People surf the internet on their mobile devices at a hotspot in Havana, Cuba. Picture: Reuters/Stringer

By 2020, global spending on the Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to reach $1.29 trillion, with more than 200 billion devices connect to the Internet.
IoT is the concept of connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet or to each other. This includes smart tv's, cellphones, coffee makers, washing machines, fridges, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of.   
The data produced by these devices will lead to real-time insights that can help organisations improve customer experience and increase efficiency and productivity. It will also help reduce operating expenses.
 
On the surface, embracing IoT for business transformation seems like an obvious strategy for any organisation. However, if an IoT initiative is not properly designed, deployed and supported with the right resources, tools and data, it could introduce significant risk, spanning costs, security, and reputational and regulatory challenges.

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Before embarking on any IoT project, organisations should be able to answer these six questions:

 
1.    What’s the goal?
 
The IoT offers endless opportunities, so it’s easy to get carried away with an implementation.
 
Start small and identify a business objective that will result in better customer service and higher revenue. A manufacturing company could start by managing inventory and using the IoT to optimise logistics, maintain stock levels and detect theft.
 
Have a clear vision of how you can align your IoT initiative with your customers’ needs and your own strategic objectives and work backwards from there. This will help to avoid unexpected difficulties and ensure that you choose the right solution for your business need.
 
2.    What’s the plan?
 
The planning phase is the most time-consuming and will set you up for success – or failure. Some questions to answer include:
 
       What are the metrics and project timelines?
       What is the budget?
       What skills do you have available, where can you upskill and where should you outsource?
       How will you deal with unexpected issues and scope changes?
       What data can you access, and does it relate to the business goal?
       Where are the gaps in processes, policies and infrastructure and how will they be plugged?

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 3.    Can your infrastructure cope?
 
If you’re still operating on legacy infrastructure, the short answer is, probably not. Yet, using the IoT to maintain infrastructure is one of the most common and easiest use cases. Construction firms, for example, can save millions using the IoT for proactive machine maintenance, which reduces downtime and unexpected machine failure.
 
IoT platforms must be able to support thousands of vendors, different standards and potentially millions of devices that are constantly sending and receiving information. Legacy infrastructure is not up to this task, and you might need to make additional investments in networking and connectivity.
 
Whether you choose to manage the infrastructure yourself or outsource it, IoT platforms must be secure and reliable. They should also have the ability to automate tasks like real-time device discovery, monitoring and maintenance, data capture and analysis, and issue identification and diagnosis.

Contract workers are laying down high speed internet fibre cables in the Kraaifontein area. More and more households have access to high speed internet these days. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency

 4.    Where are your security gaps?
 
IoT attacks increased by 280% in the first half of 2017, as hackers realised that IoT devices provided easy, unprotected entry points into an organisation’s network.
 
Security should form the foundation of any IoT project and needs to be considered at every point in the infrastructure – from the software, to the hardware, to every single endpoint and the data they produce. The rule of thumb is this: if it’s connected, it should be protected.
 
Data is the main output of the IoT but it’s also governed by strict data protection regulation, including the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Before implementing an IoT project, organisations need a solid data governance framework that outlines what data they will be collecting, for what purpose, how it will be secured and who will have access to it.

File picture : AP Photo/Elise Amendola

 5.    Speaking of data, do you have it?
 
There’s little point implementing an IoT initiative if you don’t know what data you already have access to, what data you still need and what you plan to do with the insights produced after the data is analysed.
 
If a mining company is using the IoT to improve site safety, it needs data about unstable shafts, faulty equipment or poor air quality, so that it can control access to restricted areas.
 
The IoT creates information that could become a commodity for the business. Insights can help businesses better serve their customers by anticipating their future needs. It can help them build new and better products. It can improve the performance and outcomes of workflows and help the business achieve its strategic goals.
 
To create this actionable insight, you need an advanced analytics infrastructure that is able to analyse both structured and unstructured data from potentially thousands of sources with different levels of protection.

File picture : AP Photo/Elise Amendola

 6.    Can you scale?
 
Once you start realising the business value presented by the IoT, you’ll quickly identify other areas of the business that can be optimised and automated.
 
As a relatively new technology, IoT networks and devices are always improving, so you need to build scalability into your infrastructure that allows you to upgrade as new technology becomes available. Scalability also allows you to expand into new markets and capitalise on new revenue opportunities.
 
While the business benefits of the IoT are undeniable, without a proper plan to meet a specific goal, costs and complexity can quickly spiral out of control.

* Kibby is Vice President at Sage Enterprise Africa and Middle East

The Sturday Star