Embracing connected thinking: smarter decision-making and improved outcomes

03 July 2024

Amit Mehrotra, vice president and head of UK & Ireland, Tata Communications

The last few years have seen organisations and industries make impressive progress towards a hyperconnected world; one where billions of interconnected things communicate seamlessly with each other, people, and systems.

As a result, the IoT market has seen impressive growth, driven by the rise of connected devices and the increasing demand for smart solutions by organisations in every industry. Businesses are keen to take advantage of the array of potential benefits, particularly those operating in highly competitive industries.

From gathering behavioural data on customer preferences for personalised products and services to real-time insights for predictive maintenance, there are a wealth of benefits to be found. By leveraging IoT technology, companies can stand out from their peers, as well as set new standards for efficiency, safety, and customer satisfaction.

“There are several common obstacles that prevent companies from harnessing the power of IoT, but by understanding, approaching and addressing these head on, every organisation can ensure a smooth transition and long-term success.”

According to projections by IDC, IoT ecosystem investments are expected to surpass $1 trillion in 2026. Nearly 60% of organisations are already engaged in IoT projects, according to Accenture. But that doesn’t mean they’re all getting it right: deploying and managing an IoT solution can present significant challenges, and many of these projects are not delivering the promised benefits.

There are several common obstacles that prevent companies from harnessing the power of IoT, but by understanding, approaching and addressing these head on, every organisation can ensure a smooth transition and long-term success.

Setting the foundations

The first challenge to overcome is connectivity – without this, any IoT project will struggle to get off the ground.

Strong connectivity is all about ensuring that different devices spread across multiple regions can be connected in the most optimal and cost-effective manner. When organisations are connected to a large number of vendors, OEMs, and service providers, ensuring interoperability between different devices, including legacy assets, is a priority.

For example, a manufacturer operating worldwide may need to connect thousands of sensors, machines, and vehicles across different plants, warehouses, and transport routes. A retailer may need to link their inventory, point-of-sale, and online systems across different stores and regions. City councils may want to integrate their traffic, parking, lighting, and waste management services across different areas and platforms. All of these solutions help companies be more efficient, cost-effective and sustainable.

To achieve these goals, organisations need a connectivity solution that can support their specific requirements, scale with their needs, and adapt to their changing environments. This is where partnering with a trusted service provider can make a difference. With platform-based IoT offerings, service providers can help organisations streamline their connectivity, customise their solutions, and manage their devices and data more effectively.

Safeguarding against threats

IoT solutions generate and transmit massive amounts of data, which can expose them to cyberattacks, breaches, or theft. Moreover, IoT devices can increase the attack surface for cyber threats, as they can be compromised or exploited by hackers to access sensitive information or disrupt operations.

For instance, a cyberattack on a smart grid could cause a power outage, affecting millions of customers and businesses. A breach of a smart healthcare system could expose confidential patient records, violating privacy and compliance regulations. A theft of a smart vehicle could enable criminals to track its location, endangering the driver and the cargo.

But in many IoT use cases, these endpoints are not adequately secured, making the whole ecosystem vulnerable. Securing these different devices across the entire IoT estate is a big challenge. So is leveraging the vast amount of data generated to make more informed business decisions.

To mitigate risk in an ever-evolving threat landscape, it’s critical that businesses create a broad cybersecurity strategy that covers their devices, networks, and data. This means implementing robust encryption, authentication, and monitoring capabilities, as well as complying with relevant standards and regulations, across borders. Partnering with an experienced cybersecurity provider can help organisations achieve this, as they can offer advanced threat management solutions that can detect, contain, and respond to security incidents effectively.

Enabling integration

A third challenge of IoT deployment is integrating the solutions with other technologies, such as analytics, automation, and artificial intelligence. While IoT offers significant benefits on its own, combining it with these technologies can unlock more opportunities to optimise performance, enhance decision-making and achieve sustainable growth.

For example, employees in a smart factory can use analytics to analyse data from sensors and machines, and identify patterns, trends, and anomalies. Teams can then enable automation to adjust processes and parameters in real-time, improving efficiency and quality. AI can also be used in tandem, to help teams earn from data and feedback, and generate insights and recommendations for improvement.

However, integrating these technologies can also introduce more complexity and challenges, such as data management, technology compatibility, and network performance. To address these, organisations need a flexible and secure network solution that can support their diverse and dynamic needs. This is where SD-WAN can help. By combining multiple connectivity options into one hybrid network, SD-WAN can enable an intelligent, automated, and adaptable approach to network management. It can also isolate IoT devices from the rest of the network, enhancing security and preventing attackers from accessing critical assets.

Demonstrating ROI

A final challenge of IoT deployment is demonstrating a return on investment. IoT solutions require significant upfront and ongoing costs, such as hardware, software, connectivity, security, and maintenance. To justify these costs, organisations need to show tangible benefits, such as cost savings, efficiency gains, and customer satisfaction.

For example, a smart energy system can provide real-time insights into energy consumption patterns for residential, commercial, and industrial users, improving energy conservation, optimizing tariffs, and promoting sustainable practices. IoT-enabled supply chain management can track the movement of food products from farm to market, ensuring timely delivery, reducing spoilage, and improving overall efficiency. A smart healthcare system can improve patient outcomes, staff productivity, and regulatory compliance, leading to better quality and reputation.

To achieve these benefits, organisations need to define clear and measurable objectives, monitor and evaluate their performance, and communicate their results. They also need to align their IoT strategy with their business strategy and adopt a digital fabric of solutions that addresses their specific challenges and opportunities. By doing so, they can maximise the value of their IoT investments and drive innovation and growth.

The future of IoT

In a world driven by data and connectivity, businesses that wait to take advantage of IoT solutions risk being left behind. By not investing, businesses will sacrifice their chance to get ahead of the competition – and inevitably deal with greater inefficiencies, difficultly adapting to market shifts and a limited potential for growth.