible programming solutions and technologies, the scope of personnel capable of building smart applications offers IoT benefits for the masses.

3) The Science and Art of Algorithms Are Rarely Articulated
Many of the new cohort of IoT supplier and user organizations fail to understand that connecting a thing can be relatively easy, but writing the algorithms that allow for sophisticated control and analytical processing, not so much. Algorithms are both a science and an art form, and not generally for the unskilled. Control engineers, especially those with industry domain and process knowledge, will find their services in much need going forward.

That said, and as Tseng adds:

In spite of all the various forms it can be presented, IoT is still based on software and ICT.  The requirements of constructing software in an efficient, secure, and reliable fashion still cannot be ignored or omitted.  A good application in IoT is a good application from any software development's standards.

4) Edge Computing and Domain Knowledge (Industry or Processing) Are Inextricably Linked
Edge processing is vital but knowing where that edge is can be harder to ascertain. You will need to have a clear understanding of the processing operation and a particular insight into the goals looking to be delivered through the benefits of IoT. They will not be the same for all organizations, even those in the same industry. 

Something that should be highlighted, however,as Tseng points out:

Many people from the IT domain learned that the development of software and hardware enables IoT to be operated in a more powerful way; however, IoT should not be treated as a magic bullet and expect it to be the cure for all your operational technology (OT) domain problems. 

The better you understand and are able to articulate your problems and needs, the better the solutions from the IT domain can help.  Moreover, to the people focusing on the IT domain, do not assume your solution or products will work until you actually go to the operation fronts and understand what actually is needed.   

5) IoT Is Not Always a Good Thing
"Just because you can doesn't mean that you should,"is an adage that is not always heeded when it comes to the industry. It might seem neat and even valuable to provide connectivity to a previously unconnected physical thing, but to what business or operational benefit?  Few new entrants to the market really think about all aspects of the underlying processes of the things that they are applying connectivity to. At CIC we've spoken with many an organization that has not thought through all aspects of the process of execution for an IoT product that they believed would change or disrupt an existing market. Without understanding the vested interests of the existing supply chain or evaluating the actual needs, likes and dislikes of the client base, a connected solution may end up being a needless waste of resources. IoT can't always been done on the cheap! A great deal of effort is required, even if some of the constituent parts aren't necessarily expensive.
And in case anyone forgets, Tseng reiterates:

The connectivity to the Internet also makes you visible and potentially vulnerable from the outside world.  IoT should be treated as a "double-edged sword" and you always should consider how it can maximize your benefit and lower your cost and risk at the same time.  

Actually, where we are at with IoT is not so bad, especially when one sees the growing realization around the need for processing at the edge. There is, gratifyingly, unified recognition that connectivity and processing concerns and requirements can be uniquely different for organizations even in the same industry.  Suppliers are beginning to also better appreciate their roles and capabilities in the IoT spectrum and messaging and providing solutions and products accordingly.

The fog around IoT is starting to shift, offering greater clarity on the positioning and benefits of technologies such as Cloud and the role and breadth of analytics that can be used and where they have their best impact.

However, reality bites even for a technology initiative that embraces much of what our expanding digital existence encompasses. As inconvenient as the five truths outlined above may be, not facing up to them will ensure that resources will be wasted and opportunities lost. Mastering IoT today must surely be worth the honesty.  


About the Author

Bola Rotibi, research director and founder of Creative Intellect Consulting, has more 25 years of industry experience spanning engineering, software development and IT analysis. She is a high-profile and highly experienced analyst focused on software development technologies, processes and market trends. She has acted as an advisor to leading IT providers; to investment and education bodies; and to large (and small) IT user organizations in Retail, Manufacturing, Media, Government, Automotive, Financial Services, Telecommunications and consultancies. An experienced presenter, Bola is also regularly quoted in trade and business press in Europe, America and Asia Pacific.