Next-generation technologies pose next-generation challenges

April 20, 20185 Minute Read

New devices are entering the realm of business IT every day, and these devices are reshaping ITDM responsibilities. Mobile devices have established themselves as normal, and mobile device management software has evolved to solve the security challenges they represent. Augmented reality (AR) and Internet of Things (IoT) devices promise to—you guess it—further complicate matters. While definitions for most umbrella marketing terms in IT are more than a little fluid, the generally accepted definition of IoT devices is that they connect to the internet and communicate predominantly without human interaction. Everything from thermostats to cars are members of the IoT today.

Here’s where IoT devices get a little bit blurry: The term can also incorporate devices meant for human interaction, but which are designed for a single purpose. PCs and smartphones are general purpose computers. They browse the web, display or create media, and more. IoT devices with a human interactivity component include devices like information kiosks, credit card readers, and beyond. This definition overlaps with augmented reality (AR). AR is the next generation of human/computer interaction. AR combines the real, physical world with the virtual world through various means, usually in the form of an information overlay.

The canonical AR device is Google Glass. Look at a flower and, with the right application, your smart glasses could display the species name, facts about caring for the plant—you name it. AR goes far beyond this simplistic (and admittedly very consumer-oriented) example, but this is driving its uptake among businesses.

The internet of warehouses

Consider for a moment a large warehouse. If you have humans stocking shelves and picking orders, it’s basically inevitable that some items will end up in the wrong place and some customers will get shipped the wrong items. Losses due to human inefficiency can be staggering, and even the introduction of simple technologies like bar codes and bar code scanners can make the difference between profit and bankruptcy.

The bar code scanner of 1990 is becoming the AR overlay of 2020, and this has a very real effect on IT, reshaping ITDM responsibilities in security, device provisioning and software development. Instead of manually scanning bar codes to find the right bucket on the right shelf, AR glasses can see dozens or even hundreds of QR codes at a time as well as use GPS and inertial sensors to guide staff to the exact right storage container on the exact right shelf, no matter the size of the warehouse. Data about where goods are stored in the warehouse needs to be recorded as items are placed on shelves. When goods are moved, the system needs to track it. Connectivity becomes absolutely critical, and the amount of data increases.

IoT devices come into play here as well. It isn’t only AR glasses that can use their cameras to look at multiple QR codes, or detect NFC chips. IoT scanners can be placed passively to see if goods are where they aren’t supposed to be, help with identification at checkpoints, and generally make sure goods don’t go missing.

Bridging consumer and business

While a warehouse’s use of IoT in business is straightforward and easy to understand, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. AR and IoT are becoming commonplace, and they aren’t going to be restricted to the well-fenced corporate networks with carefully managed company-supplied devices. Vendors can now sell products with AR instruction manuals. Point a smartphone at a car engine and watch the application use edge detection and machine vision to not only identify the exact engine, but provide details on exactly how to solve a given problem. Watch a sci-fi demo of replacing a component or re-wiring a light switch on your tablet overlain on the actual objects themselves, with real time annotations from live tech support staff that can see you and what your tablet sees. This isn’t the future—this is possible today, and it’s only the beginning.

Consumer devices will be used for business AR purposes. Their specifications increase faster than any company wants to replace devices. Organizations will be faced with the same thing on the IoT front as they are increasingly going to interact with automated systems both in B2B interactions and in interacting with end customers.

The internet of security nightmares

As we offload more of our responsibilities—both personally and professionally—to everything from digital personal assistants to smart glasses, companies are going to have to cope with the security threats they bring. Like smartphones, these devices probably won’t receive regular patches from their vendors. An increasing number of these connected devices will enter our premises being infected, connecting to any Wi-Fi network they can and possibly exfiltrating data via camera and microphone.

Consider what even one unpatched device could potentially do. One unpatched pair of smart glasses can potentially connect to an unsecured wireless access point and infect a corporate network, or capture a customer list that was displayed on someone’s screen. This can happen today with a smartphone, but it tends to require some deliberate effort on the part of the device user. Someone wearing smart glasses has the camera out in the open all the time.

Who knows what threats more mundane IoT devices will bring? A next-gen internet connected medic-alert bracelet is a microphone with a cellular connection. Like any computer, it can be hacked. This might not be a problem under most circumstances, but part of reshaping ITDM responsibilities might well include deciding if those sorts of devices can be in the room during extremely sensitive conversations such as merger and acquisition talks.

Computers are no longer merely tools used by humans. Most of the computers out there have nothing directly to do with humans; they spend their whole existences doing nothing but talking to other computers. AR, IoT, and other technology advances can and will change the world. In order to take advantage we must adapt to meet the challenge.

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