IoT – Am I pleased or frightened?


IoT has become a very noisy space recently; driven by the fact that a significant part of the operating framework for the current wave of interest is being driven by consumer applications (e.g. wearables, smart homes, etc.). If you want the masses excited, you have to be the noisiest kid on the block, because everyone else who is trying to get their attention is doing the same thing.

While there is no doubt that consumer applications are pushing the B2C component to the front lines, the reality is that IoT has already been in play in the industrial world for quite a while.

One of the main differences between industrial IoT and consumer IoT is predictability. If a refinery has sensors set up on their pipelines to report flow and pressure, those numbers operate in a consistent range, and even when they don’t (e.g. a significant pressure drop), outliers are accounted for in the analytic app that processes incoming data. The main focus of integrating IoT into a production environment is optimizing workflow to whatever is driving business decisions (speed, volume, external deadlines, etc.). It is all predictable and consistent, which makes the management of the process complicated, but not difficult.

When this model is applied to a B to C environment, the variability of input goes off the scale almost immediately.  People may be creatures of habit, but when you have billions of little devices tracking every possible behavioral permutation for millions of consumers, the range of actionable scenarios goes up exponentially, and this assumes you have the technology to actually see what’s going on.

The real concern here is not necessary the analytics (complicated, not difficult), but with the security associated with how these devices all work (complicated and difficult). It’s apparently easy to hack into a server, or a PC, and now even a phone (and notice the devices hacked keep getting smaller).  The next step is hacking smart devices, which is to say, anything with an IP address.  Very soon manufacturers are going to start embedding chips in everything. Why? Because the cost curve is dropping sharply, and the value of the data they can extract will go up very quickly (knowing how a product is used let’s the manufacturer adjust both future development, as well as positioning for marketing purposes).  

Because of all this, there is a strong built-in incentive to add this technology everywhere, which means that pretty much everything in our lives will become hackable. Having a toaster report usage back to the manufacturer is useful for them, but brings no direct benefits for the consumer who bought it. What is does, however, is allow external access to skilled douche-bags who can hack in and cause the toaster to overheat and catch fire. Multiply that by an installed base of millions and suddenly things get very ugly.

Should you be excited by the possibilities inherent in IoT ? Absolutely. We haven’t event begun to scratch the surface on this technology, and it’s already having a massive positive effect on our lives.

Should you be concerned about the possibilities inherent in IoT? Hell yes. No matter how clever engineers are in creating cool technology, there is someone equally clever at exploiting it for nefarious purposes.

What should we do? Embrace it.  Expect the occasional rough patch, just like any other ubiquitous technology, essentially keep calm and carry on.

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Dan Ortega

Dan Ortega

Dan Ortega's career spans over 20 years of experience as both a senior executive with multiple Fortune 500 technology companies, including Sun Microsystems, SAP, and BMC, as well as extensive experience as a VP of Marketing for a series of successful start-ups such as Metacode Technologies and Astoria Software. Dan’s focus areas includes data analytics, mobility, SaaS, enterprise software, and content management. Dan graduated from the University of Michigan, and lives in Berkeley.

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