Planning Your First IoT Network
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to transform an almost endless array of industries including, retail, manufacturing, energy, healthcare, education, and transportation. For enterprises eager to leverage the IoT's potential cost and efficiency benefits, the first question faced is obvious, yet critical: What's the best way to get started?
At the outset, the most important thing to consider is not the technology, but the business case, advised Wojciech Martyniak, M2M/IoT product manager for Comarch, a Kraków, Poland-based software developer and systems integrator. "The IoT network should be the second or even the third step because it's the business case that should play a critical role in the decision-making process for all areas of an IoT network," he explained.
"Often, the complexity of ease of use, installation, and maintenance is surprising," says Mattias Lange, product line manager, embedded connectivity solutions, for Texas Instruments. Organizations planning an IoT network typically experience issues with the provisioning and configuration of devices, as well as interoperability. "Selecting products that have been tested in a robust way is critical," he added. "The other main issue is the complexity of the IoT network and the breadth of technology areas that are required for a fully functional network."
Fully understanding business and technology requirements and goals is essential to the success of any IoT initiative. "Make sure it's satisfying a business need or at least enhancing a solution for a business need," suggested Brian Chappell, senior director of enterprise and solutions architecture at BeyondTrust, an identity management technology developer.
The basic knowledge and skills required to complete an IoT project successfully are generally the same as for any major IT initiative. A good understanding of the devices that will be used, the underlying operating system, awareness of network operations and having a good handle on cybersecurity are all important, Chappell said. "Many IoT devices are essentially Linux appliances, and the skills for integrating safely into the environment will transfer well," he explained.
Top management buy-in is necessary to ensure that the IoT project will be adequately staffed and funded. "You should also have a line of business (LOB) representative who understands the business problem, solutions, and desired metrics," advised Matt Good, director of IoT solution delivery at CompuCom, an IT managed solutions provider. Also engage a project manager who will oversee the rollout with the assistance of a change manager and subtask teams that will periodically report on the project's progress from the views of finance, HR, IT Security, LOB, and vendors, Good added.
Security should always be a top priority. "IoT has already taught us a valuable lesson: be aware of what data and information IoT devices are consuming and sending out of your environment at all times and keep cybersecurity across all systems at the forefront of your mind," Chappell stated.
"Those new to building IoT networks need to build security into the process during the planning stages," urged Pascal Geenens, cybersecurity evangelist for security solutions provider Radware. Firewalling all IoT devices is mandatory. "Never put your devices directly onto the Internet or public hotspot without protection," he warned." Network segmentation is also essential."
It's also important not to overlook basic, "no-brainer" safeguards. "Make sure you change default passwords before the device is connected to a network, even if that means configuring it via a cross-over Ethernet or isolated switch," Chappell reports.
Power in partnerships
Even after thoroughly studying IoT technologies and applications, few organizations possess the skills and insights necessary to plan and deploy an initial IoT network. "Third parties are good to use when you have a gap in skill set, or if there’s a skill that you only need for a short period of time," Lange said. "For instance, you can hire a test house to conduct different forms of wireless testing, or you can hire a systems integrator to ensure the various components in your network will work smoothly together."
Then there's the challenge of identifying and acquiring specific IoT products and services. Facing an overwhelming number of technology choices can be crippling. "Even if you buy an off-the-shelf solution, you have hundreds of services that all do things slightly differently," remarked Sam Dolan, CTO of Breadware, an IoT products and solutions provider. "When you start to get out of your comfort zone, start to reach out to the systems integrators and vendors."
Vendors and integrators are also useful for resolving the complex and critical roadblocks that often pop up during IoT planning and deployment. "They have a better overview of the existing technologies and standards that could be used to build a future-proof network," Martyniak observed. "Divide the business accordingly to maximize the input from each integrator, vendor, partner, and reseller."
"IoT has the potential to enrich our working lives by improving connectivity both technically and personally, lifting some of the humdrum from our days and improving our relationship with technology by allowing us to interact more naturally," Chappell said. "It also has the potential for misuse, as all technology does, so we need to keep ourselves grounded and implement the technology that's going to deliver real benefits."