Industrial IoT: Walk before you can run

Ben Boswell of World Wide Technology

Successful IoT projects are security driven and focused on business needs, says Ben Boswell, UK & Ireland director of World Wide Technology.

As an area of business investment, industrial IoT (IIoT) already has the potential to deliver concrete results – we have seen a company predict nearly US$1 billion in savings in 2017 as a result of smart IoT implementation.

Predictive maintenance, advanced modelling and dynamic scheduling are just a handful of transformative technologies that are creating a ‘4th Industrial Revolution’ and facilitating a new era of digitisation for industrial firms. Predictive maintenance alone is set to become a $4.9 billion industry as more sectors realise the potential of smart manufacturing.

However, as last year’s Mirai botnet attacked confirmed, IoT implementation needs to be carried out cautiously and from the bottom up. Rushed projects may expose sensitive industrial operations to cyber-attack, putting profitability and client confidence at risk.

A significant factor is that many IoT sensors and devices are simply not secure enough straight ‘out of the box,’ and networks in industrial settings are not primed for the influx of traffic. Default passwords and unconfigured hardware are often overlooked vulnerabilities that can cause havoc if left unattended.

When making the leap into industrial IoT deployment it is essential that businesses engage a trusted advisor who has strong connections with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and understands their products intimately.

The planning and design of IoT projects should start with a detailed network assessment before any work takes place. Often in Industrial IoT, modern and secure equipment is connected to old and vulnerable Industrial Control Systems. This means that firms often need a preliminary step of moving to understand where their vulnerabilities lie, before working to eliminate them.

Also, firms need to consider what is mission-critical and what is non-essential. This can avoid the kind of problem recently seen at one large US University which has allowed trivial devices such as drinks machines to be connected to the core network, causing havoc with sensitive documents.

Taking a collaborative approach, senior executives should be engaged to give a business-focus to the IoT project. All too often vanity projects unnecessarily ‘put a chip in’ and fail to solve a business need.

In a recent project we saw how an analytics-led IoT implementation boosted both operational uptime and efficiency in a fleet of mine trucks. The trucks were linked with connected sensors, facilitating predictive maintenance as well as analytics based efficiency savings through route-tracking. Key to the project’s success was engagement with high level executives as well as engineers on the ground.

Perhaps most important to remember is that the best form of defence against cyber-attack is not only an array of the latest tools and countermeasures. Having a team that is well informed and knowledgeable about the network capabilities offers a very strong and adaptable form of protection. An ounce of common sense is far more valuable than throwing money at an IoT project without focus.

For those businesses taking a holistic approach to IoT infrastructure – with a keen focus on business outcomes and existing IoT networks – there is a lot of potential to make competitive gains against less agile rivals.

Without full consideration of the business need and the critical underlying IT infrastructure, there is the risk of wasting investment or even creating network and security issues. Working smarter not harder and taking time at the outset to define the specific impact desired from an IoT initiative is time very well spent.

The author of this blog is Ben Boswell, UK & Ireland director of World Wide Technology

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