With several trillions of dollars up for grabs, competition in the IoT industry is steep and getting steeper every day. Big players are already knee-deep in the IoT; Cisco, IBM, GE, Google and Microsoft have launched their own IoT programs. In fact, Microsoft even released an IoT version of Windows 10 that is specifically built for developers working on IoT products. While much of the press-hype is focused on the consumer side of IoT (think Nest and Samsung’s Smart Appliance line) most analysts agree that substantial benefits will also be realized by industrial applications.
Whether you plan to incorporate IoT into your industrial processes (manufacturing, product testing, supply chain) or want to add an IoT aspect to your consumer-facing products, there are five key areas that deserve your attention.
1. Data Lifecycle
Data is the true product in IoT. It is the reason that companies are dumping millions of dollars into new IoT ventures and the ultimate end game. Every device is a data collection point. Incorporating a sensor into your manufacturing process allows you to begin collecting detailed information on how your product is moving through the production cycle. You may find that lead times are being heavily influenced by a backlog at a specific point in the process or that minor anomalies during product testing are adding up to a significant backlog problem.
If you are adding an IoT product to your line-up, begin planning how you will manage the influx of data. What is important to track and how will the information be used to influence future decisions? When faced with the reality of data gathering, it is easy to slip into the mindset that “more is better” and begin tracking everything under the belief that each piece of data will contribute to building a complete picture. However, managing that information and making it meaningful can be difficult; especially when it is being gathered so quickly.
The time to decide how you will use the data you gather, either from your machines and processes or from your users, is at the point of introducing the data gathering device. Determine how long the data will be valuable and influential and when you will let data points fallout of the decision-making process.
If gathering data from users, it is also important to determine how you will protect users who do not want their information to end-up in your database.
2. Consider the Big Picture
The IoT is not a single point, it is an entire ecosystem made up of the device, the network through which data travels, the database that stores the information and the software analytics that turn that data into meaningful metrics. Security weaknesses or a bug at any point in the system puts the entire network at risk. Put safeguards in place now to protect each node in the flow of information. Doing so protects your users, your production equipment and, perhaps most importantly, your decision-making processes.
3. Plan for Failure
It is impossible to build a system that is 100% safe from hackers. There will always be a point at which a determined hacker can find the breach. To protect your system, ensure that a single-event can be contained without putting all facets of the process at risk.
Ensure that your systems have early-warning triggers in-place that will shut-down processes based on specific, high-risk events. Establishing a contingency plan that is enacted at a pre-determined point of risk will keep crucial processes running even if other areas in the overall process are compromised.
4. Protection Through Demonstration
Instead of opening the door to a large set of data producing nodes (human or otherwise) begin with a small, trusted group and then work up to larger groups. While there is no shortage of authentication protocols and ways in which access can be limited, security breaches still occur.
Develop a process for onboarding new data points. This process should include security checklists and minimum security requirements that ensure each data point is ready to be introduced to the network while posing minimal risk to the stability of the ecosystem.
5. Comprehensive Security Measures at Every Step
Security measures cannot be an afterthought or simply a phase of the project. Planning your IoT projects with security at the forefront ensures that it will be incorporated at every step of the project. Before releasing a new device, consider how a hacker may turn it into an entry point and then put safeguards in place to prevent that occurrence.
Understand the impact of a user with misguided intentions; how much damage could one user inflict and how quickly could your system recover? What would happen if a hacker gained access to your database? Aside from impacting your metrics and corrupting your decision-making tool, are there legal or ethical repercussions? State and federal laws may govern how quickly you must notify users of a breach and mandate how compromised systems are brought back online. Investigating the impact these laws have on your security breach responses before an occurrence will reduce downtime and help rebuild confidence with impacted users.
The IoT revolution will continue to change nearly every business aspect. The data gathered from IoT devices have the potential to create significant revenue streams, impact product development, streamline manufacturing and improve user experiences. Ensure that data is safe and that robust contingency plans are in place to protect your users, manufacturing processes and analytical tools.