Writing about the IoT (Internet of Things), or what was once called M2M, is something that people want to read about, a lot. It’s only recently that people are really catching on that everything is going to be connected. So when an article appeared on the front page of the USA Today about the smart grid stating that it was open to hack certainly deserved a chuckle or two, especially from people who are IoT advocates. No offense to my colleagues at the USA Today, but this nationally syndicated newspaper chain was covering the topic as if the fact that vulnerabilities could threaten lives was a breaking news story.
Ironically, there are days people talk about the IoT as if is something brand spanking new. Today newspapers and the broadcast news eagerly espouse the virtues of connected devices because there are apps or gadgets for just about everything imaginable in the IoT. We are now seeing a consumer frenzy surrounding smartphones, fitness trackers, lights, toasters, automobiles, and even baby bottles being connected.
Many people are just beginning to understand the IoT is more than connecting a computer to the Internet, or surfing the Web or watching a YouTube video. To really understand the Internet of Things is to recognize it is more than the everyday consumers gadgets that are getting all the media play these days. Much like the USA Today was so eloquently trying to point out is that the power grid is under attack every day—and what the author stated so clearly—and at any moment, it would leave millions of people without power for days or weeks. And that’s not even the worst of what could happen. Most residents do not equate the average brownout they experience for a few hours to the blackout that could be on the horizon in their neighborhood.
But again most people don’t give the IoT much thought. It’s kind of like their cellphones. Most people don’t know how they work. Nor do they care. They only care they work when and where they need it. The same holds true about their connected gadgets. Most consumers really don’t give their connected gadgets much thought until they need them for tracking their fitness, or turning on their lights or thermostats, or for finding the closest fast food restaurant when traveling in their cars. However, as more and more consumers adopt and adapt to electronic devices as part of their everyday lifestyle, this will change their attitudes and perceptions forever and the excitement for connected devices will trickle over into the enterprise. It is already happening with smart cities, with parking meters, trash pickups, snow removal, first responders, and smart utility meters.
Perhaps that is why the USA Today story has some real significance now and enterprise companies are starting to move away from just talking about the IoT to figuring out ways to implement solutions and services.
Part of the problem with the grid today is that it was designed with OMS (outage-management systems) that were configured to be reactive to signals that indicated outages and managed restoration. However, going forward the IoT systems being designed are able to prevent outages and restore services. These services, as one analyst firm says, could lead to a very bright future for the smart-grid, and as a result, projections based on these services makes sense and are very tangible.
While enterprises are looking to adopt the IoT, there seems to be a blurring of the lines between actual growth and hyperbole in market estimates. Vendors want to make huge growth predictions—50 billion devices—which currently is the buzz of the industry. However, these enormous market amplifications have already proven they will undoubtedly stall growth.
Corporate America seeks growth forecasts that are meaningful and that help deliver solutions to improve bottomline results and shareholder value. Again, one network carrier’s conjecture boasting the number of connections could quadruple by 2020, reaching more than 5 billion, doesn’t mean anything if all of these devices and connections are going to be hacked and CEOs heads are on the chopping block.
The same carrier was even quoted as saying in order for the IoT to reach these prognostications, networks must be reliable, the data from all of these connected endpoints must be able to be stored reliably and securely, infrastructures must be secure, and there must be ways to achieve device management.
If all the stars are in alignment, there is no question the IoT is poised for growth. But, that means everyone has to focus on making security a top priority to fend off the bad guys and to consider the market unknowns that can slow or delay IoT development.
That’s why the formation of groups like the ITA (Illinois Technology Assn.), www.illinoistech.org, Internet of Things Council—a public/private partnership that aims to assure civic leadership in the Internet of Things can will help companies sort through the facts from the fiction to jumpstart their initiatives.
Thus, it’s no wonder the more the industry does its crystal ball gazing, we are doing a disservice to IoT’s true potential. Even Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur was pretty poignant in her remarks when she was quoted in the USA Today article referring to the potential of an attack, “One is too many, so that’s why we have to pay attention. The threats continue to evolve and we have to continue to evolve as well.”
Makes you wonder if the industry is evolving or just continuing to bandy about forecasts with little or no regard for living up to market or shareholding expectations much like it has for the past 15 years. Regardless of what you believe in all of this, the IoT is changing our lives one way or the other and it will certainly have an even greater impact on each and every business. How and when, those are the billion dollar questions.