The internet first promised businesses a faster and more direct way to interact with customers from the point of sale through to the supply chain. Small businesses who mastered the web discovered that they had access to a much larger market at a lower cost than traditional methods. Over time, internet services such as IT infrastructure hosting, software as a service (SAAS), mobile connectivity and a host of new applications (“apps”) has transformed the landscape for business information systems.
The internet of things (IOT) stretches the definition of IT and information systems to entirely new realms. For example, the desire to monitor things remotely; that is, the ability to view information and even live video of any device from a refrigerator to corporate vehicle to a wireless HD security camera to an agricultural pump located in a remote field. The information from these devices flows to a central storage system for analysis and subsequent or simultaneous feeding to a smart phone anywhere in the world.
Along with the proliferation of new devices and technologies driving the concept of the internet of things – or everything, we are simultaneously entering a world of “big data”. The basic principle of the big data concept is for businesses to capture as much data as possible regarding customer behavior, relationships and interactions. This requires extremely large data storage farms and sophisticated knowledge management tools for analyzing and revealing patterns, trends and associations that provide insights to support marketing, sales and product decisions.
In the early days of online transaction processing systems, even those performed over the internet as recently as the mid-1990s, systems were designed to capture only enough information to support the transaction and perhaps some demographics about the customer. Efficiency was the name of the game as storage and networks were considered limited and expensive resources. Big data has changed all of that in two compounding ways. First, the ability to collect information about individuals over the internet has exploded with the advent of social media and the routine online presence of mobile users. Second, the nature of the ‘data’ is no longer simply a few alphanumeric characters that do not consume much network or storage bandwidth.
Indeed, the data being collected includes photographs, videos and a host of other information that may or may not be relevant to the specific opportunity between the business and this ‘prospect’. The demands on network bandwidth, storage capacity, computing power and data analysis software has been a boon to the providers of these technologies. For businesses, this explosion of new data types, volumes of information (“content”) and the unabated demand for connectivity of anything and everything presents significant challenges.
One major challenge is security risk. Each new device, connection and data type presents a new method by which malicious attacks can be launched on an unsuspecting enterprise. Where is the firewall in the internet of everything where all devices and all data is connected to corporate information systems in a thousand different ways? In addition to the technology challenges with security, consider also the people who use that technology and the unprecedented access they may have to information systems. Many of these are employees whose status may change before they lose access to important systems and many are third parties enabled by the internet of things and the ubiquitous ‘cloud’.
Another major challenge is the complexity and cost of adopting these new technologies. Many large corporations are already laboring under the strain of the unwieldy and often underestimated complex ERP systems implementation and integration. Add the internet of things, cloud computing and big data to the mix, and you have the recipe for implosion of the IT department. Already strained by budget woes, lack of responsiveness to user departments, inability to adapt to change and apparent firewalled project management processes, the IT department does not stand a chance.
Although the CIO and the IT department experience most of the pressure brought on by these challenges, business leaders must recognize this is not an ‘IT problem’. Indeed, the risks to security, access to customer data and the ability to connect everything and everyone are business priorities first. To maintain control over vital information systems and compete effectively in this new dynamic world requires a new form of adaptive partnership between the business leaders and IT; one based on a need for the business to respond to market changes and new technologies. To achieve sustainability, organizations must learn to adapt to inevitable change without compromising their core business systems.