Wanted: A converged IoT strategy for the enterprise (Reader Forum)
Smart IoT devices and sensors utilize a wide range of wireless protocols such as Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Z-Wave, LoRa, and BLE. The deployment of smart IoT devices and sensors – each with its own set of requirements – inevitably creates multiple overlay networks that are inefficiently managed by a confusing array of vendor-specific dashboards and controllers.
Unsurprisingly, IoT deployments have become quite challenging for IT departments accustomed to supporting finance, accounting and operations/inventory applications, traditional networking hardware, and PCs.
These applications, hardware, and devices are relatively straightforward to configure, as they link a known set of users to a specific platform or service. In contrast, IoT applications are far more diverse and require tying a dynamic numbers and categories of devices to an unknown set of users, often in the OT/Operations domain.
Before deploying smart IoT devices and sensors, enterprises should therefore formulate a comprehensive IoT strategy that enables IT departments to efficiently roll-out and scale-up based on desired outcomes, demand, budget, and emerging technology. To do this, we recommend five steps to building a converged IoT strategy.
The value of starting with a comprehensive strategy focused on convergence is that it’s not solely an execution plan, but a roadmap from today to a desired future. When teams get sidetracked or lost, the strategy document contains the logic, goals, and plan that was identified when everything seemed clear. That said, this doesn’t mean a converged IoT strategy can’t or shouldn’t evolve over time. So, let us define 5 simple steps to building a converged IoT strategy.
Step 1. What is the purpose?
What is the purpose of deploying IoT today and into the future? If this is in response to a single project request, you can safely assume that it won’t be the last. Without a strategy, you run the risk of deploying multiple overlay networks, each with its own management system and requirements. This is your chance to document the world as you would like to see it.
How would you like the future to evolve? Do you want to tie your IoT capabilities to a single device and sensor provider or do you want to leverage the best technology for the application, regardless of vendor? The ideal future never looks clearer than right now. Sure, it will change, but for right now, you know where you want to go and what you want to achieve.
Step 2. Who is it for?
If you think about IoT now and in the next five years, this can become a rather expansive answer. Sure, today’s IoT deployment may be for the operations (OT) team to connect door locks and room sensors. But what about the heads of human resources (HR), security, finance and manufacturing?
I’m sure they all have plans for improved employee safety and security, better asset and inventory tracking, and faster process automation. And of course, the CIO wants to know if the current network infrastructure that covers these domains can be leveraged and possibly serve as a backbone for future IoT services.
Step 3. What value will it bring?
Building unique networks for each new IoT sensor and device may meet the short-term needs of the requesting organization, but it won’t scale. What happens when users want disparate IoT networks and services to interact with each other; that is, the results of one sensor should initiate a response from another IoT network or device?
Will you leverage the data generated from the network(s) for other big data systems? What value are you looking to deliver? Operational cost efficiencies through automation? Is it a social or sustainability desire to make the operation “green?” Is the strategy to improve employee and visitor safety?
Of course, deploying IoT devices just to deploy IoT devices is not a sustainable strategy. However, consolidating multiple radio technologies – such as Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Z-Wave, LoRa, and BLE – into a single IoT platform will enable unified management as well as the implementation of a comprehensive security framework.
In addition, this strategy of IoT convergence can help address fragmentation at the edge and ultimately form the foundation for universal connectivity requirements for all users, applications, devices, and locations.
Step 4. What skills are needed?
The question here is both what skills are needed, and what skills are you willing to invest in. Investing in skills requires either developing or buying employee capabilities. Fortunately, with technology, we have another option: determining what skills can and should be abstracted away. This may seem a little confusing, but it’s actually rather straightforward.
Do you want your team to be proficient in Zigbee, Z-Wave, BLE, LoRa, Bluetooth, and any other air protocol that may come down the pike? Or, do you want all those devices to join onto your network with standard IP/Ethernet protocols? Another thing to consider is, do you want to run multiple back-end systems or will you leverage modern application programming interfaces (APIs) to streamline management?
Step 5. How to ensure success?
In any organization, success requires a team. Not just an immediate IT team, but organizational support, and vendor support. To ensure success, it’s critical to identify organization sponsors and leaders whose support, commitment, and involvement will ultimately help make your IoT deployments a success. This group does not need to attend every meeting or necessarily be involved in every minute detail.
However, keeping them “in the loop” will help keep your efforts on track as inevitable issues arise. Being up front and honest with your needs and expectations with vendors will save you time in the long run. Communicating your strategy to build and operate an open, flexible IoT network that leverages both your existing wired and wireless infrastructure is essential.
This will go a long way in sorting out those vendors who will be beneficial in helping you build solutions from those just willing to sell you the next product they have on the shelf.
In conclusion, IoT represents an exciting opportunity for the IT community: new technology, new devices, and new challenges. Unlike prior technology turns that were more siloed in nature, IoT will have a vast impact throughout the organization.
If we have learned anything from the past, building a comprehensive and unified strategy up front with an emphasis on convergence can help eliminate future delays and confusion by providing a clear reference point as to why an enterprise is pursuing IoT in the first place.
Mike Serrano has over 20 years of experience in the communications industry and is currently responsible for SmartZone Product Marketing at Ruckus Networks, now part of CommScope via acquisition.