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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There's no reason IT can't take the lead in leveraging the Internet of Things for business benefit, says Don Fike, vice president and technical architect at FedEx Corporate Services. "A good place to start is to take a look at your business processes and how they might be impacted by some of the sensor technologies and real-time capabilities," he says. "Step back and say, 'How can this change my business process?'"

LeHong advises CIOs to take the business's top three products and core processes and think about how the IoT might help. "Can you create a better product or service or process?" he asks.

IT executives should also understand how IT can play a critical role in enabling the technology, operationalizing it and securing it. "The more you're aware of the dynamics, the more you can participate in the discussions," says Campisi, adding that when GE talks to businesses about Predix, the CIO is usually involved from the start.

2. Learn to Cope With Consumerization

If industrial sensors weren't enough to think about, IT organizations may be asked to engage with consumer devices they don't control, ranging from smart wristbands that monitor personal health to home thermostats. Some devices might walk in the door with employees or customers, while others might connect in from the home.

Smart things that employees bring to work present a risk-mitigation challenge. "Things will be more advanced in the future. And from a threat perspective, they could be designed to circumvent discovery," says Colbert, adding that that's a big concern for Boeing. IT will also need to develop services and policies for properly classifying data from these emerging smart things, and it will have to establish policy enforcement points to control access and enforce usage rights.

But a world in which employees bring their own smart things to work also presents opportunities. For example, Colbert says, "I wouldn't allow sensors to connect to my general-use network to provide employees' location and body temperature to support building maintenance. But providing a segmented network to support the use case? I'd be interested in that."

Other use cases that IT could propose range from programs to improve the safety of manufacturing environments to wellness competitions that use data from employees' personal health monitors to track the progress of participants, he says. "Sensors are ubiquitous, and it would be silly to think that the only way to leverage the Internet of Things is with things I can control," he says.

Karen Austin, CIO at PG&E Corp., has overseen the installation of 9 million smart meters that help customers understand their power consumption. The utility holding company has also installed sensors in power and natural gas distribution systems that can monitor load/generation characteristics, report outages, and shut off valves and reroute power. Now PG&E is experimenting with ways to connect its smart meters to home networks. "All of the devices in the home, from the dryer to the thermostat, are getting smarter," Austin says. "We want to communicate with those devices to allow them to be more energy-efficient." Adding that IT should think of the IoT as a two-way solution, she says, "You have to be able to handle that from a data and security perspective."

At Partners HealthCare, Noga faces the challenge of integrating data from consumer-based sensors such as IP-enabled blood pressure cuffs and weight scales into the overall IT architecture. That presents data exchange challenges. Moreover, home devices can't be tested for accuracy and recalibrated the way professional hospital equipment can. Because clinicians can't be sure that the data is correct, they must review all data before it's input into a patient's record. IT also preps the data using decision-support algorithms before clinicians see it. "No clinician wants to review hundreds of normal blood pressure readings," says Joseph Kvedar, director of the Center for Connected Health, a Partners HealthCare R&D organization.

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