Enterprises divided on IoT skills shortage says 451 Research report

A boom in data retention as a result of enterprises embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) has led to enterprises picking public cloud providers to deal with the surge in storage demands. But at the same time, the relatively new demands of the technology have created a skills gap, according to a report from 451 Research.

451 Research surveyed almost 1,000 enterprise buyers globally and found that the vast majority – at 71 percent – are gathering data from IoT platforms. Most businesses expect their IoT spend to increase by at least a quarter, and 90 percent plan to increase IoT spending to some degree over the following year.

Nearly half of IoT data generated by endpoints is stored and retained, according to 451, which "foreshadows a similar explosion in downstream data storage and analysis".  But a considerable amount of enterprises surveyed – 35 percent – do not have a data retention policy. This is likely to create an opportunity for service providers and vendors, to win contracts on the basis of managing the burst in data.

Public cloud use is gaining traction because of this demand for storage, and although company-owned or leased data centres are the preferred option – at 50 percent of respondents – cloud-based storage was in use among 21 percent of those surveyed.

When asked which of the public clouds their organisations would expect to use to manage the internet of things, the majority were split between Microsoft and Amazon at 55.7 percent and 42.6 percent respectively. Google was at 36.5 percent, VMware at 22.6 percent, and IBM at 19.1 percent, then Oracle, Rackspace, and Verizon.

Analyst at 451 Research Ian Hughes explains that this is likely to be a reflection on the kinds of development environments that these organisations were previously running.

"Traditional Microsoft shops will be eased into the Microsoft developer environment, and those from a more open source development environment might go down the Amazon route," he says.

One major roadblock to adoption for almost half of all respondents was the perceived security risks surrounding IoT – with 49.7 percent citing security as a concern. Effectively making use of IoT involves connecting and drawing data from as many endpoints as possible, but security is not necessarily baked in to IoT devices – meaning one weak link could compromise a larger network.

Part of this concern about security could be due to the evolution of complex industrial systems into more integrated systems.

"People are aware of potential threats, but there's still a blindness to them," Hughes says. "We've got things like operational technology (OT) – industrial systems that are highly automated, and they have traditionally been locked down, because they didn't need to integrate and talk to the rest of the IT systems. They were air walled off.

"Now, you need to get information from those to run the analytics and improve industrial processes – in that gap between IT and OT there's two different mindsets at work, from an engineering point of view and a software engineering point of view. It's in those gaps that the danger occurs."

The report also found signs of a perceived IoT skills shortage, particularly in security and data analytics. Respondents were split – just over half said that finding qualified staff was not a problem, but 46 percent had difficulties filling the roles.

"It's not clear if this split is because people don't know, or assume that they have the skills and they haven't," Hughes says. "Or, people have really understood the skills they need and realised they haven't got the people they need – maybe this is the IT and OT split again, different expectations from different sides of the fence."

However, 451 believes the skills shortage will begin to close as IoT investments pick up and most organisations are addressing this by training or re-training IT staff in-house.

"It's hard to be an expert in IoT yet because it's still ballooning," Hughes says. "When you're dealing with a multitude of unusual devices and protocols, it's not necessarily the same kind of security professional who was locking down your firewalls and business. It requires more of a programming mind to deal with these things, and to move into data science and understand the tools that are telling you about security anomalies."

As businesses adjust the way they operate to embrace IoT, staff will pick up these on-the-job skills.

"If you suddenly have a rollout of IoT or a completely different system that is now attached, there's a period of time where you have to try to come to terms that those skills will develop, as will those toolsets," Hughes says.

Regardless of any trepidation about IoT deployments, many businesses are having their infrastructure 'organically' transition to IoT – as intelligent sensors and predictive analytics are embedded in IT equipment, including servers, switches and routers.

Over the next two years, 451 Research predicts that the biggest spending in IoT will be in large initiatives – such as smart grids or smart cities, which require a large pool of resources. Supply chain management, warehouse management and automation, and healthcare will also see significant increases in spend over this period.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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