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The Internet of Things Needs Enterprise Architecture Behind It

by Bunny Tharpe       • September 9, 2015

Many businesses struggle to adapt quickly enough to new technologies to stay competitive. In most cases, these failures can be attributed to a lack of foresight and planning. We addressed this issue in a blog post, stating that a revolutionary and ever changing sector such as technology, demands revolutionary processes to cope.

Benefits such as reduced business risk associated with IT; increased flexibility for business growth and restructuring; bridging the gap between business strategy and implementation; and a generally more efficient IT operation, make Enterprise Architecture great for adapting to unforeseen changes.

However it is also a great system for tackling changes we know will come. One such change is the not-so-gradual shift to a truly connected world, dubbed The Internet of Things. The Internet of Things, or IoT, describes the booming (and sometimes bonkers) world of gadgets that can communicate with the Internet.

From toasters to trainers, and from washing machines to wrenches, eventually, almost all everyday appliances could communicate with each other and the wider world.

Naysayers need not, as this phenomenon has already begun, and judging by reports stating the number of IoT devices could reach 38 billion by 2020, it’s not going to slow down either.

As with most dramatic shifts in technology, unfortunately some businesses will be lost, unable to transform and cope with new consumer demands. That’s why solid enterprise architecture foundations are so important, and potentially the difference between a business floundering in the face of change, or flourishing.

Concerns over Internet of Things

Apprehensions surrounding IoT are both widespread and valid. Users accustomed to the automation of IoT devices expect them to work consistently and with little maintenance. After all, what’s the point in an automated process you have to manually monitor for it to work?

The pressure this puts on a business is far from insignificant. The devices must be regularly updated in the back-end to reflect the constantly evolving sector in which they are a part of. This requires a level of flexibility from a business to respond to these changes quickly and accurately.

Imagine your business is a fast food chain. A customer with a smartwatch and an app for your restaurant walks into your store, triggering the app to automatically order their ‘usual’ and debit the users bank account. However, you’ve recently changed your menu, perhaps as soon as the day before, and the customers order is no longer available.

Without the foresight of good preparation and efficient systems, that customer would order something that no longer exists, be billed for that order and be left waiting for their usual order indefinitely, most likely resulting in an unhappy customer who might even think twice about using your services in the future.

Considering the internet’s scope and the breadth of data accessible in it, unhappy customers are nowhere near a worst case scenario. Due to the automated nature of the devices, most data is transferred both mutually (both ways) and automatically.

Therefore, any adopters of the technology are placing their trust into the business that the data they share is being used and stored responsibly.

But like anything connected to the internet, these devices can be subject to cyber attack, and with IoT devices penetrating a multitude of sectors, including hospitals and traffic systems to name but two, the prospect of such attacks is very worrying indeed.

The two way passage IoT devices create between business and consumer is what makes the tech so valuable. However, making that connection, also opens up avenues for third parties to exploit. This potentially leaves both the business and its customers open to a cyber attack. For large enterprises, the PR fallout alone is enough to wince at, let alone the potential loss of or duplicated and stolen data.

Enterprise Architecture Opportunities

So far, we’ve touched on the booming IoT trend, the associated risks, and how enterprise architecture systems will help overcome those.

However the relationship between IoT and EA runs much deeper than damage limitation. Due to the nature of IoT, the “things” are often goldmines of useful data. This data can be measured to review the businesses current systems, or even identify new avenues for the business in the future.

This information is invaluable when constructing your enterprise architecture roadmap, and will ensure your expectations are based on solid, fact-based-frameworks, rather than guestimates.

For businesses completely new to IoT devices, enterprise architecture will also assist in preparing for the new influx in data (of which there will be a LOT). You’ll work out how that data should be stored (securely of course), as well as which bits of data you will actually need to collect, providing better focus.

Once you start gathering said data, the leg work you put in earlier, will help you make sense of that data more quickly and work on monetizing it.

What Enterprise Architecture Will Do for You and IoT?

Leading technology research firm, Gartner, have spent a lot of time analyzing IoT. Their research director, Mike Walker had this to say: “Enterprise architects have a great opportunity to position themselves at the heart of digital businesses.

“This could take the form of establishing a business competency center that explores how the IoT can create innovative breakthroughs for the organization’s business models, products and services through rapid experimentation.”

In this case, Walker’s comments are structured to highlight what IoT can do for enterprise architects, but the sentiment is just as valid when flipped. The reason IoT puts enterprise architects in such good stead, is because they are essential to actioning the transformation smoothly.

Taking on such a huge transformation as IoT without enterprise architecture assisted foresight, is essentially going into a battle, blind, with both wrists and legs bound. All while the competition that came prepared, are already on the front line, swinging Wi-Fi detecting Hobbit swords.

But don’t fret! The purpose of this text isn’t to create panic around integrating IoT. In any case, it’s far too late for that (see: 38 billion by 2020).

On the contrary, this piece is more about highlighting those risks, so those risks can then be prepared for and managed. If you’re thinking that sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Essentially, this is the first step on your enterprise architecture roadmap.

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