EXPERT OPINION The Internet of Things: Business as usual is history
For the past 30 years, the Internet has been about connecting people to information. For the next 30 years, it will be about connecting people, data, processes and machines – from cities to cars to wearables – to information.
This simple but profound shift will dramatically change the playing field on which companies compete: Manufacturers and nearly every kind of business will be affected by the Internet of Things (IoT). For manufacturers, your business is no longer about the physical product but the software that drives it, the other smart devices it can collaborate with, and the customer experiences that the combination of software, connectivity and collaboration can enable. Envision connected, intelligent machines that communicate to accomplish improved processes and new uses for automation, (e.g. autonomous cars, trains, planes and ships), to intelligent monitoring and security, to assisting people with chores such as lifting and cleaning.
Software-rich products connected to the IoT create opportunities for offerings that can:
• change rapidly, thanks to software updates pushed over the Internet;
• connect with their environment and with their operations center, creating an ongoing dialog among manufacturer, device and consumer;
• reduce waste and increase operational usefulness through self-diagnostics and self-healing, improved human-computer interfaces and responsive automation.
Opportunity always comes with cost and risk, of course. Many traditional producers will not find it easy to transform into high-tech companies in markets that are changing rapidly. Many businesses are making mistakes in their transformation because they have little or no experience working with software. Often their suppliers provided the software in components, but today that is no longer sufficient. For example, manufacturers need to understand “systems of systems” to avoid unexpected side effects.
Every industry must learn from the stumbles of early adopters, most visibly in the automotive industry. Infotainment systems are already a key decision factor for consumers, but manufacturers have learned the hard way that these systems need to be hacker-proof.
BMW, GM and Mercedes-Benz have all been victims of hacker attacks on their remote-link smartphone apps. Fiat Chrysler had to issue a recall because its infotainment system allowed hackers to seize control of its vehicles.
These breaches, caused by software that failed to guard against attack scenarios well known to Internet security experts, will unfortunately but inevitably be repeated as manufacturers in other industries rush to claim their piece of the IoT market. To avoid their mistakes, all businesses must recognize that they are transforming into software businesses. The IoT will only raise the stakes. Software security must be treated as a central pillar in safety-critical systems, baked into the design from the start.
Businesses, especially in engineering, can benefit from the work done by enterprise IT experts, who developed application lifecycle management (ALM) tools to improve software reliability and security. ALM covers project management, requirements management, test management, release management and more, with traceability and visibility into a software project’s progress in real time. In a regulated environment, traceability that records original requirements, why changes were made, who made them and when is vital.
Integrating ALM with product lifecycle management (PLM) systems is the next critical step, allowing software assets to be traced across the engineering disciplines and increasing software innovation by managing software complexity.
Technology itself may also help. For example, semiconductor manufacturers are building hardwired security hooks into chips, allowing for deep-embedded security features. Some 3D printers can embed similar security features directly into 3D-manufactured components. More importantly, however, IoT players need to agree on protocol and quality standards to create a rich, heterogeneous IoT environment.
The opportunities for realizing the IoT vision exist. Software can be a challenge, but we only have to see how far we have progressed to know that, despite difficulties, we can achieve our vision.
Michael Azoff is a principal analyst with UK-based Ovum Infrastructure Solutions Group, bringing to the IT industry more than 20 years of experience in pure and applied research and consulting. His current focus areas include software development and lifecycle management, agile and DevOps processes, enterprise IT mobile development and machine learning.