This content is part of the Essential Guide: A comprehensive guide to enterprise IoT project success

The enterprise IoT wave rolls in: How to prepare

The possibilities for IoT might be boundless. Find out areas where architects can prepare for and take advantage of an increasingly connected world.

Although the Internet of Things (IoT) is still new, enterprise architects should plan now for a more connected future rather than catching up with the integration challenges after the floodgates have opened. "It's not a matter of where IoT is entering but where isn't IoT going to push into the enterprise," said Mike Walker, a research director at Gartner Inc.

Gartner predicts that 26 billion IoT units will be installed by 2020 and that these units will lead to a staggering $1.8 trillion surge in the global economic climate. "There is a technology explosion occurring with Internet of Things right now, and that will only continue to occur," Walker said.

Walker expects some of the primary entry points for enterprise IoT to be customers, employees, company strategists and suppliers. Customers will adopt wearables, virtual reality and robotics. Companies will use enterprise IoT for new business models, such as banks, manufacturers and healthcare seizing opportunities to further monetize existing services and create new ones. Suppliers will strive to improve intimacy with customers, collect data and create compelling experiences to attract and retain customers.

Bridging consumer and industrial systems

It's not a matter where IoT is entering but where isn't IoT going to push into the enterprise.
Mike Walker, research director,Gartner Inc.

Rohan Joy Thomas, a measurement and instrumentation research analyst at Frost & Sullivan, expects IoT to revolutionize the transportation, consumer electronics and utilities industries. In the transportation industry, the need for interconnectivity between vehicles and remote diagnostics capabilities has taken automotive after-sales by storm. The emergence of the eCall initiative in Europe is helping make connectivity between cars ubiquitous. "This will result in demand for specialized sensors and network operators and therefore the need for specialized testing equipment," Thomas said.

Another area with great potential is connected homes and connected work. Thomas sees a major trend toward real-time maintenance and troubleshooting. Smart homes and smart metering are gaining considerable traction around the world. "As the trend becomes more widespread, there are requirements for an interface that can bring all this together on a single platform," Thomas said.

In many cases, enterprises need to think about the architectural implications of connecting to consumer-oriented devices, said Tom Kerber, director of research at Parks Associates, an industry analyst firm. Small businesses often acquire residential products and apply them to their business. Security systems, thermostats and lighting are leading IoT applications that cross over from residential to business. Building management systems, energy management platforms and HVAC systems within the commercial world are often connected to a cloud service that allows for remote operation and support.

The challenge of integrating IoT

Information architecture and management should be top of mind with IoT initiatives being heavily information centric, said Gartner's Walker. The area of most impact is in the integration space. The challenge for most organizations will be translating the enormous amount of noise into meaningful insights.

Walker said the critical considerations for enterprise architects include information flow rather than protocols and technologies, risk management, information security -- but ensure it is in the context of the scenario and risk profile, and SOA, which architects should combine with the necessary IoT-enabled services. Architects should also remember that IoT standards are still in their infancy. They should be prepared for change because technologies, standards and business opportunities will be more fluid than before.

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The interoperability architecture needed will be different from traditional architectures. Each layer of the integration architecture will extend or introduce a new set of technologies and considerations.

Walker said these are among the protocols that could be used across the IoT integration architecture layers:

  • Transport: Radio frequency identification or near-field communication, Bluetooth and other short-range technologies, along with transmission control protocol or user data protocol in rare cases;
  • Messaging: Advanced message queuing protocol (MQTT), constrained application protocol (CoAP) and HTTP;
  • Security: Transport layer security pre-shared key;
  • Serialization: Javascript object notation, BSON and Apache Avro; and
  • Management: Open Mobile Alliance's device management and machine-to-machine specifications.

Going from connectivity to business value

The first question many enterprise architects consider is how to get a product online. They face an immediate problem that can be solved with an Internet connection. Once the product is online, the second-order implications become clear, said Zach Supalla, founder and CEO at Spark IO, which provides an open source toolkit for IoT devices.

Connecting a washer or dryer to the Internet might make it easier to diagnose problems and send out repairmen. It's also easier to do things like track detergent consumption. That's where integration starts to become important, Supalla said. Speed isn't just about being "first to market" -- it's about getting something into customers' hands that works and can be iterated quickly toward better versions of the product.

Bringing agility to enterprise IoT

An opportunity exists for concepts from Agile software development to be adopted in hardware, now that hardware is coming online and behaving more like software, Supalla said. By combining rapid prototyping tools like 3-D printing and computer numerical control milling (to make it easier to iterate on physical hardware) and over-the-air firmware updates (to make it easier to iterate on the embedded software within the device), it becomes possible to apply continuous delivery to hardware.

Organizations should consider a cloud-based integration strategy rather than depend on a hardwired interface, said Parks Associates' Kerber. This makes it easier to implement value-added services and expose those services via APIs. These can form the building blocks of value-added service applications, which make it easier to take advantage of new opportunities.

Adopt a robust API strategy

The market will shift from centralized control systems to a more distributed intelligence model, where the intelligence is at the edge of the network and devices use information to automatically make smart decisions on the owner's behalf. Kerber suggests that enterprise architects adopt a robust API strategy and SDK for integration with value-added services.

The growth in new devices will accelerate the ongoing disaggregation and decentralization of stacks and architectures. The enterprise is quickly migrating to a world where new services rely on thousands of servers, tens of thousands of integrated devices, and hundreds of thousands of mobile phones or tablets.

Daniel Kador, co-founder and CTO of Keen IO, an IoT analytics service, said, "Integration time is going to be seen as the most important metric for the enterprise. Businesses that target getting up and running quickly for specific use cases are going to be more and more popular."

Building a successful ecosystem of IoT-enabled services requires the enterprise architect to think about using new software and services in an intelligent way. Kador said, "Don't solve problems that have already been solved. Take advantage of the ability to gather and analyze data across entire fleets of devices. And don't let that flood of data ruin your organization's ability to be intuitive and design-focused."

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