South African companies are preparing themselves for more widespread adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) to transform their business and improve their operations in 2017. Despite the potential this holds across consumer and business segments, decision-makers need to be cognisant that behind the promise and buzz the IoT offers, the availability of data will be critical to its success.
Gartner estimated that the IoT would have supported total services of $235 billion by the end of 2016. But when you also consider that by 2020, 20.8 billion ‘things’ will be connected to the internet (up from 4.9 billion in 2015), the possibilities for how big the sector could become are vast.
The IoT Barometer 2016, commissioned by Vodafone, also found that 90 percent of local companies felt that IoT was important for their future success with 88 percent seeing value in IoT and that it required considerable financial and time investment.
When implemented correctly, IoT can substantially increase productivity and enhance quality of life through the useful data collected. For many businesses, IoT solutions and services offer the possibility of new revenue streams, better decision-making and increased profitability.
A manufacturing business can reduce both downtime and support costs, and enhance technical support through remote monitoring. The healthcare sector has also been quick to adopt IoT to track health information – including foetal heartbeats and blood glucose levels, which has helped reduce the need for direct patient-physician interaction.
Another example is where South African insurers are using IoT sensors for not just vehicle tracking and recovery but also to monitor driver behaviour and vehicle usage monitoring. This shows them when vehicles need to be serviced and enables them to lower risk and offer better premiums to careful drivers and responsible logistics companies.
Similarly, in agriculture IoT solutions help track rainfall patterns and temperatures. This, incorporated with historical data, best help determine fire risk and also ideal times to plant crops.
Soon we will approach a time where we take this type of sensor-based technology for granted. But this increased dependence on IoT, connected devices, and connected services, brings with it the pressure to ensure that these services operate without any interruptions. Data must be made available at all times to allow the intelligence to be unlocked. For the IoT momentum to continue, service levels must be maintained and the availability of data must be the chief priority.
Failure to deliver always-on access to IoT services, particularly in these early stages, could severely hamper the uptake of the technology and perceptions of the brands utilising them. Poor service and connectivity will make consumers think twice about paying for, and placing trust in, connected devices.
Counting the cost
Financial loss is just one threat for those who cannot guarantee service availability.
The 2016 Veeam Availability Report, has found that downtime costs enterprise-sized organisations an average of $16 million annually. Meanwhile, 68 percent of IT decision-makers acknowledge that the impact of downtime can affect customers’ confidence in the organisation and the brand.
The biggest challenge for IoT is to ensure that a service meets the high expectation that customer data, which is increasingly stored in the cloud, is available for a user where they want it, when they want it. This requirement makes it essential for businesses adopting IoT to have the right disaster recovery and backup solution in place to ensure availability in an increasingly connected, digital age. Having such a strategy in place could see downtime reduced from hours to a matter of minutes.
As a first step, the business should ensure it has regular backups and snapshots from which data can be restored quickly. However, it is not just as simple as having a backup. The current backup and replication standards in most businesses mean that they just settle for a low performing, legacy backup solution that cannot keep up with the multiple environments in which their data sits – let alone testing those backups to ensure they are of a quality that can be used in the event of a crisis.
From a security perspective, the increased flow of connected device data must also be protected against loss and unauthorised access. To avoid the threat of data loss, businesses must deploy near-continuous data protection, verify their protection to guarantee recovery, and use appropriate encryption tools to protect against unauthorised access.
Veeam research has found that, while organisations have increased their service level requirements to minimise application downtime (96 percent) or guarantee access to data (94 percent) to some extent over the past two years, many are still making costly errors. With IoT becoming an important asset in people’s lives, failure to recover data in a timely manner is not only inconvenient, but also potentially fatal. Reconnecting users to their devices and services must be the number one priority in such instances.
Getting a grip on availability
Forward-thinking businesses are now incorporating availability into their data centre strategies and modernisation plans. Virtualisation is now mainstream and few applications are not deemed mission-critical by a company or its customers.
As IoT continues to transform industries, making experiences at home and work more efficient, businesses must ensure availability is built-in to the planning of these deployments. Technologies such as IoT are enabling highly disruptive business models and, along with blockchain and artificial intelligence platforms, show promise in delivering competitive advantages. But these advantages will not be realised if the exponential rise of data that comes with them is unable to be managed and kept available.
IT leaders therefore need to properly assess these platforms and ensure a solid availability strategy is in place to underpin their digital goals. With availability at the centre of an IoT strategy, innovation can occur, consumer trust will build, and the business will reap the benefits of digitalisation.
By Claude Schuck