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IoT: necessary for success but flawed

With the Internet of Things (IoT) the sky is the limit for CIOs; just be smart and don’t fly too close to the sun, warned a panel of experts at the 11th annual MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. With all the opportunity IoT brings, it also brings plenty of challenges. Here are four issues for CIOs to consider:

1) Integrate IoT into your business process model.

The first challenge is coordinating the IT and the business teams around an IoT initiative, said Chris Kuntz, senior director of business development at Thingworx, a PTC business that offers a platform for building and running IoT applications.

“It’s not a coder who knows nothing about the business, right?” Kuntz said. “It’s putting the power of these solutions in the hands of the business analyst or somebody who has context into what problems need to be solved.”

IT must also be aggressively present at the IoT table to  help their business colleagues see how IoT might solve business problems, said Dieter Haban, CIO at Daimler Trucks North America.

“Sometimes the business doesn’t know that technology can be a shortcut for that problem,” said Haban, who has a PhD in computer science. He said he welcomes input from both the business and his own IT team. “I try to be a boss that’s supportive of ideas because it’s the ideas of the people that make things happen.”

2) Connect the dots between the data point and the fix.

It’s not enough to just integrate IoT into your business process model and into your products. The sensor technology must ultimately solve a problem for the end user, not simply function as a broadcast channel.

Kuntz gave an example of when the “check engine” light came on in his Audi.

“So I’m thinking, ‘Ok, this is a smart kind of vehicle. It’s going to fix itself or something is going to happen’,” Kuntz said. “It was a smart product, it knew something was wrong, but it wasn’t a connected product, so nothing got fixed until I went into the service department and had it fixed.”

This is where Daimler trucks are a step ahead, according to Haban.  He said that every Daimler truck made in the last two years is equipped with sensors that signal to Daimler when something is wrong with the truck, and what exactly is wrong. Daimler can then contact the truck owner to inform them of the problem and — here’s the next step — find a dealership near where the truck is located. Daimler then contacts the dealership and tells them exactly what is wrong with the truck before the truck arrives. Once the truck arrives at the dealership, the dealership simply scans the truck’s number and knows what needs to be fixed. The truck is fixed and the customer is on their way without having to do anything except drive.

“So we connect all the parts together to make good customer service,” Haban said.

3) Find a common architecture (Think avatars?)

If there is one thing that is deeply flawed with IoT right now, according to the expert panel, it’s the lack of a common IT architecture.

“It all sounds nice to say, ‘Oh, connect things up,'” Sanjay Sarma, professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, said.  “But we need to come up with an architecture — which is missing.”

But, never fear, this is MIT talking after all. Sarma sees a possible solution on the horizon — or at least a good start for one.

“My argument is the future lies in what I call the ‘cloud of things’,” Sarma said. “The idea is you take every object and you create an avatar in the sky. And it’s the avatars that talk to each other; it’s kind of like Second Life.”

4) Confront the security and privacy issues of IoT.

The lack of architecture surfaces a fourth problem — lack of security and privacy.

“So another reason to have a defined architecture is to align all our guns and solve the security problem,” Sarma said. “People are just making stuff up as they go now.”

CIOs should not only be thinking about security and privacy in terms of their own businesses, but also in terms of customers’ concerns.

For example, one audience member at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium was concerned about how Haban’s sensorized trucks were being constantly “followed” and the potential for this tracking to violate customer (or the driver’s) privacy.

“We don’t record the things that we shouldn’t record,” Haban said. “This is really for maintenance and for helping the driver who is staying on the road. So it’s not like we monitor your heart rate or whatever. We make sure that we have predictive information so the engine keeps on running… that’s our goal.”

But as for how businesses can allay the privacy concerns of their customers?  The answer has still yet to surface, the panel said. And the potential for privacy breaches broadens daily. Even the home is no longer a person’s castle. Domiciles are becoming part of IoT and thus are hack-able.

“When you look at things in your house you should be able to control them in the same way that you are controlling your social network,” Kuntz said. Meaning, you should be able to decide who sees what, what gets shared, etc. But the panel seemed to suggest, good luck with that.

Sarma made the point that IoT is already in a number of places but people are just not aware of it.

“Don’t kid yourself, we can hack your car today. So my point is, in fact, you’re already in the Internet of Things. Forget the future, you’re already there,” Sarma said. “We stumbled into this blindly. If anything, now we’re going to confront the issue.”

Let us know what you think about the story; email  Kristen Lee, features writer, or find her on Twitter @Kristen_Lee_34

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