IoT is advancing the technical lives of millions, with the network of connected devices becoming more populated with each passing year. From toothbrushes to toasters, IoT has reached new heights in terms of consumer devices. Look past these however, and it is clear that IoT is indeed a serious proposition for enterprises and an essential ingredient for successful business transformation.
The field continues to see steady growth, and the global IoT market is predicted to be worth $1.1 trillion by 2024. As with many other tech fields, the value of IoT became readily apparent during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to its ability to assist with a wide number of use cases, from facilitating remote operations to managing distancing policies.
Practical applications for IoT
The pandemic has led to some very interesting examples of what IoT can achieve. A particularly prominent example was the NFL, which made extensive use of wearable connected sensors to safely manage the return of players, coaches and support staff with contact tracing.
Alongside standard practices such as the use of masks, social distancing, and limits on interaction, the NFL also required all players and personnel to wear lightweight proximity recording devices. Networked together, these devices provided constant-real time data on the movements and interactions of individuals on the stadium grounds. If an individual tested positive for COVID-19, the data could be used to quickly and accurately determine who they had been in close proximity with and who may need to isolate as a precaution.
Connected devices have also played a prominent role in facilitating remote working in areas such as manufacturing, transport and agriculture. Most firms in these sectors had already been making increased use of IoT sensors and control networks as part of business transformation and automation efforts, and these capabilities became particularly valuable in enabling more operations to be controlled offsite.
While less prominent, IoT can also be highly effective in more office-based work environments. Applications such as smart lighting and heating can reduce energy usage and waste, while sensors can be deployed to better manage how space is used, from booking meetings to facilitating social distancing.
While all of these features really shone during the pandemic, capabilities such as greater automation and resource optimization will obviously continue to be valuable for enterprises moving forward.
Managing a growing network
Most IoT applications depend on a fast and reliable connection to the cloud, particularly those where the value is derived from the ability to provide data or perform functions in real time. As a result, networking issues such as packet loss and jitter can dramatically impact how well IoT devices perform.
In a similar fashion to unified communications, organizations will need to ensure their network can handle a large volume of different devices at the same time. Furthermore, all locations need to have the same access to a reliable connection speed, particularly as staff continue to work remotely.
Having the flexibility to scale up network capabilities will also be essential as the number and diversity of devices continues to grow.
Addressing security risks
The IoT field does have an unfortunately well-founded reputation as a security liability. It’s still quite common to find connected devices lacking security functions such as data encryption or authentication controls. Poorly secured IoT devices are a popular target for threat actors and can be used as network entry points or enslaved as part of botnets for later attacks.
Accordingly, enterprises should be careful when selecting devices as part of their business transformation efforts and ensure anything being connected to the network is adequately secured. It is also possible to compensate for these flaws if networking and security functions are delivered through the cloud, as is seen with a secure access service edge (SASE) approach.
SASE can be an effective way of securing a large IoT network as all endpoints will receive the same level of security and network management capabilities. Controls such as limits on data access or connection time can be implemented, and sandboxing can be used to isolate and investigate suspicious connection attempts that may signify a compromised device.
Outside of issues around specific devices, organizations also need to have a high level of control over how connected devices access the network and what gateways they have access to. Ensuring that data is constrained within a specific geographic region has become increasingly important for regulatory compliance, for example.
Keeping up with the pace of IoT
From heavily automated industries like manufacturing to mundane office environments, IoT has become a key component of business transformation plans. As demonstrated by examples like the NFL during the pandemic, even simple sensor devices can prove to be extremely valuable in monitoring, managing and automating a wide variety of operational needs.
However, as the number of IoT devices continues to rise exponentially, enterprises will need to ensure their network has the ability to handle the increased traffic and enable all devices to operate at peak performance. The ability to easily scale up as needs change will also be an important factor in reducing costs as digital transformation continues.
More importantly, firms must be able to keep their growing IoT networks secure. Spurred by the low level of security in many products, threat actors will continue to target connected devices as an easy mark. Adopting a cloud-based approach such as SASE will help to deliver strong security and network management to all endpoints without ramping up the cost, even as the army of connected devices continues to grow.