The Internet of Things (IoT) has been a hyped technology for years, but the pandemic and its associated tidal wave of remote work pushed its actual use in the enterprise into overdrive. What’s more, IoT is maturing as vendors begin to sell fully functioning applications, not just the components needed for businesses to build their own.
The pandemic has already driven sharp growth in the types of technologies for which the IoT is already well-known including predictive maintenance in industry and automation at ports and other transportation facilities.
In those areas IoT limits the amount of time workers spend on-site because remotely monitored systems don’t need to be maintained in-person nearly as often as they might otherwise. Some functions, including certain types of inspection and servicing, can be handled fully remotely, further reducing the amount of time workers have to spend on-site and in close proximity to one another.
Commercial IoT apps
The next big shift in IoT, said Gartner vice president and analyst Al Velosa, is away from plain-vanilla connectivity, where hardware vendors simply sell a way of getting data from assets in the field into the cloud, and toward fully integrated applications.
“What’s really raised its head in 2021 and I think is going to be the dominant trend is much more closed business applications,” he said. “We saw a bunch of companies roll out strategies that prohibit selling the IoT platform on its own. They now sell the application, plus IoT.”
It’s effectively a shift from selling components to finished products, a sign of growing maturity in the IoT marketplace, according to Velosa. In the past, a company like Sigfox might sell network connectivity to a business that already had endpoints to connect and a cloud back-end to use.
Now the GE, Siemens and others are selling their operational technology as an integrated service. That’s not the end of the world for the standalone vendors, it just means that they’re likely selling their product or service to another vendor, rather than to an enterprise.
More than that, integrated applications are being sold and deployed at scale rather than in smatterings and test cases, as in the past, said Forrester principal analyst Michele Pelino. “These IoT initiatives are becoming much more real in a much more broad sense,” she said. “The key here now is for those initiatives that are important to your organisation—the security, the scalability—have to be addressed as they become more diversified.”
The increased focus on IoT is reflected in spending, according to Velosa. A recent Gartner survey of IT decision-makers on emerging technologies found that the average funding for IoT is set to rise from roughly US$400,000 per organisation in the past 12 months to US$600,000 in 2022.
Security remains a challenge, in large part because IoT demands security on multiple levels—endpoints, the network, and the cloud. Attacks against devices have continued apace in 2021, and show no signs of slowing down.
And because the responsibility for these different types of security fall on different stakeholders—the network vendor is responsible for a secure connection, the device vendor for physical security, and a cloud provider for the back-end—there’s a problem of collective action.
“There is a significant focus on the organisations to have security on multiple levels,” said Velosa. “Unfortunately, we also see continued problems with how those organisations actively fund this.”
Those concerns could grow even larger in the near future, as more widespread IoT deployments—and deployments in more sensitive settings—take shape.
“When you start taking down critical infrastructure that’s connecting the world, you’re impacting potentially millions of lives or critical resources and revenues,” said Pelino.
A sustainable IoT future
IoT promises hope for the future, as well, Pelino said. One of the key drivers of IoT spending in the immediate future is sustainability, thanks at least partially to increased regulatory requirements in many industries.
IoT technology has a host of avenues through which to do this, from building maintenance systems that ensure lights are off in unoccupied rooms to industrial installations that monitor for excess power usage or toxic emissions.
“IoT…is about connecting these processes and using insight in real time to contribute by making sure sustainability is being addressed in real time,” said Pelino.