The Internet of Things: Managing the influx of data

Stijn Christiaens of Collibra

The Internet of Things (IoT) has brought about radical transformations across a range of industries over recent years, for instance optimising fleet management to improving crop production in agriculture. Yet, says Collibra’s CTO and co-founder, Stijn Christiaens, there is a common thread that lies at the heart of all these business transformations: the importance of data.

As more ‘things’ become internet-enabled, they will invariably collect more data, which will need to be aggregated, stored and analysed. This, along with the evolution of new technologies, will only accelerate momentum. Advancements in sensor equipment will enable more data to be gathered with greater accuracy and granularity at lower costs. Complementing this will be new networking technologies, such as 5G networks and improved satellite communications. Combined, these technologies will provide the necessary bandwidth and coverage required to aggregate information from the growing army of end-point sensors

Monetising data assets

Any organisation engaged in IoT will be amassing datasets that have the potential to become extremely valuable. But exactly how that data is utilised – and potentially monetised – will differ across sectors.

Internet-enabled ‘things’ cover a very wide range of use cases. They include retail products such as wearable devices, medical implants, cars, doorbells, thermostats or kitchen appliances; corporate devices covering everything from electricity meters, weather sensors, close circuit television and fleet tracking devices, through to agricultural sensors, commercial drones and industrial machinery; or they can be owned by governments looking to promote smarter cities, enhance security surveillance or better monitor and manage infrastructure.

With such a wide range of applications and use cases, the way that organisations utilise IoT data will inevitably vary. Some might see the data as an opportunity to optimise their operations. For example, an electricity company can utilise data gathered from IoT-enabled smart meters as well as weather sensors to better model and predict energy consumption patterns, to help optimise pricing and capacity planning strategies.

Other organisations could see data gathered by IoT devices become an integral part of their product offering. For example, data collected by wearable health-tracking devices can help insurers provide more accurate and customised quotes to customers. This has become of increasing importance and value to providers of life and medical insurance.

Privacy concerns: more data, more problems?

The diverse nature of IoT use cases presents varying levels of privacy concerns. For example, few would question the merits of an industrial manufacturer using data collected by IoT sensors to safeguard the health and safety of employees. Nor that of governments measuring physical stresses on bridges and buildings to safeguard their structural integrity.

Yet there are countless other use cases where ethical dilemmas will present themselves, for instance those in consumer technology. Take the rise of smart home devices such as smart speakers and digital assistants – gadgets such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home are becoming increasingly ubiquitous – and technology conglomerates are collecting massive amounts of consumer data to potentially use to further other areas of their business.

While consumers are increasingly integrating more internet-enabled devices into their homes, they are also afflicted by concerns regarding the personal data collected by those devices. Though regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are already protecting consumers’ rights over their data, these regulations are still in their infancy, and have yet to prove the effects of its full enforcement.

Data governance holds the key

Just as new IoT datasets have the power to drive digital transformation strategies, they also carry potential liabilities if not properly controlled. Strong data governance holds the key to reaping the benefits of data-driven business transformation, while simultaneously mitigating the risks.

However, it is important to note that data governance is a multi-faceted challenge – it cannot be solved purely through technology. People, process and policies will be equally important to implementing an effective data governance strategy.

Any enterprise implementing IoT based strategies will need a data governance framework in place. This will not only require board-level sponsorship, but also grass roots engagement across the enterprise, with individuals taking responsibility and accountability for the way data is used. Collectively, an enterprise will need to keep a constant handle on exactly which datasets are being collected. They will need to know where that data is stored, how it is secured, and what restrictions are placed on its use, including retention policies and any rules relating to data sovereignty.

While the IoT trend still has a long way to play out, getting data governance right will be a key factor in determining which firms succeed.

The author is Collibra’s CTO and co-founder, Stijn Christiaens.

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