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4 things to do now to get ready for the Internet of Things

Robert L. Mitchell | April 22, 2014
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.

The Internet of Things presents two big security challenges, says John Pescatore, director of Emerging Security Trends at the security research, training and certification organization SANS Institute. Many IoT devices will be consumer-driven, and will therefore start out with weak security and little or no manageability. And even with enterprise-driven devices, IT will face a heterogeneous mix of systems. "IT has to learn how to manage devices that aren't all on the same image running the same operating system and the same version of all apps," he says.

CIOs must rethink the network architecture, according to Colbert. "You have to manage the data, manage the networks, and have multiple layers of security in place to allow access to the people and things that need access," he says. "That's hard work in the complex web of networks you have in a large corporation."

IoT at FedEx

Advanced package tracking

One result of the IT/OT synergy at FedEx has been the development of SenseAware, a sensor network that allows the shipping company's customers to track the status of high-value packages in real time. Among other things, they can check the package's location, the temperature and humidity level at that location, whether it's in motion and whether it has been opened. Customers can also configure the system to alert them when certain specifications exceed set thresholds or when the package comes within a specified distance of its destination.

That's a premium subscription service now, but the technology's cost and power requirements will drop to the point where FedEx can offer it for every package, says Kevin Humphries, senior vice president of enterprise infrastructure services. The initiative illustrates the value of using data collected by the sensors in real time, rather than just analyzing it after the fact. "It's not just about big data or access to real-time information. It's what you do with it," he says.

-- Robert L. Mitchell

There are challenges within OT. For example, Campisi says GE's Predix OT management platform works only with GE sensors, such as those embedded in its jet engines. The company has, however, developed partnerships to offer a more holistic look at optimizing airline operations, ranging from setting crew schedules to operating fleets more efficiently, he says.

But a consolidated management platform for the many different IoT devices out there doesn't exist yet, says Colbert. "There's no single pane of glass that can traverse all of the different types of technologies," he says.

That will change, says LeHong, as machine-to-machine cloud platforms such as Axeda, Etherios, MyKoots and ThingWorx emerge to fill the void.

Colbert agrees. "There will also be hubs, routers and gateways that will combine with cloud capabilities to bring together the disparate IoT," he says.


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