The Building Blocks of IoT: You Just Can't Stack Them Up
I’ve spent my entire career in the business of technology, and I’ve watched many ideas go from “shiny new object” to “buzzword” to “table stakes.”
Case in point, I think the Internet of Things (IoT) is one of those developments. A decade ago it was an exciting, yet exotic concept. Today it has become a standard element of most business models, regardless of sector or geography. This is why Avnet designed a comprehensive ecosystem to drive the evolution of IoT solutions by delivering a simple, cost effective way for companies to take their products from idea to design and design to production quickly.
But as businesses rush to integrate IoT into their operational models, some lose sight that IoT is a means to an end: to have devices that connect to one another in a way that produces data rich with actionable insights.
For an IoT implementation to work well, it has to start with the right building blocks, namely: things, data, actions and insights. However, even more important than the building blocks themselves is their architecture, operationalization and management. These need to be constructed in a way that enables each piece of an IoT solution to be smart, connected and trusted.
The four building blocks of IoT
Things are devices that collect and transmit data. The data has to flow through the network quickly, reliably and securely. The insight is the result of analyzing the data collected and transmitted by the things. Finally, there are the actions themselves, the product of seizing opportunities presented by new insights.
Each building block has its own complexity. There are literally thousands of different types of sensors, actuators, radios and other IoT components that make devices “smart,” and they come in every shape, size and function. Finding just the right one for just the right application can be daunting. Similarly, there are multiple ways to enable connections that move data from one place to another, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Finally, there are the software applications and analytics that generate insights and actions.
As if managing the diversity of these IoT building blocks wasn’t challenging enough, what is oftentimes lost in IoT planning and implementation is how all these blocks fit and work together securely. It is best to consider IoT deployments through the lens of three architectural challenges.
The first architectural challenge in IoT is finding the right, secure operational technology or OT. According to Microsoft, 98 percent of security issues can be tracked back to OT. With IoT comes the responsibility of keeping data secure throughout every transaction point. Not only do companies risk data exposure, there is the constant threat of hackers who are increasingly intent on targeting the weak defenses of many IoT devices. If each individual component of an IoT solution does not have a trusted identity, the whole system is vulnerable.
A second challenge is being able to properly structure and secure the virtual environment in which IoT operates. Personalization and things like certificate injection, public key infrastructure (PKI), and lifecycle management services are common in the cellular telecommunications world. However, state of the art virtual security is not the norm when it comes to the things-data-insight-action platforms of many IoT systems.
The third challenge is managing the complexity of the IoT system itself. IoT building blocks come in many shapes and sizes and the technology for these blocks is changing at an accelerating rate. What’s more, it can take as many as 10 partners to bring a complex IoT solution to life and this can inhibit a company’s adaptability in this evolving space – while introducing accountability challenges when something goes awry. Identifying one partner who can coordinate much of an IoT solution’s development is a huge competitive advantage that not only allows you to move faster, but it helps you stay focused on your business.
As a business leader, I know that having the right building blocks are critical to running and growing a business. But that alone won’t assure success. Longevity requires operational excellence, sound infrastructure and good management. This is especially true with the Internet of Things. As buzzwords become table stakes and IoT broadens to include edge computing, AI and more, it is crucial that your IoT building blocks are the right ones, put in the right place, and managed in the right way. With a well-planned strategy, the building blocks of IoT can stack up in your favor.