IoT continues to make inroads into South African industries, and it is not difficult to see why. File Photo: IOL

JOHANNESBURG – Internet of Things (IoT) continues to make inroads into South African industries, and it is not difficult to see why.  The fact is that with IoT, businesses will always know where everything is, they will be able to keep track of even more data, everything will be faster and remote work will be even more feasible.  Another fact is that challenges associated with this technology, like security, connectivity and a sound business plan, are largely being addressed.

And so we have created a commercial environment where key sectors such as wearables, motoring, manufacturing, supply chain, agriculture and healthcare stand to score from the adoption of IoT.

How exactly? On one level the days of having to rely on barcode tracking systems for inventory management are well and truly gone. With IoT, we have in-depth metrics about customers and behaviour with the potential to exploit this information using data analysts and visualisation software.

Moreover businesses now operate with interconnected devices, cloud-hosted software and portable devices, and the ability to meet the consumer demand for immediate, guaranteed efficiency in service delivery.

As tech-focused media outlets like Biztech Africa, TechGenix and BDO South Africa have explained,  there are a few hurdles in the path to successful IoT adoption and utilisation, the most prominent being security, connectivity and a credible business plan.

Experts have criticised local businesses for being uninformed and lax when it comes to the issue of security and IoT, and for failing to devise and instil a comprehensive plan of action related to IoT.

So many new nodes being added to networks and the internet will provide malicious actors with innumerable attack vectors and possibilities to carry out evil deed, especially since a considerable number of them suffer from security holes. The more important shift in security will come from the fact that IoT will become more ingrained in our lives. Concerns will no longer be limited to the protection of sensitive information and assets. Our very lives and health can become the target of IoT hack attacks.

One of the biggest challenges of the future

Connecting so many devices will be one of the biggest challenges of the future of IoT, and it will defy the very structure of current communication models and the underlying technologies.

At present we rely on the centralised, server/client paradigm to authenticate, authorise and connect different nodes in a network. The model is sufficient for current IoT ecosystems, where thousands of devices are involved.

And how will this likely play out in terms of HR in the workplace? One immediate impact is that the HR department will likely soak up and utilse IoT big data. Employees will embrace gadgets and mobile/ smart devices to help evaluate their performance on the job.  Data can extracted and used to measure people-centric trends, processes, where businesses are losing out, where there are definite strengths and potential weaknesses.

Companies are beginning to not only know how to extract data, but are now beginning to truly grasp the power that lies in that data and now extend the influence of IOT beyond internal and into partnerships, service delivery, customer experience and much more.

But when networks grow to join billions of devices, centralised systems will turn into a bottleneck. Such systems will require huge investments and spending in maintaining cloud servers that can handle such large amounts of information exchange, and entire systems can go down if the server becomes unavailable.

Bigdata-madesimple.com says easing security concerns, keeping IoT hardware updated and overcoming connectivity issues are main challenges that remain.

So how should businesses handle their quest towards IoT?

According to experts operating within the competitive enterprise software market and quoted in research, an effective strategy is for businesses to start on a modest scale and then settle on a core business objective related directly to customer service, that will impact the bottom line.

It also outlines the importance of a detailed plan, with careful consideration of the capacity of infrastructure to handle the pressure, an in-depth overview of where the security gaps are, and the need to bring scalability into the picture.

Overall the plan must be to avoid pain points such as the inability to link all the data and process it effectively, failure to establish technology standards to make connected devices ‘understand’ each other, and the inability to deal with security and data privacy threats.

Plan for massive volumes

Success in IoT will be bigger and more ‘real time’ than anything we’ve seen before. This means that IoT systems will have to scale painlessly to massive deployments. We’re not talking about compound annual growth of “only” 50% or even 100% - success could mean going from 1,000 deployed to 100,000,000 units over a couple of years.

A fundamental difference between conventional software and IoT systems is the lack of control you have over the environment in which your creation is deployed. The real world is a strange, confusing and erratic place, and this oddness will impose itself on your system. Bizarre, one-off events will happen frequently.

Assuming you have 100,000,000 devices deployed, an annual million-to-one event will be happening roughly twice a week. Coping with this requires a fundamental change of mindset for many developers. Software which is insufficiently paranoid will allow errors to enter the system and spread chaos. Chaos will lead to poor user experience, which will in-turn lead to negative perceptions - or worse.

As your physical environment becomes more complicated, your software stack will follow it. What might have been a nice, clean deployment will become old and wrinkly over time, with chunks of obsolete code and increasingly convoluted data paths through the system as you try to cope with the unavoidable fact that you can never, ever stop supporting anything you’ve shipped.

Kabelo Ngwane is customer success manager at CRS Technologies. The views expressed here are his own.

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