Digital Transformation, the IoT, and the Smart Enterprise

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.