Cisco: How to get the most value out of IoT

By Georgia Wilson
Business Chief speaks with Vikas Butaney, Vice President & General Manager, Cisco IoT on how to get the most value out of the internet of things (IoT...

Taking it back to basics, what is IoT?

Vikas Butaney, Vice President and General Manager of Cisco IoT, defines the internet of things (IoT) as a set of technologies that extends connectivity to edge devices and a wide range of ‘things’ to extract value from business data and accelerate digitalisation. An example of IoT powered devices in an operational setting include automated robots that need to work 24/7 with no interruption in their communications in a pick and pack distribution centre or manufacturing facility. 

In all cases where IoT is deployed, Butaney emphasises the importance of a secure and reliable communication system as foundational to success with this technology. 

Top five tips for successfully implementing an IoT strategy

  1. Be strategic and maintain focus. It is important to understand the objectives and use cases before designing IoT connectivity and solutions.
  2. Avoid having a site by site, custom deployment of IoT. Instead, define company-wide standards, which are deployed step by step across the company as facilities are built or refreshed. “This standard approach will drive the greatest amount of efficiency at all levels of the organisation.”
  3. Establish cross-functional teams that have shared business objectives. 
  4. Ensure that technology partners have a high level of experience in your industry and the market power to maintain business operations for decades. Butaney notes that “these types of operational settings have a long shelf life. It is important to make sure that IoT solutions do too.”
  5. In addition to ensuring technology partners have a high level of industry experience, it is also important to engage IoT partners at every stage to accelerate learning and overcome challenges.

The benefits of IoT

Productivity improvements: the capabilities of IoT are enabling improved operational efficiency such as: reduced downtime, improved resilience and efficiency, as well as improved output and speed. 

New customer experiences: Cisco’s Control Center connects over 60 million cars, enabling new driver experiences, shile machine builders and device makers use Cisco Control Center to connect 100 million devices offering their customers new capabilities.

Improving the way people work: improving workplace safety, productivity, efficiency and revenue. 

The challenges of IoT

Complexity: frequently operational settings across industries are legacy systems that have been around for decades. As a result rolling out new solutions with IoT can be complex.

Security: when deploying IoT solutions, organisations need visibility on what is connected and potential threats. It is important for organisations to leverage IoT security tools to ensure that they are not vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Scalability: With IoT being complex to deploy and manage at scale. Butaney explains that IoT projects require a strong partnership between IT and OT in order to build scalable and secure projects for lower lifetime TCO. “Bespoke projects are hard to sustain over time.”

IoT trends to keep an eye on as we come to the end of 2020

With 75 billion IoT devices expected to be connected by 2025, Butaney details that “securely connecting IoT devices is paramount,” but requires a new level of security vigilance than before. As a result it is important to implement IoT security solutions outside of traditional network firewalls. In doing this, IoT devices can be connected securely and continuously monitored for potential threats.

Another key trend highlighted by Butaney is the increased demand for high bandwidth, low latency wireless. With the increase in connected devices on the move, “this wireless connectivity to ‘things’ in motion is frequently much more demanding than connecting data to people over wireless. Video and mission critical communications over wireless in mining, ports, manufacturing, trains and roadways are exploding edge bandwidth requirements and requiring new wireless technologies to support near-zero latency connectivity.”

In addition to security and high bandwidth, low latency wireless, Butaney highlights the role 5G will play in the future of IoT. “Wireless technologies are a key pillar of IoT and 5G has huge promise,” comments Butaney, who also states that, by 2023, 34% of all mobile connections will be IoT connections, up from 13% in 2018. However, he does emphasise that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. “Think of your mobile phone: one type of wireless technology doesn’t meet all your needs. You have LTE/5G cellular, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, and NFC - at least five wireless technologies - each with their strengths and weaknesses that address specific goals. The same is true for connectivity needs in IoT deployments.”

With organisations needing a cohesive strategy that doesn’t result in costs, complexity and security risks, particularly in a post COVID-19 world, Butaney explains that there is an increased need for business resiliency and remote operations. “These needs are driving an evolution of automation systems to be more end-to-end connected, more autonomous, and able to be remotely supervised via IoT connectivity.”

Butaney recommends a four-step process for picking the right IoT wireless technology to reduce costs, complexity and security risks:

  1. Decide what IoT device you are going to connect 
  2. Decide the application requirements - latency, reliability, cost, thrupu, etc
  3. Decide the deployment scope - indoors or outdoors, over miles or a few hundred feet
  4. Assess the technology options against those requirements

Overall, Butaney expects IoT to continue to deliver radical transformation across industries. “In a sense, the future is now. IoT is already critical today for many businesses. This will only become more pervasive.” Just a few examples of the future and current impacts of IoT include: connecting intersections to reduce traffic and improve road safety; connecting robots to reduce machine downtime through predictive maintenance; and connecting workers to improve worker safety ( measuring worker proximity in an age of pandemics).

Emerging IoT trends as a result of COVID-19

IoT has become a CXO-level conversation again: IoT’s value proposition is rapidly expanding from productivity, efficiency, and new services to enabling the board-level topic of 2020 - business resiliency. Businesses need to rapidly adjust operations based upon the workforce availability, supply chain interruptions, and changing customer expectations – exactly the places where IoT now sits.

IoT is delivering secure remote operations: over the last few years, the focus for IoT was on connecting devices to tap into new data for analytics. Now, in response to COVID, there is an added requirement to enable remote operations for both business resiliency and cost efficiency. This will fundamentally change how IoT devices will be connected.

IoT is now accelerating the move to a new class of networking: companies need secure remote access to IoT devices for diagnostics and remote technicians, in addition to remote controlling and operating IoT devices. This new dependence on IoT raises the bar on secure remote access requirements, including:

  • Connectivity for IoT devices requiring increased bandwidth
  • Extremely low latency wireless connectivity for applications at high speed
  • Cybersecurity to protect expansion of the threat surface
  • Network automation to make deploying and managing IoT devices at scale doable with finite resources
  • Edge computing for when going to the cloud is too slow to support real-time edge processes and analysis is needed closer to the IoT device

For more information on business topics in Europe, Middle East and Africa please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief EMEA.

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