Even seasoned veterans like Colbert are bracing for an onslaught. What's different now, he says, is the accessibility of many different types of data, the speed at which the data can be gathered, and the tools a business can use to get its arms around that data. "The pace of development of sensors is moving much faster than folks can keep up with," he says. And as the cost of developing and deploying sensors has dropped, businesses can capture more data faster and from more parts of more assets than ever before. "This is about solving hard business problems with better data," Curran says.
It's a sea change, says Vince Campisi, CIO at General Electric's Global Software Center. "Before, even if we had the ability to get the cost of the sensor down, we wouldn't have been able to transport, store and analyze the data." Now, with the evolution of tools for managing and analyzing big data, he says, "we have both."
Jim Noga, CIO at Partners HealthCare, reports that while networked sensors have been used in healthcare for years, of late he has seen a marked increase in both the number of medical appliances instrumented with sensors and the number of network-enabled sensors embedded into individual devices. "We're also seeing more and more of these sensors that live on our operational network," he says.
For IT, the cost of accommodating IoT initiatives is substantial. "These will be multimillion-dollar investments," and they will require significant R&D investments, says McKenna-Doyle. And business units will expect IT to "knit things together," she adds.
Supporting IoT projects will require more than basic computing infrastructure changes, says Colbert. "IT will need to retool its computing services portfolio to allow a richer number of simple applications to expose data from the IoT," he explains.
Here's a look at four steps IT leaders and analysts say IT should be taking as the Internet of Things proliferates.
1. Ramp Up IT/OT Collaboration
Going forward, upfront collaboration with lines of business and associated operational technology (OT) organizations will be essential. As sensor networks move toward more open architectures, the OT organizations that ran the formerly closed, proprietary systems within each line of business will need to work more closely with IT to resolve a host of issues ranging from integration to security. "IT and OT need to work together to decide who manages, controls and monitors what," says LeHong, "and it's no longer clear-cut." That creates a big opportunity for IT.
For example, if a vending machine can tell when an item is out of stock and send an order to the ERP system, does that mean IT needs another user license? And as OT moves to IP-addressable devices, IT must address network management and security issues. IT may also need to handle software maintenance and upgrades — areas in which OT lacks expertise. All of those issues must be addressed "when things go on the Internet," LeHong says.
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