The Internet of Things: Coming to a network near you

When people talk about the Internet of Things (IoT), the most common examples are smart cars, IP-addressable washing machines and Internet-connected nanny cams.
But IoT is coming to the enterprise as well, and IT execs should already be thinking about the ways that IoT will shake up the corporate network.
"Products and services which were previously outside their domain will increasingly be under their jurisdiction," says Daniel Castro, senior analyst with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington-based research and educational institute.
So, what are these devices?
Castro says that companies increasingly will be operating in "smart buildings" with advanced HVAC systems that are connected to the rest of the corporate network.
Many utility companies will be deploying Web-connected smart meters at customers' facilities to allow for remote monitoring.
Companies are tying their physical security to their network security, so that data from security cameras and authentication readers are coming under the purview of enterprise IT.
Retailers such as WalMart, Target and Best Buy already use RFID and other tracking technologies to manage supply chain logistics, says IDC's Michael Fauscette. IoT is a natural next step.
Then there's "operational technology," where enterprise assets such as manufacturing equipment, fleet trucks, rail cars, even patient monitoring equipment in hospitals, become networked devices, says Hung LeHong, research vice president at Gartner.
"Those types of assets are becoming Internet enabled," LeHong says. And even though they are managed by field operations or hospital services, he says, they could become end points on the corporate network, just like smartphones and tablets.
Other examples of operational technology might include companies deploying vending machines that are connected to the Internet, so that they can be automatically restocked when certain items run low. "These assets are becoming part of online world, and they could now be on the enterprise network," LeHong says.
Another key area where IoT is making an appearance is what Gartner calls the digital supply chain. That's when a company's end products, such as consumer electronics or large machinery, are Internet enabled so that the manufacturer can keep track of things such as maintenance schedules.
"The digital supply chain continues after you deliver the physical product," LeHong says. A growing number of the more expensive assets and products that are arriving on the market will have this capability, he says.
Another place where IoT is showing up is in consumer offerings such as home automation and the smart grid. IT executives in industries such as gas and electric utilities will need to stay abreast of developments such as how smart meters and other types of data-generating solutions will affect IT and the corporate network.

By Bob Violino
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