Feature Story

Today's IoT: Opportunities Abound, but Challenges Persist

Connectivity and network intelligence are exploding around us. At this rate, the Internet of Things may soon be as indispensable as the Internet itself.

With no less than 40,000 businesses built around digital technology, London is one of the world’s leading innovation hubs. But five short years ago, one-third of those businesses didn’t even exist.

It’s that fast-paced, innovative spirit that made London the perfect host city for Cisco’s fourth Internet of Things World Forum (IoTWF).

During the event’s first day, Cisco customers, partners, and members of the Cisco Executive Leadership Team huddled to discuss the challenges and opportunities that the Internet of Things (IoT) can bring to businesses, governments, cities, and the world.

Inbar Lasser-Raab, vice president, Enterprise Solutions Marketing and master of ceremonies, kicked off the event by sharing some newly released Cisco Research. These global survey results were based on interviews with 1845 IT and business decision makers.

Sixty-one percent of them believe that we have barely scratched the surface with IoT.

“IoT will grow beyond our imagination,” proclaimed Lasser-Raab. “IoT is now,” she continued.

When we look at the state of today’s IoT initiatives, however, Cisco’s survey shows that growing pains still persist.

“Only 26 percent of IoT initiatives are completed successfully,” Lasser-Raab told the audience. “Seventy-four percent are in process or slowing down and need more resources.”

How can we get better results from IoT initiatives? First, we must overcome some of the barriers that are holding IoT back.

According to the survey, these include:

  • Time to Completion
  • Quality of data
  • Lack of internal experts
  • IoT integration
  • Budget overruns

Those barriers were reinforced during a live poll the attendees took during the event. Lasser-Raab asked “What is your one biggest challenge in deploying IoT?”

These were the real-time results:

  • Lack of expertise (24 percent)
  • Integration complexity (20 percent)
  • Finding budget (17 percent)
  • Security (16 percent)
  • Technology maturity (13 percent)
  • Time to market (5 percent)
  • Quality of the data (5 percent)

Between the two sets of results, it’s clear that data, budgets, and expertise are among the top barriers.

Despite those challenges, 62 percent of the respondents in Cisco’s report say IoT is very much a part of their strategies moving forward. But the struggle is getting from concept to reality.

The Human Factor

Technology, however, is not the only factor feeding success—or failure.

“Technology no longer enables the strategy. Technology defines the strategy,” Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins told the crowd.

That’s why so many human factors come into play when executing a successful IoT project. For example, culture, organization, and leadership are critical to the success of IoT.

Cisco’s report focused on the 26 percent of IoT initiatives that are successful. And from those unbeaten IoT implementations, some key success factors emerged:

  1. 54 percent of the respondents say that collaboration between IT and the business was the number one reason for success.
  2. 49 percent noted that a top-down leadership and executive sponsorship must occur.
  3. 48 percent cited IoT expertise, whether internal or through external partnerships, helped in their success. In addition, organizations with the most successful IoT initiatives leveraged external partners. And used them at every phase of IoT implementation, from strategic planning to data analytics after rollout.

Robbins backed up some of these reasons for success, but reminded the audience that there are always disruptors waiting to pounce.

“Every company around the world is worried about the six people sitting in a garage in Silicon Valley who are going to rip the heart out of our businesses,” he told the audience.

He went on to ask, “How do we increase the likelihood of success of that 26 percent?”

Robbins believes it’s about delivering a secure, intelligent foundation for digital business, “We need networks that are automated with security deeply built into it.”

To summarize, Robbins laid out three key pillars to IoT success:

  1. Connectivity: Devices and things connected efficiently
  2. Fog Computing: Centralized public cloud. The need for cloud to the edge.
  3. Data: Finding new ways to deal with all the data from the many, many IoT devices—and turn it into insight

But technology is always evolving. And some industry experts are already looking to the next wave of IoT innovation.

Don Tapscott, co-author of Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World,told the audience that the digital age is poised for another great disruption, which will be driven by blockchain, the platform behind the cryptocurrency bitcoin.

“We are moving from the Internet of things to an Internet of value,” said Tapscott, where everything from money and contracts to kilowatt hours and intellectual property will be moved and transacted with great security and frictionless ease.

An Internet of Talent?

But before that next revolution truly accelerates, there are other pressing concerns. In today’s IoT world, questions around talent and culture are never far away.

“You need to be much more sophisticated in talent,” Jennifer Waldo, the chief human resources officer at GE told the crowd.

Waldo shared three key elements to GE’s talent strategy. The company, she said:

  1. Moved from value to principle beliefs
  2. Used agile methodology
  3. Engaged people process (threw out traditional reviews and moved to performance development)

But Waldo also urges organizations to think beyond talent. In short, she said, each must create a new culture. To do that, she suggests an end to old industrial-era style management. Instead, she recommends creating a flatter, more horizontal organization in which hierarchy is less rigid and workers at all levels have a voice.

But every organization has different perspectives on culture. Cisco’s research on IoT reveals that IT decision makers and business decision makers put culture in different buckets. In the study, IT decision makers placed more importance on organizational culture than business decision counterparts.

Data, Data, Data

All those billions of connected IoT devices will be generating huge amounts of data. So, another of the biggest trends emerging from the first day of IoTWF was the use and management of data.

During one of the sessions led by Jennifer Belissent, a principal analyst with Forrester Research, the topic of data played a key role.

“Digital produces a huge amount of data,” said Belissent.

According to a Forrester study, 59 percent of decision makers want to leverage data and analytics in business decision making.

And with all the data that digital and IoT generate, many are thinking of ways to monetize it. For example, AT&T found that it could use data from smart devices on their network to predict busy foot-traffic times on certain streets. It gathers the data, analyzes it, and then sells it to retailers looking to predict opportune moments for capturing customers in their stores.

According to Belissent, there are security issues with selling data, but you can alleviate leadership’s fears by:

  1. Bringing in security experts from the beginning
  2. Modeling threats
  3. Managing risk—taking intelligent risks

In only its first day, IoTWF highlighted the great diversity of organizations that are embracing IoT innovations. Many of these are not just automating, saving costs, and capturing ROI, but going further to create all-new business models.