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Five best practice tips for investigating the IoT

Every technology needs a business model: when should you start working on one for the Internet of Things?

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BT CIO Colin Lees: "The IoT is struggling from being too intangible. Nothing happens in the world without a business case. But once you've got one, you can get moving."


Image: ML

CIOs can expect to hear a lot more about the Internet of Things (IoT) in 2016. The trend is right at the peak of Gartner's hype cycle for emerging technologies and IT leaders will have to help the business make sense of connected devices.

ZDNet spoke to the experts at the recent Subscribed event in London, held by software-as-a-service provider Zuora. From investigation to experimentation, here are five best practice tips for business leaders investigating the IoT.

1. Find a business case for your nascent project

Colin Lees, CIO at BT Business, says IoT will affect some sectors more than others. For organisations to make the most of the trend, IT leaders must help their executives get beneath the hype and understand potential use cases.

"Never has there been so much talk about an issue with so little revenue," says Lees. "We have a research department at BT and they're looking at developments across the next five years. By 2020, there will be more functionality in key areas of IoT, such as smart cities. But five years is a long time in technology."

Lees says mechanics in the firm's vehicle maintenance division BT Fleet are using tablets to analyse real-time performance information taken from telemetry devices in vehicles. It is a real world application, yet Lees recognises the lack of other solid examples creates concern for CxOs looking to fund IoT projects.

"If you're a business leader who's focused on revenues and margins, you're not going to be overly concerned with something that isn't going to affect the business for at least five years," he says. "The IoT is struggling from being too intangible. Nothing happens in the world without a business case. But once you've got one, you can get moving."

2. Recognise that access to data will become more distributed

Ben Salama, Connected Operations lead for Accenture's IoT practice, says legacy developments in machine-to-machine communication should be seen as a pre-cursor to many of the developments that are now bubbling up in IoT. Like Lees, he believes certain businesses are beginning to see potential business benefits.

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"Our customers want to optimise their assets and do things like predictive maintenance," he says. "There is a transition taking place from products to services and new companies are emerging who can compete in terms of experience, such as an organisation that uses sensors to monitor wear on tyres."

Once again, Salama warns payback from IoT investments is likely to be in the long term but the power shift could be huge. "We're at a very early stage and most developments around IoT are still pretty simple. The real strong upside is still to come as businesses transform using IoT," he says.

"Data will be more distributed as we move forwards. A firm like Google might hold the knowledge today but, in the future, a manufacturing specialist or an automotive firm might hold the really valuable data. And as access to data becomes more widespread, security become more crucial."

3. Place investments in IoT at the core of your business strategy

Andrew Yeoman, chief executive and co-founder of Concirrus, agrees that CIOs and IT experts will have to pay attention to the growing security threat. His firm, which is just three years old but already works with a range of blue-chip clients, has created a software platform for IoT.

Such investments are likely to become more commonplace. Global spending on the nascent IoT market reached $1.9trn in 2013, according to IDC. The researcher predicts that figure will hit $7.1trn through 2020. By 2030, consultant Accenture suggests the global value created by the IoT could be as much as $15trn or above.

"The challenge for IoT is around the word 'internet' -- sometimes you want to give or sell your data, and sometimes you want to hold on to that knowledge. We need to move to a situation where individuals hold data and decide how that information is used," says Yeoman.

"How we get to that point, via technology, is up for debate. But, in the end, there will be two types of organisation -- those that have IoT baked into their current business strategy, and those that used to exist."

4. Develop services that provides clear benefits to customers

Chris Hewertson, CTO at hotel group glh, is trialling two IoT services in the area of operations. He says some elements of the firm's hotel infrastructure are already connected. He points, by way of an example, to glh's hotel door locks which are NFC-enabled and connect to the network.

"We'll get alerts if a door is left ajar or if someone tries to open a series of doors," he says. "By having live door locks we can be more proactive, so we also know when a room is empty and we can send a cleaner. It's just a simple technology but its application is actually very useful."

Hewertson says the other advantage is around analytics. He and his team can use the information to analyse customer flow. Hewertson is investigating potential linkups with other expert firms.

One potential aim would be to take data from a variety of sources and find ways to improve the customer check in and check out process. "That's what guests really want," he says.

5. Experiment and give people the chance to explore

Paul Wilson is managing director of Bristol Is Open, an initiative that aims to help push developments forwards in the areas of smart cities and the IoT. The objective is to use the city as a laboratory for urban change by drawing on the collective power of municipal data sets, such as transportation, education, waste management, crime, and energy.

The organisation is already working alongside specialists from China and India, and is making key in-roads in regards to underlying infrastructure. Wilson says the work is essential. "The existing model of connectivity would have not supported the development of a smart city," he says.

"We've updated core fibre in the city and we're even experimenting with the use of 5G networks. We're sourcing additional funding to extend our network capability beyond the metropolitan area. What we're creating is a test bed for projects associated to the smart city movement. What you use the network for is up to you."

Examples include driverless cars, and partnerships with global technology firms and small local businesses. "This isn't just the domain of IT people -- it's meant to be something that brings benefits to people's everyday lives," says Wilson.

Read more about the Internet of Things

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