How to Conduct the IoT Symphony

Sept. 10, 2015
Security dealers and integrators are the best equipped to guide customers into the Internet of Things era

The Internet of Things or “IoT” represents a fundamental change to our industry that not only impacts the kinds of tools we use and how we use them, but who makes the decisions on the customer side of the table. The IoT has already attracted new entrants to our markets, and a blurring of traditional industry boundaries is making it more difficult to identify knowledgeable industry experts from opportunists in what many of us believe to be a mission-critical space.

It is important that providers and integrators understand that the IoT is not represented just by connected devices. It is the collective experience delivered to an individual or group by combining a shared ecosystem of Internet-enabled smart devices. Think of it as a symphony that many devices can contribute to and just like any symphony, an experienced conductor becomes a critical element.

Dissonance is the unpleasant result of an undisciplined, uncoordinated symphony. It is chaotic and disruptive. Finding an experienced conductor, especially for a large group of previously unfamiliar contributors (or musicians) can be a big challenge.

In this ever evolving and growing IoT world, the most logical conductor is you — and the ability to understand the capability and potential of each of the contributors is the critical skill. In the world of commercial buildings and multi-family housing, providers and integrators are key conductors. Manufacturers will also contribute heavily, but perhaps think of them as the first seat musicians in this growing orchestra.

But before you can be the conductor of the IoT symphony, let’s look at where the trend came from, where it is headed, and of course, how that will impact your customers’ decisions.

The Birth of IoT

The expression "Internet of Things" was coined by British tech pioneer, Kevin Ashton in 1999 to help define the space. It helps to think of the IoT as the Internet itself, evolved for a third time. In the first two evolutions (or waves) of the Internet, we were either connecting via desktop computer or on a mobile device.

In the third evolution, smart devices communicate and deliver information to the Internet without human intervention at a scale that we have never seen. By the years 2020-2025, it is projected that there will be 50-100 billion connected devices operating on the planet generating data in volumes previously unseen.

In the near future, billions of pieces of equipment will be connected to one another, sharing data from various types of sensors. Until very recently, the Internet has been almost completely dependent on people and their inputs for its supply of information; however, as tools and products evolve, these new smart devices are able to input data into the Internet themselves.

When groupings of these smart devices work in unison, they can reveal previously unseen patterns and opportunities. These results generate huge opportunities — in the case of our industry, a much more personalized experience for the building/facility user and greater efficiencies for the owner. The applications for this type of sensor-based technology are broad, touching a seemingly unlimited number of environments. Many of these devices will reside in the facilities that we help build and support.

New Players, Reinvigoration and Irrational Exuberance

The IoT space is dynamic and growing each day due to the lower cost of technology and higher availability of good data, which makes for a great financial equation for innovation and expansion across industries. Many traditional security and safety devices that were on a clear path to commoditization have been reinvigorated with the inclusion of this new sensor-based technology. Companies that were previously limited to certain markets see the IoT as an opportunity to enter new ones. The IoT has become a mega-trend, and investors are willing to place significant bets to satisfy perceived desires in the marketplace.

There is an irrational exuberance on the part of many entrepreneurs and some manufacturers around the IoT. Being able to connect your product to the Internet is no longer sufficient, and the ability to make a security device does not mean you understand how to effectively apply your new technology.

The popularity of crowd funding has also brought product development to the general public. As a result, we are seeing a significant number of creative and disruptive — as well as underdeveloped — ideas. A good example of this is the focus by some providers on the convenience of proximity-based auto-unlocking. In some cases, the wow factor has overshadowed the potential of dangerous exposure by opening the door without a clear intent of some kind from the user.

The approach to these types of solutions differentiates the thought process of a security and safety provider from others who see an opportunity, but may not have the experience to see the potential life safety implications.

Security’s Role

Many of us are aware of the digital security and privacy concerns associated with connected devices, but what happens to users that do not have the expertise in the security and safety business?

The features and functions of individual smart products is one part of the new equation for security dealers and integrators. How all of these products are tied together has a huge impact on the facility users experience and safety. Industry knowledge is critical in not exposing consumers to unforeseen difficulties and dangers. Security dealers and integrators have a major role to play here.

As a former CIO, I am keenly aware of the shift in the decision-making authority from facility managers to the IT leadership. This can be hugely problematic, as many of my former colleagues know little if anything about physical security. To further complicate matters, they typically have had minimal interaction with facilities personnel outside of basic network infrastructure management. The frustration of the facility managers is clear, as they are expected to adopt the new IoT technology without much experience and are worried about the implications of this change.

This is where security dealers and integrators have a critical role to play. Helping to create and grow the relationship between the CIO and the facility manager is crucial to the successful adoption of the IoT moving forward. Assisting the CIO in understanding physical security, and bridging the knowledge gaps for the facility manager with smart device technologies will be a key differentiator for successful dealers and integrators as the industry inevitably moves to a more IoT-centric mindset.

Providers and integrators are the glue for the coming wave of IoT enabled facilities. This core group should present themselves as a coordination point for the IoT where they act as a mediator between the CIO and the facilities manager — a knowledgeable, trusted voice.

Still this relationship will have stress points for both parties. For the CIO, the security deployment will be one of several big projects; they will typically worry about the impact it will have on the network; and most importantly, they want to know how the security integrator will make it easy for them. The facilities manager, on the other hand, will ultimately be held responsible for the security, regardless of where the equipment is budgeted; they do not know as much about information technology as they do physical security; and they are often dealing with a stand-off relationship with their IT counterparts.

Adoption and Winning

Providers who can put all of these new, dynamic pieces together in an intelligent way will come out on top. Experienced players in our space understand that there are no shortcuts. The adoption of IoT technologies and tools will initially grow at the pace at which industry experts can support it. Wait too long and the space will be disrupted by external forces driven by consumer demand.

Rob Martens is the Futurist & Director of Connectivity Platforms at Allegion, with responsibilities crossing over both the Residential and Commercial businesses. Request more info about Allegion at