A whopping 97% of executives responsible for implementing IoT projects have concerns about security but are going ahead with projects anyway, according to a survey out this week from Microsoft. The software giant commissioned an independent firm to interview 3,000 IoT decision-makers at enterprise companies to understand that sector’s state of adoption for its first-ever “IoT Signals” report.
The results are not surprising, although they seem incredibly optimistic. For example, despite nearly all of the respondents having security concerns, 94% are planning an IoT implementation in the next two years. And 88% believe it will be critical for their business, comprising about 30% of their revenue during that time frame.
And yet, there are challenges. One of the biggest perceived barriers to implementation is scaling — taking a prototype or a pilot process across an entire company or production line. This is not a new challenge. What works at 100 sensors becomes unwieldy at 10,000. The types of solutions needed at that level also change. For example, configuration and error detection become far more challenging at scale and should be automated.
Lifecycle management, which is the ability to understand the status of the software and functioning of a sensor or gateway, also needs to be automated. As part of that, people responsible for the system have to know where the physical devices are and be able to access them. As sensor densities increase, even the physical necessities of serving a device will likely become the responsibility of robots as opposed to people.
Though for now, that’s a bit far-fetched. Based on this survey, IoT may increase the efficiency, productivity, and safety of workers across the board. However, it’s not resulting in fewer jobs at the moment. A third of those surveyed said they don’t have the staff to handle their IoT projects. Without sufficient staff, the respondents typically said their projects took longer to reach a point where they were “in use.” It took those with sufficient workers to reach the “in use” phase an average of nine months as opposed to a year.
When I asked Sam George, Microsoft’s head of IoT, about the lack of skilled workers, he said the survey didn’t delve into what is missing. But in his role helping companies build IoT solutions, he’s observed that many of them struggle to find folks that can build out a cloud-based system to handle incoming messages and manage devices at scale. “That’s really the realm of very talented cloud solution developers, and there’s a pretty significant shortage of those worldwide,” he says. “And so right now, my perception is that one of the most critical shortages is cloud solution developers.”
Which makes sense given that Microsoft provides exactly the types of products to address this shortfall of cloud developers. As someone who discusses IoT projects with companies, I can say with certainty that figuring out how to build a scaled-out IoT solution in the cloud is a challenge, and there are few folks out there with those skills — and those that do have them tend to get snapped up by the large cloud companies.
But I can also say that from an employee strategy standpoint, once you build and start using IoT in day-to-day operations your workers will need training to level up to the new tech. And it’s not simply a matter of training people how to reboot a device or building a new process around automated alerts coming from sensored machines. It will also include giving workers more autonomy to make decisions when alerts happen.
Once automation takes on basic tasks, workers have to be trained to handle the resulting alerts and notifications of looming problems. I also believe that with increasing automation workers will have new jobs to tackle, which will require even more skills. Though in industries where there is a shortage of skilled labor, the efficiencies wrought by IoT will help mitigate those shortages.
The study has a lot of good data, especially when it comes to where different industries are deploying IoT. It’s also full of the usual remonstrations about having executive buy-in and a strong use case to help move projects from the pilot to the production phase. It’s clear that those surveyed believe in the power of data to help improve their operations even as they are struggling to scale, secure, and implement the internet of things.
Time will tell if this is as game-changing as people think, and will also show where the as-yet unforeseen cracks in implementation lie.
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