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How to design an enterprise IoT system

Perhaps the most succinct definition of the internet of things comes from an April 26, 2018 blog by Sharada Prahladrao of ARC: ”Everyone, everywhere is connected to everything.” With that broad a definition (and appeal), it’s no surprise that it’s spreading into many areas. BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s research service, divides the world of IoT into three sectors: Enterprise, Home and Government. Of these, BI says, the enterprise IoT system market will be the largest. Analyst John Greenough predicted that “[t]here will be a total of 23.3 billion IoT devices connected by 2019 across all sectors.” Further,” he says. ”[o]f those 23.3 billion devices, the enterprise market will account for around 40% of the total or 9.1 billion.” In dollar terms, “Spending on enterprise IoT products and services will reach $255 billion globally by 2019, up from $46.2 billion this year, according to our estimates. This represents a 5-year CAGR of 40%.”

But how well is all this planned? Emerson Automation Solutions cites a recent IndustryWeek survey the company sponsored that showed that while 60% of industrial companies are exploring or investing in Industrial IoT pilot projects, “only 5% are investing against a clear business case for how to best implement the technology.”

Under the assumption that it’s easier to make progress if you know where you’re going, let’s take a look at some of the things to keep in mind when designing an enterprise IoT system.

Where to begin

The first step is to choose an architecture. “Enterprise Architecture,” according to Andrew Macaulay of Microsoft, defines “the overall form and function of systems (business and IT) across an enterprise (including partners and organizations forming the extended enterprise), and providing a framework, standards and guidelines for project-level architectures. The vision provided by the Enterprise Architecture allows the development of consistent and appropriate systems across the enterprise with the ability to work together, collaborate, or integrate where and when required.”

A white paper from Deloitte says that IoT is itself a technology architecture. “It is a specific way of stitching together a suite of new and existing technologies to turn almost any object into a source of information about that object. This creates both a new way to differentiate products and services and a new source of value that can be managed in its own right. At the same time, it creates challenges for product designers as they seek to create useful—and usable— objects that can accommodate the added complexity that goes along with connectivity.” The value of a connected device is tied up with its place in the system and the flow of information through it, which Deloitte refers to as the Information Value Loop.

Deloitte breaks the requirements into four types:

  • “Marrying physical and digital worlds
  • Staying “always on” and constantly connected
  • Moving from single object to part of a larger system
  • Constantly evolving uses—and life cycles “

Each connected item must be designed with the big enterprise IoT system picture in mind. And more than just the other physical objects in the system are involved and must be considered; other people and other companies are involved as well. And as the system changes, it may, in turn, change the connected device, in ways its designers never anticipated.

See beyond the device level

As important as the relationship of the device to the overall system is its relationship to the end user. Amit Ashwini, Director of Marketing at CognitiveClouds, points out that if users don’t like or can’t use your product, it will fail. Simon Floyd, Director of Business Development for Microsoft’s Discrete Manufacturing Solutions, calls it a shift from the designing of products to the designing of solutions. “Product development is no longer just about physical attributes or even isolated electronic functions,” he says. “As the physical and digital unite, today’s critical success factor is to change those products into something not before possible—into powerful, intelligent, connected solutions.”

Security

There are plenty of stories in the popular press about consumer devices like smart thermostats, baby monitors and even security cameras being hacked because users never bothered to change their default passwords (if the devices even had passwords) or used passwords like 12345. Such devices have been recruited into botnets to distribute spam or engage in DDOS attacks. But in an enterprise or industrial setting the consequences of a breach can be much more serious, from theft of company data to sabotage. There are many ways for intruders to get in, and it’s a constant battle to keep them out. As a representative of the Irish Republican Army said after an unsuccessful attempt in 1984 to kill the British prime minister and cabinet with a bomb, “we only have to be lucky once — you will have to be lucky always.” Experts advise devoting continuous effort not only to preventing a breach, but also to mitigating the effects of one, or recovery afterwards, rather than pursuing a futile quest to prevent every possible intrusion.

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