4 Things to Do Now to Get Ready for the Internet of Things

As CIO at Boeing, Ted Colbert is no stranger to the Internet of Things. For more than a decade, the aerospace giant has deployed thousands of communications-enabled smart devices to sense, control and exchange data across the factory floor, on the battlefield, and within the company's 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

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But a world in which employees bring their own smart things to work also presents opportunities. For example, Colbert says, "I wouldn't allow sensors to connect to my general-use network to provide employees' location and body temperature to support building maintenance. But providing a segmented network to support the use case? I'd be interested in that."

Other use cases that IT could propose range from programs to improve the safety of manufacturing environments to wellness competitions that use data from employees' personal health monitors to track the progress of participants, he says. "Sensors are ubiquitous, and it would be silly to think that the only way to leverage the Internet of Things is with things I can control," he says.

Karen Austin, CIO at PG&E Corp., has overseen the installation of 9 million smart meters that help customers understand their power consumption. The utility holding company has also installed sensors in power and natural gas distribution systems that can monitor load/generation characteristics, report outages, and shut off valves and reroute power. Now PG&E is experimenting with ways to connect its smart meters to home networks. "All of the devices in the home, from the dryer to the thermostat, are getting smarter," Austin says. "We want to communicate with those devices to allow them to be more energy-efficient." Adding that IT should think of the IoT as a two-way solution, she says, "You have to be able to handle that from a data and security perspective."

At Partners HealthCare, Noga faces the challenge of integrating data from consumer-based sensors such as IP-enabled blood pressure cuffs and weight scales into the overall IT architecture. That presents data exchange challenges. Moreover, home devices can't be tested for accuracy and recalibrated the way professional hospital equipment can. Because clinicians can't be sure that the data is correct, they must review all data before it's input into a patient's record. IT also preps the data using decision-support algorithms before clinicians see it. "No clinician wants to review hundreds of normal blood pressure readings," says Joseph Kvedar, director of the Center for Connected Health, a Partners HealthCare R&D organization.

But there are consumer products that meet professional healthcare standards, and the economics of using such tools are compelling. For example, healthcare products maker iHealth offers an FDA-approved blood pressure monitor that consumers can find at Best Buy. "We give patients a coupon to buy one, and there's no hub and no data charges. That starts to lower our costs," Kvedar says.

McKenna-Doyle would like to tap into IoT devices that football fans use in order to deepen the level of engagement between fans and their favorite teams. "The emerging [tech] for us is around wearable fitness for the conditioning and management of the overall health of players," she says. The next step might be to let fans with smart bands go online and, say, compare their heart rates and times in the 40-yard dash with those of star players. But capturing that data raises questions about privacy and governance. "There's a discussion as to whether that's medical data," she says. Data from IP-enabled smart devices needs to be classified so that IT can determine whether or not it needs reside on a private network.

3. Get Involved in R&D

The best way to get in front of IoT projects is to place IT at the forefront of product development. "IT can be the engine around which prototyping is done with these new sensor opportunities. It can be a big player in vetting ideas before a major investment is made," Curran says.

For McKenna-Doyle, that means supporting R&D initiatives for projects to embed sensors on footballs, players, the field and helmets. And IT has uncovered many challenges along the way.

Sensors can be used to track who's on the field, map play activity and gather game statistics. But how do you recalibrate field sensors that may get moved -- or removed -- between games? And how do you overcome bandwidth issues in a stadium packed with 70,000 fans? "This is all R&D," she says. "Most CIOs don't have a lot of experience in R&D, but if you want to be successful, you'd better start looking at how you can try some of this stuff."

"You need to have IT consultants who can talk to the OT people so they can build a business plan and present it to a governance body," says Noga. "We try to be supportive of the Center for Connected Health and provide a lab setting for them to do their testing."

The Partners HealthCare IT unit also helps the center figure out whether the technology will scale. "Things work in the lab, but in the real world, when thousands of people are hitting on the system, we have run into issues. So we sit down with the CTO and his team and go over the architecture," Kvedar says.

4. Stay Ahead of the Curve

The most important thing is for CIOs to maintain strong relationships with business units -- and keep in front of the competition. "It's a partnership," says Austin. And it's the CIO's job to establish good governance over the process to ensure that the business executes in a way that doesn't put the company at risk. "What the business needs is very important," says Colbert. "Innovate, but balance that by protecting the crown jewels of the company."

Plan ahead before you're approached for help with an IoT project, because there isn't time to do an extensive study, adds McKenna-Doyle. "You need to say, 'Here are the questions you need to ask,' and we need to have them covered," she says. "Be flexible and make sure everyone understands the risk/reward profile."

IT may feel intimidated by the speed at which this is moving, "but for CIOs who can see the value of the data from these interactions, this is a great time to have a seat at the table," she adds. "Now is the time to embrace this."

Robert L. Mitchell, national correspondent, writes in-depth technology features and a blog at Computerworld. Follow Robert on Twitter at Twitter. His e-mail address is rmitchell@computerworld.com.

This story, "4 Things to Do Now to Get Ready for the Internet of Things" was originally published by Computerworld.

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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