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Six IoT implementation challenges and solutions

The Internet of Things (IoT) is gaining acceptance, but some companies remain hesitant to implement it. Six common concerns are highlighted, along with ways teams can address any concerns from management.
By Nicole Dyess October 15, 2018
Figure 1. There are two ways to ensure secure data transmission to the asset performance management (APM): connecting the APM to the supervisory control and data acquisition’s (SCADA’s) historian, or using independent infrastructure. Image courtesy: Motors@Work

Successfully implementing the Internet of Things (IoT) requires a change-management approach. The first element of change management is to identify a pressing need and develop a vision for how to addresses that problem. The second element of change management—building your coalition—is the first of seven implementation challenges IoT projects face. In addition to recruiting members, realizing this element entails identifying an executive champion and addressing six common stakeholder concerns.

Obtaining executive buy-in

Gathering support-including an executive champion-helps companies overcome the most prevalent challenge IoT projects face: a lack of support from senior management. Without a strong and active executive sponsor, innovative technology projects tend to wither on the vine. They fail to obtain the resources they need, deliver a solution aligned to outdated organizational objectives, or get canceled during a reshuffling of organization priorities. Having someone who will support the project from start to finish—and has the authority to make others pay attention to requests—is key to successful project delivery.

Executive sponsor’s aid project succession in three ways. First, an executive sponsor has the authority to clarify priorities, make strategic decisions, navigate issues, and mitigate risks that day-to-day project staff lack. Second, the sponsor helps obtain needed resources, be it money, cooperation, or additional staff. Finally, the executive provides insight into the boardroom’s constantly shifting priorities, which helps the team retain alignment with corporate strategic goals and objectives to help ensure continued support.

Also, the sponsor considers who is needed on the team and is ready to answer questions and address concerns. Presenting a problem statement and vision can explain some of the need to adopt IoT. However, most personnel will want know real and perceived implementation challenges before lending support.

Below are six common implementation challenges that organizations may face, along with ways to address those challenges when implementing the IoT.

1. The “high” investment cost

Moving from one end of the maturity curve to the other may require a substantial investment. Companies shouldn’t try to make the leap from beginning to end in one step. A grand vision may be persuasive, but its cost may prevent management from giving the go-ahead.

To manage risk and mitigate cost, several successive “bite-sized” IoT projects implementations with concrete milestones and reasonable costs are recommended. Start small with pilot technologies and then invest in foundational pieces rolled-out in phases. To control costs further, make use of public infrastructure and software-as-a-service in lieu of more expensive private or on-premise installations.

Alternately, make the case for improvement more persuasive by identifying the IoT projects with the best bang for the buck and documenting business cases.

With IoT costs declining rapidly, conservative firms may see a benefit in waiting. But companies should keep an eye on prices and the competition. It is not advisable to wait too long or competition may accelerate on by.

2. Security

Posting data to—or transferring data via—the internet seems to be the source of many information technology (IT) department nightmares, and rightfully so. Hacking is an international industry producing frequent announces of security breaches. Putting data online—particularly data related to critical equipment—may seem dangerous. Many IoT platforms consider security a core element and work to ensure that any potential leaks are stopped before hackers find them.

IoT security assessments consider security from multiple aspects:

Data at rest: Data housed in applications and databases on-premises or in the Cloud is said to be “at rest.” Most organizations rely on conventional perimeter-based defenses, such as firewalls and anti-virus programs, to protect data at rest. However, hackers find these troves of data irresistible; hence, the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group and Cloud Security Alliance recommend employing a combination of hardware and software encryption techniques to ensure the security and integrity of data at rest.

Data in use: Data “in use” by an application or gateway must be accessible to users and devices, making it the hardest form of data to secure. With in-use data, security depends on the strength of authentication procedures and the number of users and devices accessing the data.

Data in flight: But what about data when it’s traveling, such as from the device to the Cloud? Well-established Internet communication protocols armed with modern cryptography algorithms make it virtually impossible for hackers to decipher data in transmission. While many IoT devices support multiple security protocols, few enable them as part of their initial configuration. At a minimum, IoT devices that connect to mobile applications or remote gateways should employ HTTPS, transport layer security (TLS), secure file transfer protocol (SFTP), DNS security extensions, and other encryption protocols.

Decoupling information-only data from action data—using encrypted, one-way, outbound communications—limits vulnerability should the data be intercepted while in flight. Wherever possible, set IoT devices to “fire and forget.” Instead of waiting for a ping requesting a measurement—indicative of a two-way channel—the device automatically will generate a measurement, push the measurement to the gateway or to the cloud on a pre-established interval or upon a triggering event, and then discard the measurement data.

Using a mix of public and private infrastructure also can help protect data in flight. For example, consider the following diagram (Figure 1) of a typical installation. Even if a hacker uncovers and manages to decrypt both communication pathways using public infrastructure, a user lacks sufficient information for them to damage client assets.

For example, if the hacker intercepts and decrypts data at Point A, he or she will only see current, voltage, and an asset ID number; at Point B, only content for one work request will be seen. Removing the context needed to understand the data and the ability to use the channel to send a signal back to the asset minimizes the data’s value to a hacker. Then, having operators validate data and determine whether to accept the asset performance management (APM) system’s recommendation creates an air-gap between enterprise asset management (EAM) and the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA). Finally, using a private encrypted network for the SCADA control signals hardens the system’s feedback leg.

3. Technology infrastructure

Often, clients have instruments tied into SCADA that generate the data needed to provide analytics and insights. Or, even without power monitoring equipment, SCADA’s network potentially could provide the communication infrastructure needed to connect new instrumentation. Yet, almost universally when seeking to tie into SCADA, IT replies, “Our network is super secure and cannot be used to send information to an IoT platform”—and rightfully so.

As discussed under the security of in-flight data, the most secure networks rely on one-way, outbound-only communication. SCADA, being a supervisory control network, necessarily must handle control signals going to the equipment.

There are two ways that can ensure secure data transmission to the APM. First, connect the APM to SCADA’s historian. The historian, a database record containing all instrument readings and control actions, typically resides in a demilitarized zone (DMZ) where it can be accessed by Internet-connected applications. However, these applications only can view the data stored in the historian. Only a SCADA can write to this database, typically by sending an interval-based outbound signal to the historian. Many EAM systems use SCADA historian data to populate dashboards.

The second option involves using an independent infrastructure, such as cellular service, to send data to the IoT platform without connecting it to the SCADA. Direct cellular data upload is great for facilities that lack networking infrastructure. Users can connect up to five devices to one cellular gateway device, using only a 120-V outlet to power the cellular gateway. Several companies offer pre-configured cellular instruments, making it possible to deploy and connect hundreds of instruments within days.

4. Communications infrastructure

Using a cellular gateway to connect IoT instruments sounds great, but users don’t get phone reception at some remote sites. Building an infrastructure would be too costly. Although LTE-M and LTE-NB use existing cellular towers, these low-powered, wide-area networks provide much broader coverage. Even if the user doesn’t get a strong-enough signal for voice calls or 4G-LTE data, he or she may still be able to access LTE-M.

5. Immaturity of IoT standards

Understandably, nobody wants to invest in IoT’s version of Betamax. Analysts equated protocols emerging from the early IoT industry as a “cacophony of discordant musicians.” Waiting to see which standard or protocol would win results in delayed IoT investments. While some IoT standards are still in development, and there’s still a lot of fragmentation in the market, standards affecting currently available devices were mostly ironed out in 2016 and 2017.

The Open Connectivity Foundation joined the Open Interconnect Consortium in pushing a united protocol. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) published its draft P2413 standard for IoT architecture, creating a universal language for IoT that would greatly reduce the effort required to share data among competing platforms. Regardless of which platform is chosen, users will soon be able to share data across all IoT devices and platforms

6. Procuring IoT

Implementing IoT often involves procuring devices and services that don’t have IoT in their name, such as instrumentation, communication networks, storage, and data management consultants. The complexity of procuring these services and the lack of the IoT label can make it difficult for stakeholders to see how the multitude of pieces fit together.

The right plan can help streamline this complexity and help communicate each piece’s importance to the overall project and make it work.

Nicole Dyess is the director of client solutions at Motors@Work, a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com.

KEYWORDS: Internet of Things, project management, security

  • Companies looking to implement the Internet of Things (IoT) should look for someone at the executive level who will buy into the project.
  • Security, infrastructure, and the high initial costs in IoT investments can scare some companies off, but there are remedies and solutions.
  • IoT standards and security protocols are in place and remain a high priority for standards groups and organizations.


Which steps will help ensure an IoT project’s success?

Nicole Dyess
Author Bio: Director of client solutions, Motors@Work