The Internet of Things -- IoT -- is the network of devices that connect to the Internet without needing humans. Smart sensors, security devices, wireless audio systems, self-finding pallets and RFID badges can all be part of an IoT system. Internet of Things adoption in the US has reached the point that, in 2017, a Wisconsin tech company offered RFID tracking tags as implants to their workers, letting them tap into the internet without any devices.
The benefits of these connected devices are huge. Your building can run more efficiently. Your warehouse can find its own contents. Workers can come in to a perfectly lit and climate controlled space every morning. Conference rooms can tell your workers when they are open. And everyone's favorite music can follow them. Productivity, security and efficiency can all be improved in a fully connected workspace. But this technology is not a panacea, and it comes with significant drawbacks.
First and foremost, the IoT only works when you have an Internet and power to keep it running. If your data connection goes down, your power goes down or your local network infrastructure fails, none of those automated systems will work. While it might be a slight inconvenience to not have background music following your workers, being unable to find stock in a warehouse can rapidly become expensive. Having climate control or life safety systems in your building fail due to outages can be not only expensive but also dangerous.
Connecting every device and sensor in your workplace and then using big data techniques to analyze the information that comes from them can give you amazing insights into your business. You can tell which rooms are used most often, or which hallways are choke points. Imagine knowing which of your (expensive and leased) copy machines sit unused, or which rooms are always too cold so that you can fix a leaky window seal. All of this data also gives you the opportunity to track your workers in ways that might make them -- or you -- uncomfortable. Knowing all of their comings and goings and interactions (this is easy to do by tracking the Bluetooth or WiFi signals of their company provided devices) can rapidly cross the line into being intrusive.
Hand in hand with the privacy challenges that come with embracing the IoT are additional security challenges. Putting large quantities of data in a single repository can be dangerous -- although your company has probably figured out this challenge with its HR and accounting systems, among others. Add in the fact that an IoT system can easily involve thousands of devices -- any one of which could be insecure -- and you see how risky connecting everything can become. Security issues are already being reported -- including attacks on heating controllers in Finland and data theft through a connected aquarium.
The promises of the IoT are significant and real. However, so are the risks. As your company moves towards connecting more devices, build a solid security plan and carefully consider the deeper implications.
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