The path to enterprise IoT may not be as steep as you think

CIOs can use existing IT to glean insights from data, said panelists at MIT

The tech challenges that accompany IoT projects shouldn't deter companies from attempting to find meaning in data gathered from connected devices. The solutions may be closer than they think.

The IT behind the Internet of Things, including sensors, databases and analytics software, has been around for a while. The challenge is getting these disparate systems and components to work together, said Phil Regnault, a senior vice president with Hitachi Consulting, on a panel at MIT's CIO Symposium.

Data analysis tools and data storage, technologies that are key to IoT, are extremely affordable, according to Richard Soley, executive director of the Industrial Internet Consortium. "There's no excuse for not using this technology today," he said.

Less than 10 percent of the data gathered from sensors is made use of by companies, said Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute. In most cases, companies have reams of data and the infrastructure to process it.

There are instances, however, where the technology to capture the data needs to mature. For example, there isn't a network capable of connecting to every jet engine and instantly transmitting the trove of data they generate, Chui said.

"Real-time streaming will get better, but there are things you can do now," he said.

Some of the hurdles to IoT adoption aren't technical at all.

One of the biggest challenges is the separation between IT and the operational side of a business. CIOs need to be engaged with operations people to handle projects like equipping a company's vehicles or manufacturing equipment with sensors, Regnault said.

With IoT, IT staff are "literally embedded in the business," Chui said. This represents a new role for CIOs, whose job until now has focused on technical issues like managing data centers and mobile devices, he said.

Vendors have done a poor job of explaining to executives how IoT projects can benefit a company, Regnault said. Instead of talking about sensors and data, the conversations should be around business benefits. Business leaders respond better to discussions on how sensor data can help a cooling system operate more efficiently and reduce energy bills, he said.

There's also a perception that IoT projects need be elaborate productions, but even simple efforts can have a big impact.

One simple application for retailers would be to equip hourly workers, who typically punch in at the start of their shift, with badges that automatically handle this function when employees enter the store.

This would allow employees to start working immediately. Automating the clock-in process would save a few minutes for each worker, and multiplied by dozens of employees across hundreds of shifts, could deliver economic benefits, Regnault said.

Panelists also discussed security issues raised by IoT. Connecting devices to the Internet increases threats and potential attack vectors, making security challenging, Chui said.

An IoT hack will happen, Soley said. However, people shouldn't expect total security in the digital realm since such safety doesn't exist in the physical world, he added.

Fred O'Connor writes about IT careers and health IT for The IDG News Service. Follow Fred on Twitter at @fredjoconnor. Fred's e-mail address is fred_o'connor@idg.com

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Tags Industrial Internet ConsortiumInternet of ThingsMcKinsey & CompanyinternetHitachi Consulting

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