4 things to do now to get ready for the Internet of Things

Loads of IP-addressable sensors are descending on the enterprise. Here's how you'll need to pull them all together.

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Jim Noga, CIO at Partners HealthCare, reports that while networked sensors have been used in healthcare for years, of late he has seen a marked increase in both the number of medical appliances instrumented with sensors and the number of network-enabled sensors embedded into individual devices. "We're also seeing more and more of these sensors that live on our operational network," he says.

For IT, the cost of accommodating IoT initiatives is substantial. "These will be multimillion-dollar investments," and they will require significant R&D investments, says McKenna-Doyle. And business units will expect IT to "knit things together," she adds.

Supporting IoT projects will require more than basic computing infrastructure changes, says Colbert. "IT will need to retool its computing services portfolio to allow a richer number of simple applications to expose data from the IoT," he explains.

Here's a look at four steps IT leaders and analysts say IT should be taking as the Internet of Things proliferates.

1. Ramp Up IT/OT Collaboration

Going forward, upfront collaboration with lines of business and associated operational technology (OT) organizations will be essential. As sensor networks move toward more open architectures, the OT organizations that ran the formerly closed, proprietary systems within each line of business will need to work more closely with IT to resolve a host of issues ranging from integration to security. "IT and OT need to work together to decide who manages, controls and monitors what," says LeHong, "and it's no longer clear-cut." That creates a big opportunity for IT.

For example, if a vending machine can tell when an item is out of stock and send an order to the ERP system, does that mean IT needs another user license? And as OT moves to IP-addressable devices, IT must address network management and security issues. IT may also need to handle software maintenance and upgrades -- areas in which OT lacks expertise. All of those issues must be addressed "when things go on the Internet," LeHong says.

The Internet of Things presents two big security challenges, says John Pescatore, director of Emerging Security Trends at the security research, training and certification organization SANS Institute. Many IoT devices will be consumer-driven, and will therefore start out with weak security and little or no manageability. And even with enterprise-driven devices, IT will face a heterogeneous mix of systems. "IT has to learn how to manage devices that aren't all on the same image running the same operating system and the same version of all apps," he says.

CIOs must rethink the network architecture, according to Colbert. "You have to manage the data, manage the networks, and have multiple layers of security in place to allow access to the people and things that need access," he says. "That's hard work in the complex web of networks you have in a large corporation."

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