How to prepare a business for the Internet of Things

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If you follow what's trending in technology, you will by now know that the Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to create new possibilities for connected technologies, along with IT resource churn, as companies struggle to securely connect a deluge of devices, sensors and objects to the corporate network. According to IDC, there will be more than 212 billion devices connected to the web by 2020, including over 30 billion connected autonomous things.

The IoT hype focuses on how Internet-connected cars, homes, offices, appliances and gadgets will transform how we work, play and live; sensors in water bottles, web-enabled tennis rackets and every kind of conceivable wearable will capture the spotlight.

However, it's important to understand that simply connecting three or four devices per employee along with standard office equipment, such as printers, copiers, faxes and scanners, will have a profound effect on organizations and the IT people who support them. IT departments will be on the frontline of the IoT assault, especially when it comes to configuring, managing and updating all the devices that need to communicate and interact.

Since the best defense is attack, IT should embrace the following top five best practices to prepare:

Blend traditional systems and mobile management

As more endpoints enter the workplace, there will be increased interdependencies that will create complexities and challenges for IT. It is important to recognize that smartphones and tablets have the same needs as laptops and desktops, in terms of passwords, profiles, patches and updates.

When everything is connected to the Internet, the need to stay current with software patches and hardware upgrades will intensify tremendously. As a result, we'll soon see a convergence of mobile device and traditional systems management, as companies seek solutions to integrate, how to discover, deploy and maintain corporate- and employee-owned smartphones, tablets, cloud clients, laptops and desktops.

Turn data into business knowledge

Companies will need to become more rigorous around the collection of high-level data usage on devices. While IT may think it has a fairly accurate picture of the environment, it's conceivable that hundreds or even thousands of new devices could show up on the network seemingly overnight. This is especially true in environments where virtual machines are spun up without IT's involvement.

Fine-grained management of all those endpoints typically requires separate, custom tools, which can lead to unnecessary management overheads. That's why it's extremely important to understand what level of information is needed most, so that it can be aggregated and collapsed into knowledge that fits the specific needs of the business.

Unify management for heightened compliance

Companies will need to be more diligent in paying attention to software licenses in an IoT world, as finding you're out of compliance during a software audit can be extremely costly and time-consuming. To avoid drowning in a sea of IoT data while easing usage and compliance reporting, companies should look for ways to consolidate and centralize systems management reporting.

Elevate security and provide access to the right things

There's no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to security. IT managers must keep abreast of the latest security policies and devise plans for segregating parts of the network and environment to protect vital business systems without impacting workforce productivity or operational efficiency.

Mobile security will continue to rise in importance as companies strive to achieve the lowest risk exposure. As part of a best practice approach, companies need to strike the right balance between managing users and all of their devices. For some organizations, secure mobile enablement will include container-based digital workspaces that separate access to corporate and personal data on BYO devices. Still, others will add user-centric identity and access management for additional management flexibility and protection.

Not all IoT 'things' are created equal

As devices of all kinds become prevalent in our everyday lives, they become more exposed to countless opportunities to be dropped, drenched or destroyed accidentally. As failure modes become more diverse and price points for devices become more attractive, companies and their employees likely will replace or upgrade smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops with ever-increasing frequency. This means it will be necessary to adjust corporate break/fix and replacement strategies accordingly. If a mobile device is covered under warranty or the system isn't mission critical, then it will probably make more sense to replace it than devote precious IT resources to troubleshooting and fixing the problem.

Preparing for IoT

The best way to prepare for IoT is to start with a review of how endpoints are managed currently. Having broad device support across Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS and Android platforms is a good starting point. The ability to discern gaps in coverage is essential as printers, monitors, network routers, scanners and other connected devices all play increasingly critical roles in an IoT world.

Equally important is determining the depth of device data you can attain. Are you collecting enough of it to make informed business decisions? If you gather stats on 15 devices but don't know which versions or firmware they're running, you don't have sufficient insight. It's critical to dig deep for the right details while factoring in how often you need a sanity check on endpoint health and wellbeing.

Retailers, for example, may require real-time or hourly assessments, whereas environments with less rigorous security and compliance demands may find that weekly reporting is adequate. Regardless, there are always tradeoffs when determining the breadth, depth and speed of your endpoint data.

IT managers should look for opportunities to aggregate and consolidate endpoint systems management because managing disparate point solutions is only going to get harder as the number of connected devices mushrooms. They must also continue to seek flexible ways to deploy and scale endpoint systems management, as the brave new world of IoT will require embracing best practices and deploying best-of-class solutions to meet evolving user needs while driving maximum business value.

David Kloba is the GM of endpoint systems management at Dell Software

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