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Making the "smart office" a reality with the Internet of Things

Stuart King, Director, Client Solutions, Dell APJ | Oct. 12, 2015
To fully realise the potential of IoT at the workplace, organisations can start by assessing their existing IT infrastructure and practices to ensure that they have the basics in place.

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been a recurring buzzword in the technology industry of late. While it is not an entirely new concept, many industry experts are projecting that IoT will start influencing the way organisations operate in the next five years. At the forefront of this revolution is the Asia Pacific region: According to IDC, the IoT market in Asia Pacific excluding Japan (APeJ) will grow to US$583 billion in 2020.

At the organisational level, companies are seeing the arrival of IoT at the workplace through new technologies that are upgrading the office environment to a wireless ecosystem and transforming the way people work forever. From end-user devices like sensors to analytics software, IoT has a central role to play in helping enterprises improve business strategy and employees' productivity.

To fully realise the potential of IoT at the workplace, organisations can start by assessing their existing IT infrastructure and practices to ensure that they have the basics in place. The following inventory provides a good guideline to help enterprises get started.

  1. Embrace the right standards
    The IoT-enabled office should be ready to support the latest technologies, today and tomorrow. Multiple IoT standards are emerging, with few indications as yet on which may become widely adopted. To be future-ready, an organisation should work with technology partners which are already members of some of the largest industry standards associations, such as the Open Interconnect Consortium. Ensuring that all systems can easily scale is also a must.

  2. Build bandwidth and capacity
    The "smart office" will also need outstanding connectivity as a growing number of devices and sensors link to the corporate network. Smartphones, tablets and wearables can even connect to corporate servers from outside the office, adding to the network load. The physical network connections, additional power and cooling requirements and higher storage capacities that this will entail have to be budgeted for. More complex backup and retrieval procedures may also need to be implemented.

    Management of the whole system is critical. Traffic-heavy applications such as video conferencing have to work smoothly compromising other business-critical operations. To alleviate traffic overload, organisations can deploy appliances at the edge, called IoT gateways to take on some of the processing work, so that less data is transmitted over the network. Performance and asset management should all be conducted centrally so that the big picture is clear and problems can be proactively addressed.

  3. Be app-driven
    A smarter office will be powered by software — through mobile apps that control various devices, serve customers and undertake work activities; analytics that derive insights from sensor data to run the business better, as well as solutions that ensure all devices are managed and maintained so that they work well.

    The organisation may be able to purchase some of these solutions, but not all. The pressure is on the organisation to ensure that it has a software development team with the right skill-sets to develop apps as required, and one that can develop software for a wide range of devices and sensors too.

  4. Leverage the multi-screen environment
    Mobile device users are beginning to demand 'multi-screening' capability, or the ability to start a task on one device and to continue it on another as they wish. Being able to pick up on a work session as employees have left it — regardless of device — will be a capability that smart offices should support.

    Setups like Dell's conceptual "smart desk" show how emerging technologies can be combined to further revolutionise workspaces. The Precision-powered smart desk has horizontal and vertical work surfaces for more natural organisation of content. Touch and pen gestures allow users to manipulate digital content more easily. Multiple smart desks can be clustered together for more efficient collaboration, and will support multi-screening. Combined with new operating systems that are also optimised for the multi-screen environment, such as Windows 10, organisations have a broad range of solutions to choose from to help them realise the "smart office" vision.

  5. Design in security
    The number of attack points increases with every additional sensor or device on the corporate network. The sensors and devices have to be secured from compromise both at the endpoint itself, and throughout the system. One best practice for security is to implement mobile application management and mobile content management systems, which allow application updates, configurations and installs to be rolled out easily to all registered devices, and which police authorised devices on the corporate network.

  6. All devices and sensors need to be tracked not only to ensure that they can be located in the event of loss or theft, but also because the device can be locked or sensitive data can be wiped remotely, as required. There should also be authentication solutions to ensure that only authorised employees may make use of the system.

    Beyond the basic antivirus and firewalling, organisations should also implement solutions that recognise patterns and predict unusual behaviour, so that the organisation can act on potential security breaches quickly and appropriately.

 

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