At current rate, we’re going to see 28 billion internet of things devices brought online by 2020 (Source). If you’re not familiar, internet of things or IOT is a term used to describe hardware and devices that are able to connect to the internet. Popular examples of IOT devices are thermostats and ovens that you can control from your cell phone. While IOT companies like Nest and Pebble may get lots of attention for their consumer-grade devices, the real future for IOT is in the workplace. The number one area where developers of iot devices are investing time and dollars is in office productivity and office appliances (Source). Next on the list? E-Commerce and transportation. In fact, consumer-grade products are lowest on the list. Add in the growing popularity of “bring your own device” programs, and we find ourselves in a growingly complex situation for office IT.
How do you maintain enough bandwidth to deal with connecting so many devices? How do you keep all of those devices secure? What security protocols can you put in place on your employees’ own devices? In this article we’ll highlight the questions and ideas you and your IT staff need to ask to ensure that you’re able to to not only survive, but thrive with the growth of IOT devices at work.
Focus on Existing Technology
While we’ve seen some companies release IOT devices for offices, most of those installations have been in large, new spaces. If you’re not making any technology upgrades soon, you may still want to think about the machines you’re already using; namely computers, printers, TVs, projectors, tablets, smartphones, and soon smart watches. Sure, that smart coffee maker might be interesting to think about, but not only is the smart coffee maker a few years away, the big changes and developments are going to come from the devices and brands you already know. What improvements or changes are coming with these devices, either to the design of those items or to how they will impact your office? These are the areas where you’ll likely see the biggest impacts to your business.
Utilities-impacting devices are going to be a major source of change in offices both small and large. Meters, such as for gas or electricity, HVAC systems, and water resources will start to get more and more attention from manufacturers and suppliers for one simple reason: money. Power and water treatment plants are slow to come online, and their capacity is limited. As demand continues to grow, these companies are spending heavily in efficiency and monitoring to help industrial and business customers reduce their usage. Likewise, HVAC equipment suppliers are investing in efficiency, which in the iot age, means collecting data about how much they can reduce heating or AC.
Impact of Big Data
Companies that are investing in IOT-related devices are banking on big data. Nest might collect data on the HVAC patterns in your home, but for the companies that are investing in IOT-devices, a single data points like home heating is not the focus. Office buildings that have one million square feet of space to heat and cool is where they’re looking. This is not to say you shouldn’t buy a Nest device for your office, but the real opportunity is going to be in problems or opportunities where there are lots of data points to study and optimize upon.
Like it or not, employees are connecting their personal devices to your network. In fact, the average worker uses 11 devices on their home network (Source). “So what, they’re at home with those things” you might be tempted to think. Ah, yes, but what happens when they connect those devices in your office? In one survey, 50% of respondents reported connecting their devices to corporate networks and 75% access company files and systems from their home networks (Source). Can a hacker crack into your worker’s IOT-enabled refrigerator at home and plant a virus that then jumps to his or her personal cell phone, and then hop off that cell phone and onto your network once they come into work? Protecting your worker’s personal devices will help you protect your office technology.
You may be tempted to tell employees to not use their personal devices at work. Fine, but unless if you have ultra-strict policies and security systems, you’re not likely to get much cooperation. Your workers are smart, and smart people find workarounds. On one hand, while security must be taken seriously, being overzealous about security policies will only frustrate employees and incentivize them to find work-arounds. Nonetheless, educating them on the minimum level of precautions you expect them to take at the office and at home, and pitching it as how to protect their personal data, will go a long way to getting them to cooperate.
With more and more devices, your network’s load capacity is going to need to grow much faster. Currently your employees might only have a laptop, cellphone, and tablet. But what happens when the paper towel dispensers in the bathrooms are telling your janitorial staff which dispensers need a refill? Or when your printers are communicating with your office supplier to make an automatic shipment when the toner gets low? All of these devices are going to stress your wireless networks. Will your network keep pace?
What Other Things?
What else should be on this list? How are you and your teams preparing for IOT? Or are you not even thinking about it yet? I’d love to know what you think.