Don't Pass Go

The start of summer means the start of event season in the world of IT. This summer, you’re sure to see more than your fair share of eye-popping technology demos tied to the industry’s latest and greatest mega-trend – the Internet of Things (IoT). Perhaps more so than any major trend that’s come before it, IoT lends itself perfectly to demos and simulations that leave you saying wow. When you build a connected ecosystem of sensors, devices and equipment that simultaneously transmit data for analysis, you can do some pretty cool things. 

Whether it’s a coffee machine that self-controls the temperature of the drinks it dispenses based on the particulars of the order, or a sprinkler head that recalibrates based on the level of moisture in the soil, there’s plenty for the industry to get excited about — as long as we remember that there’s a difference between getting excited about something, and getting caught up in it. 

For while there’s no harm in the former, there’s plenty in the latter. As an industry – experts, vendors and customers — we can’t allow ourselves to get too caught up in the possibilities of tomorrow until we’ve conquered the challenges of today. And make no mistake, the success or failure of IoT initiatives depends on companies’ ability to address those challenges. That’s why it’s so important that, as an industry, we focus on the basic building blocks of success. 

Go Back to the Start

Like any IT project, the success of an IoT initiative begins with the fundamentals — the same fundamentals that have always been core to successful information management endeavors. If you’ve temporarily lost focus amid the excitement of trends like big data and IoT, now is as good a time as any to refocus and set that foundation. And the foundation of any project involving data, IoT or otherwise, always starts with the same thing — a clear business question, specific use case or direct company mandate. 

Clarify desired business outcomes

Organizations large and small still make the mistake of diving headlong into technology purchases before first defining a clear business need that they could benefit from addressing. Start small and start with what you have. The question you’re seeking to answer doesn’t have to be complex and the technology you implement to find the answer doesn’t necessarily have to extend beyond the devices and data you already have. 

We all know it's a lot more fun to play than it is to do your homework. But ultimately, that's not what creates value for your business. IoT can make the big and complex possible, but sometimes all you really need (to start with, anyway) is the small and streamlined.

Bring data together

Bring your structured and unstructured data together in a meaningful way. The idea is undoubtedly one you’ve heard before. The first part – the “bring data together” part – is easy enough. It’s that last part – the “in a meaningful way” part – that causes problems. That’s because combining structured and unstructured data with no relevant framework is like emptying your trash bin into your neatly organized filing cabinet. 

That’s why starting with a business problem is critical: it gives the integration work meaning, creates a clear target and makes the task of bringing disparate data together far more attainable. This will be both a cultural and a modeling exercise. You’ll need a willingness to share data across the organization before you can build the right model. 

Architect for analytics

IoT's real business value lies in our ability to analyze all of the data collected by sensors and devices. It’s the analysis that drives business insight, allowing us to impact change by making predictions about future behaviors and occurrences. In other words, IoT is dependent on analytics. Devices may be the engine, but analytics is the fuel. 

Problematically, most organizations today aren’t architected for analytics in the manner necessary to succeed with IoT projects. And it’s not just a matter of investing in technology. The deficiency most companies face is as much about skills and cultural adoption as it is technology. Only by embracing cultural change and building the necessary analytic infrastructure — both tangible and intangible — can organizations benefit from IoT. 

Keep security top of mind

All of the hard work involved in any IoT initiative (not to mention company leadership’s willingness to invest in future initiatives) can go for naught if security isn’t made top priority from the get go. The design and implementation of any IoT project needs to start with the identification and proactive prevention of potential security vulnerabilities. 

You might think that overemphasizing security stifles risk-taking and innovation. In fact, the opposite is true. Reliable security empowers risk-taking and helps foster the most important kind of innovation — innovation driven by real-world outcomes. 

Innovation that Matters

Build and he will come may have worked in "Field of Dreams," but it rarely, if ever, works in software. The end result of all this work needs to make a real impact for companies. Fancy demos are fun and exciting, and they absolutely have their place in an industry that can badly use some doses of fun and exciting. But while demos show us the art of the possible, our job is to build what’s practical. 

Remember, just because something is novel, or cool, or awesome, or makes us drop our jaws in awe, doesn’t necessarily make it a good use of our time or a good investment of our dollars. The good news is there isn't a shortage of those good uses. 

I recently saw an IoT demo in which weather sensors were used to alert the parents and healthcare providers of asthma patients to the heightened risk of an asthma episode on account of elevated levels of flower pollen in the air. Notice the fundamentals at work. You have a clear business question (how can we better predict asthma attacks), a combination of data types (sensor data combined with patient medical records), real time analytics (predicting which patients are at risk and when), and sound security (protecting sensitive patient data from breaches).

Using sensors, network connectivity and data analytics to provide preventative care to at-risk children — now that’s innovation that matters. As a society, we’ve got real problems that need real solutions. IoT can help us find them. It’s up to us to make it happen by making sure we do our homework before we go out and play — even if school is already out for summer.    

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  therichbrooks 

Title image by therichbrooks