Interop 2015: It’s Time for the Internet of Business Things

Is the Internet of Things ready for the enterprise? It’s a question that’s front-and-center in my mind as Avaya gears up for this year’s Interop conference in Las Vegas.

To help frame the question, consider the parallels between what’s currently happening with the Internet of Things and what has already occurred in the Application Service Provider model.

Not too long ago, Application Service Delivery dominated the headlines of trade publications and thought leadership articles. The concept–that enterprises wanted to host their software applications externally–was sound. ASP launched with great promise, but never managed to gain widespread adoption.

Later, Salesforce.com launched, introducing Software-as-a-Service into the enterprise vernacular.

Instead of a vendor hosting lots of instances of unique software applications, the vendor hosted its own application, and delivered the entire solution over the Web in a multi-tenant model.

SaaS was more economical, faster to deploy and more scalable than ASP. SaaS took the core concept of ASP (that enterprises wanted to host their software applications externally) but refined the model, finally making it viable for business.

Parallels with IoT

Similarly, there’s a lot of hype around the Internet of Things.

Experts envision a world where each of us will own or interact with dozens of Internet-connected devices each day–turning on Internet–connected lightbulbs on our way to our Internet-connected refrigerators, our smartphones gathering biometric data from our Internet-connected wristwatches, getting into our Internet-connected cars to commute to work. Once we get to work, our Internet-connected devices will interact with the enterprise, giving us access to the network and federated business applications.

The concept behind enterprise IoT–that mobility will permanently and positively impact business–is sound.

But like the ASP-to-SaaS trend, it seems that practical models have yet to emerge to cause IoT to go mainstream in the enterprise. In a very focused way, Avaya has introduced the beginning of what will likely be a practical implementation of IoT for business.

The Internet of Business Things

Look around any large office–there are hundreds, if not thousands–of Internet-connected devices. These devices are critical for business and can consume an enormous amount of IT time to configure, secure and maintain.

Last year, Avaya introduced the capability for IT staff to simply plug a known device (such as a network switch, wireless access point or video surveillance camera) into an Ethernet port, and automatically be recognized by an enterprise-wide networking fabric, which provisions a secure virtual network instance and maintain that configuration dynamically. The benefits to the enterprise are immense–IT staff can now focus on strategic projects rather than rote device configuration.

SDN Fx

What about unknown devices? Most companies have thousands of Internet-connected devices they’d like to get on the network in a secure manner.

Avaya recently announced its software-defined networking architecture, SDN Fx. One of the key features is the Open Networking Adapter. Simply plug unknown devices into the Open Networking Adapter, a device that’s about the size of a deck of cards.

An Open Daylight-powered controller associates the Open Networking Adapter to the device, now making it a known device. Once associated, all services and security policies follow the device. Those permissions get reset and disabled if the device is removed from the networking environment.

Workers simply connect the adapters themselves, allowing the automated process to fully configure the device. This reduces operational costs and frees up IT staff for more strategic tasks.

For the Internet of Business Things to become a reality, we need to improve the delivery model for the concept–much like SaaS did with the concept behind ASP. Avaya’s SDN Fx is the delivery model that will make the Internet of Business Things practical and widespread.

We’ll be demonstrating this capability (and showing off the Open Networking Adapter) at Interop booth #2033. Join us to see what the future of IoT in the enterprise looks like.

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A Business-First Approach to Digital Transformation

In part I of this series, we explored the definitions of Digital Transformation, IoT, and Smart Enterprise.

Digital transformation goes beyond normal organizational evolution. It is a metamorphosis enabled by new sources of information and new ways to interact with an organization’s eco-system. It’s said that “necessity is the mother of invention”—meaning we are satisfied with the status quo until some external force motivates us to change. An evolutionary breakthrough requires an external force that threatens organisms’ very existence—they must adapt or die. The Ice Age was a massive external force that caused many organisms to change. Likewise, today digital transformation is forcing change in businesses. And note that today’s external forces behave more like an incoming meteor than a slow-moving glacier. Slow evolution will not work here.

Over the last three decades, we have seen organizations change with the Information Age. The Data Warehouse phase illustrated valuable information existed in operational financial data that could be used to improve efficiencies within organizations. While working for EMC (now DellEMC), I had a lot of conversations with customers about building storage infrastructures for data warehouses. When sizing a storage infrastructure, knowing how much data is going to be written and how long the data will be stored is required. I was always amazed at how little guidance was provided to IT organizations from the sponsoring Business Unit as to the amount of data needed to be stored in the warehouse. The BU didn’t know what data they were going to collect, nor did they have any idea how long the data would need to be stored. We were often faced with sizing a project to collect everything and keep it forever. Bottom line: the BU didn’t have a clear set of objectives and believed if they didn’t jump on the data warehouse bandwagon, they would be destined to fail.

I am of the opinion that many organizations today are facing similar situations with IoT. Amara’s Law states, “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” Gartner’s research methodology, based on Amara’s Law, portrays its curved Hype Cycle in five phases. We may never know exactly where we are on the Hype Cycle—we can only tell where we were. For example, we can’t identify the peak until we see a decline.

I think we are somewhere on the left-ascending slope with inflated expectations and believe we have yet to reach the peak. I also consider the trough is an industry phenomenon and one that individual organizations don’t necessarily have to experience. It is the old story of missing goals: was the goal too high and, therefore, unattainable or was the goal appropriate and execution was faulty? Accurate goals are predicted by experiences. New technologies, by their nature, are hard to accurately predict since we don’t have the experience to base the prediction upon.

A Digital Transformation Game Plan

Just because we are early in the hype phase doesn’t mean organizations shouldn’t be investing in IoT, but they should think business first and technology second. For example, when data warehouse customers approached their projects with a clear set of business challenges and objectives in mind, their projects were more successful than those who led with technology. This doesn’t mean that organizations that started with technology first weren’t eventually successful; they just spent more time and resources getting there.

A smart enterprise is one that looks at their place in the world today, seeks to understand how their environment is changing, determines how they need to evolve, and looks to technology, people, processes and data to determine how to reach their goals. As I point out in my blog about data loss, if you defined yourself in the 80s as being in the record business, you had a short life expectancy. But, if you defined yourself as being in the music business and were able to take advantage of the digital transformation at the time, your brick and mortar storefront could have evolved into a worldwide enterprise. As history showed, it was the new businesses that profited from the digital music industry emergence.

An Illustrative Example

Let’s take a look at a couple of anonymous hoteliers—Property A and Property B. Both properties are full-service five-star providers catering to business and leisure travelers. Both are seeking to improve their on-premises guest experiences. Marketing at Property A has determined their customers want star treatment. Their customers are looking for a high-touch experience, where the staff and employees know their names and can anticipate their every need (based on past experience). Property B determined their customers want a fully-automated experience—minimizing staff interaction, while maximizing guest independence. Both organizations:

  • Set clear objectives
  • Identified the loyalty app on their guests’ smart phones as the key to providing the desired guest experience

When a guest arrives at the front desk at Property A, the concierge greets them by name with their room reservation already pulled up on the console. The guest’s loyalty phone app identified the guest with the property’s wireless location-based service, prompting the guest’s photo to be displayed on the concierge’s console. When the guest stepped up the desk, the concierge selected the correct picture to get the guest’s information displayed on the screen. To the guest, it appears the concierge personally recognized them like they were a sports or entertainment star.

When a guest arrives at Property B, the guest’s loyalty phone app signals the wireless location-based service that the guest has arrived. The guest is checked into the hotel automatically. The guest room number and electronic key is pushed to the app on the phone and the guest goes directly to their room without ever talking to property personnel. The app may even provide turn-by-turn directions for the guest to get to their room in order to avoid asking for directions.

Both properties are similar with two different business goals. Looking at the two solutions from the Internet of Everything (IoE) perspective presented in part one of this series:

  • IoT: In these examples, an app on the smart phone is the networked device.
  • Data: The high-touch model requires photos of the guest and/or their family members. Property B needs to tie PCI information to the app with requisite data protection requirements.
  • Processes: These solutions need to tie the new functionality into the existing systems. If these properties belong to chains, how will information be updated and shared with the other properties. Will data be replicated locally on-demand when guests book a reservation? How long will it take for data to be updated? If the guest books a reservation from the parking lot or cab, will the data be ready when the guest walks into the lobby?
  • People/Personnel: Property A needs to train the desk clerks and other personnel that are expected to provide the star treatment to guests. Sensitivity training on how to handle the guest accompanied by a woman that does not look like his wife would be valuable. Property B personnel need to be trained how to respond when the app doesn’t work correctly and how to interject themselves into the process with minimal impact and maximum efficiency to the guest.

For more about digital transformation in hospitality, read the Avaya blog Five Ways Hotels Can Build a Successful Digital Strategy.

IoT and other emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence, are providing the capability to respond to environmental pressures and business opportunities in significantly new ways. I propose that while everyone will be successful with IoT (eventually) or become extinct, the enterprises that start with business requirements first and apply technology (old and new) second, will become smart sooner and last longer.

Wrangling the IoT: The Next-Gen Architecture We’ve All Been Waiting For

Technologies like AI, the IoT, virtual reality and data analytics are no longer enterprise luxuries, but means of survival in an era of rapid digital disruption. They’re transforming traditional processes, redefining roles and responsibilities, and reimaging the customer/brand relationship. Consider that five years from now, more than one-third of skills needed in today’s workforce will look different because of technological advancement. Three years from now, 100 million consumers are expected to be shopping in virtual reality. Data algorithms are now being used to positively alter the behavior of workers.

These technologies are no longer the basis for science-fiction movies like “The Terminator” or “The Matrix.” They’re here and now. Today, millions of people can watch chatbots argue with each other for entertainment. People are spending days in virtual reality, essentially living in an alternate universe.

Who’s to say that far-reaching movie plots like “Her” and “I, Robot” won’t become reality 30 years from now? We can’t say for sure, however, one thing we do know is that businesses must transition from legacy, hierarchal architecture to a next-generation platform so they can flexibly respond at today’s speed of digital change.

In a recent blog, I explored five key areas of this next-generation platform that every business must consider: next-gen IT, the IoT, AI/automation, an open ecosystem, and the customer/citizens experience. I tackled the first of these five areas: next-gen IT. Now, let’s explore what businesses should know about a next-generation platform in terms of the IoT.

The Only Way to Bring Legacy into Today’s Next-Gen World of IoT

Capitalizing on the IoT is an exponential challenge when core systems and applications are still running in a legacy-dependent environment. To succeed, companies must bring legacy into today’s next-generation world of IoT—a process with its own set of unique challenges.

For starters, the IoT is a vast and loosely defined concept. Some define the IoT simply as sensorous technology. Others, the interworking of various embedded devices that can collect and exchange data. The way I see it, anything that can connect to either a network or provide any sort of service (not just data collection and exchange) should be considered part of the IoT. Because virtually anything can be considered part of the IoT, it becomes difficult to implement one single solution designed to target all IoT requirements. Because of this, we see many IoT solutions on the market today (i.e., Bluetooth, WiFi, ZigBee, LPWAN) that support a range of different requirements.

These solutions also typically don’t use IP protocols, making them impractical in today’s world of any-to-any communication. With billions of connected devices in use today, companies must migrate away from non-IP technologies towards converged architecture to begin building process workflow automation based on IoT analytics. For example, consider a utility company that can automatically notify customers of the impact of an impending weather storm based on predictive analytics from sensors deployed throughout its power lines. The provider can then increase the reliability of their services while keeping customers informed on the severity of the storm using real-time data. As you can see, breaking the silos between various “data sets” (Big Data) is the key to building workflows that are impactful to customers and/or citizens.

The end goal of the IoT is to create automated (and in many cases data-driven) processes that generate the exact business or customers/citizens outcome you’re looking for. The right technology foundation is essential for turning this goal into a practical reality.

So, what’s the answer? An open, software-enabled, meshed architecture platform. This next-generation platform makes it easy to migrate from legacy architecture to begin securely deploying IoT devices that drive higher levels of efficiency:

  • Open, SDN architecture supports unmatched levels of IoT intelligence. The platform continuously learns and changes conditions as needed via constantly updated traffic flows. Consider, for example, asset utilization reports that detail up-to-the-minute operational activity, enabling decision makers to change course as needed for continual improvement and cost savings. Meanwhile, an open-sourced ecosystem offers programmable APIs that allow companies to customize their IoT services and applications to meet their exact needs.
  • End-to-end network segmentation delivers built-in, point-to-point security for up to 168,000 devices that can run on any vendor’s network. This is achieved through three core components—hyper-segmentation, native stealth and automated elasticity—that work in unison to effectively isolate and filter traffic from IoT device to destination. End-to-end network segmentation is inherently designed to secure the IoT ecosystem, and yet only 23% of companies currently have such a solution deployed.
  • An SDN-based IoT controller seamlessly manages the integrated IoT environment. Based on a multi-protocol controller that manages all service modules within the framework, the IoT controller can assign service profiles to open networking adaptors, manage interfaces into SDN program environments, expose north and southbound APIs, and more.

The fact is this: the IoT is a reality that’s only going to substantially accelerate. Three years from now, it’s expected that companies will be spending up to $2 trillion on IoT devices. Five years from now, analysts predict that the IoT will save consumers and businesses $1 trillion per year. In this same period, though, it’s expected that more than 25% of identified enterprise attacks will involve the IoT. During this time, many businesses will continue to struggle with IoT security and management.

We’re only seeing the beginning of what can be achieved with the IoT, but these possibilities are limited without the right technology foundation. The last three decades have seen humans manually providing input to generate desired outcomes, whereas digital enterprises are now using sensors as the input mechanism, combined with sophisticated automated workflows. Scary one may say, but nonetheless our reality.

Think about it: does a self-driving car need any input from humans? Not if the vehicle knows the driver’s calendar, destination and location of people you may need to pick up. It will automatically take the preferred route to keep you on time, find the closest parking space (smart parking), and even, if required, let people know you’ve arrived. At this point, humans are simply going for the ride! This is exactly why the right IoT foundation is so critical to digital transformation. It’s imperative that businesses invest in a next-generation platform that can deliver the simplicity needed to connect, secure and manage the ever-growing number of IoT devices. At the end of the day, a meshed architecture platform represents the best—and arguably the only—way to effectively reduce IoT breaches, rapidly innovate, and improve IT staff efficiency. The possibilities of IoT are seemingly endless for businesses with this foundation.

Up next, we’ll be tackling the third key area of a next-generation platform: artificial intelligence/automation. Be sure to check back soon!

Digital Transformation, the IoT, and the Smart Enterprise

I was given the title “Smart Enterprise” for a presentation at #AvayaEngage 2017. The presentation abstract mentioned Digital Transformation and the Internet of Things (IoT), two very hot topics in socialized media that I hoped the audience would find interesting and educational. To start, I took a fundamental look at these two key terms. A side effect of social media is that hot terms get bandied about by bloggers, analysts, and product marketers until definitions become so bloated with possibilities, a common meaning is difficult to distill. I wanted my audience contemplating how they could make their enterprise smart and not trying to figure out my definitions of these terms.

I began with Digital Transformation, defined by Wikipedia as “digital usages [that] inherently enable new types of innovation and creativity in a particular domain, rather than simply enhance and support the traditional methods.” I also looked at other definitions but this one resonated with me since I believe all of the hype around Digital Transformation justified a significant definition: Digital Transformation is not just another step in the information age, it is an evolutionary breakthrough.

Necessity has been credited as the mother of invention. A darker corollary is that organizations change when faced with external challenges, particularly ones that threaten their existence. At times, we expend much effort to change and then sit back and relax. The problem is that we might relax too long and don’t realize the rest of the environment continued to change, or we see the change, but fail to respond. Brick-and-mortar retail is a great example of the environment changing faster than organizations can respond—both Sears and Macy’s were still counting their 2016 holiday revenue when they announced more store closings.

It was a little tougher to find a concise definition of The Internet of Things (IoT). Breaking the phrase down into its components:

  • The internet is a vast global network
  • A thing could be anything or everything (which sounds a lot like a circular definition)
  • Dictionary.com provides several definitions for thing. One of them is “anything that is or may become an object of thought”

Therefore, the IoT is anything we can think of that is interconnected by some form of network.

As Avaya’s Jean Turgeon wrote in his IoT Chronicles blog, the IoT is a “vast topic.” Therefore, I propose the following working definitions of IoT:

  • New classes of devices that have not traditionally integrated data network connectivity
  • Networked devices with fundamentally new capabilities

I added the second definition to include smart devices (phones). Today, mobile phone advertisements don’t talk about call quality. Instead, they focus on camera resolution and stabilization or attachments such as lenses and VR capabilities. Phones have become a portable computer platform, enabling data collection and communication, a basic premise of the IoT.

This brings us to my presentation title: Smart Enterprise. Enterprises can become “smart” in many ways. In the realm of Digital Transformation and the IoT, there are three key components:

  1. Internet of Everything: Organizations need to look broader than just the things connected to the network. The Internet of Everything (IoE) consists of data, people, things, and processes. Organizations need to look at the entire ecosystem of their IoT projects. What data is available? What data is needed? What data needs to be retained? How will automation be implemented based on the data? Where do people fit into the processes? How are people’s jobs being affected—simplified, enabled, replaced?
  2. Business First: Don’t try to “keep up with the Jones’.” Don’t think that since everybody is doing IoT, you also need IoT to stay competitive. When thinking about digital transformation and threats to survival, it’s easy to get caught up in change for the sake of change. Start with business needs and then determine how to apply IoT technology, rather than looking for some place to apply the technology. (More on this in part two of this blog series.)
  3. Safe and Sane: A quick internet search shows the phrase Safe and Sane is usually used in reference to fireworks or driving. Both are rewarding endeavors with significant risk. I think it’s appropriate when discussing the deployment of IoT-based projects. IoT may be the key to organizational survival, but it greatly expands an organization’s threat surface, the area targeted by hackers.

New competitors are popping up every day. Furthermore, intelligent and aggressive antagonists are trying to gain value from our data. These are real threats to organizations’ survival. In efforts to change organizations, we can’t allow others to gain access to networks or data.

Gartner predicts that IoT will be the source of 25% of Enterprise attacks by 2020. We’ve seen a few already, including the Target stores hack via their HVAC system and the Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) via CCTV cameras. (For more about DDOS, see the recent blog from Avaya’s Ed Koehler.) IT organizations are caught between the needs of the business and the need to protect data and infrastructure.

Enterprises must get smarter to survive. Data and control provided by IoT can enable a digital transformation. In upcoming parts of this blog series, I will examine how to build a network infrastructure to enable a safe and sane approach to IoT projects.