Spare a kind thought for folks working in IT. Ever since the first commercial computer hit the streets in the 1950s, they've been struggling to meet our insatiable demand for software. It's getting worse. Just as we get our arms around the complexities of supporting mobile, pundits are heralding the economic windfall "coming soon" from the latest trend in tech wizardry -- the Internet of Things.
If you sit on the skeptical bench you'll dismiss the talk as just more hype -- an unneeded interruption in the tough world of enterprise computing. After all, the Internet of Things with all its clever thermostats, fitness wearables, and smart lightbulbs hasn't quite yet made the crossover to commercial glory, so it won't affect you, right?
The Internet Things is already here, lurking in the business-model blind spot -- ready to disrupt your business.
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Now for example all those smart thermostats could become a cloud-based system, providing energy providers with valuable analytics about electricity consumption so as to better regulate supply. Beyond being just a fashion statement, wearables could eventually serve data to insurance companies so they can offer tailored services based on your fitness and activity levels. Even the humble lightbulb can, with the aid of software, transform the ambience of retail stores.
This is just a start, and while we can't yet fully appreciate all the profound business implications from IoT, we can start to prepare.
Here's my take on three things to get your organization ready for the Internet of Things:
Rekindle your "imagination"
Advances in cloud, mobility, and analytics will shake up existing business models, but with IoT the biggest opportunity lies in doing something completely new and radical. To capitalize, enterprises must find their entrepreneurial sixth sense, needed to quickly create new business models that render existing models, including their own, obsolete.
Five years ago, the very idea of usage-based car insurance would have seemed crazy, but now thanks to telematics and data analytics it's an established service that generates business. Companies can monitor the driving behaviors of a younger demographic, for example, so that new policies can now be offered in what has been considered a high-risk market.
But finding folks who can cook up ideas isn't good enough. You must also find those who are expert in shepherding new thinking, such as that about the Internet of Things, through your own organizational context. Creative flare is nice, but the real results will be delivered by people who can engineer new business models while accounting for the inevitable funding obstacles and skepticism that such disruption inspires.
Rethink software development
Whether building cars or mood-sensing lightbulbs, you can guarantee it's going to require lots of development and testing. Just consider -- today's typical new car comes loaded with cupholders and 100 million lines of code. Furthermore, this code is fast becoming a key determining factor in vehicle selection -- and must constantly be updated to enhance the customer experience. A great example is Tesla, which was able to provide a "break-creep" feature to existing Model S vehicles via a software download when customers demanded it.
Examples like this indicate why traditional approaches to software development may fall short. Now with the connected customer experience becoming the trigger for software development, defect-laden code and long software release cycles can't be tolerated. This is why IoT software development must incorporate parallel testing strategies to ensure speed and quality is baked into every release.
And there's one other practical step we can take in our own development organizations: We can refactor our teams.
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Every good developer knows the value of refactoring -- meaning restructuring code in non-functional ways to improve its behaviors. With the inevitable uptake of IoT we can apply the same thinking to our organization. That is, we can make small improvements to how IT teams operate and interact in context of IoT initiatives. This will involve building new relationships among product managers, machine-to-machine communications specialists, and data analysts. Consider too that an IoT initiative's true value might be determined by external partner ecosystems, so strategies must ensure that software-enabled devices will interoperate with other critical platforms that emerge. Not surprisingly this involves developing robust and secure API architectures.
Don't let uncertain standards become a constraint
As IoT matures, industry heavyweights and advocacy groups are clamoring to define the de facto standards they believe will define how devices should connect and interoperate. Already this year, we've witnessed the Open Interconnect Consortium release an open source software framework for implementing OIC's emerging standard -- following closely on the heels of the AllSeen Alliance's new software designed to remotely manage AllJoyn-based devices.
Amid lots of uncertainty about standards, it's easy to take a wait-and-see approach, but I'd caution against doing so. Sure, standardization will be important to lower the cost of IoT entry, but just remember that in many vertical industries we already have legacy interfaces and protocols that, with software modernization and experimentation, could realize immediate benefits.
Like any new and emerging trend, IoT presents many complex organizational issues and perplexing technical challenges. But there's one thing that's certain: Those businesses that embrace the Internet of Things will be inventing the future for the rest of us.
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