While smart, connected devices in the home such as Amazon’s Echo get much of the media attention around the Internet of Things (IoT), there are many other IoT use cases already in the wild – especially use cases that relate to the improvement of business operations and services. Whether it’s automation, data collection/monitoring, controlling previously “dumb” devices, or something else, the use of IoT devices in the enterprise is growing rapidly as businesses seek to improve operations and the customer experience, gain greater insight into operations and service quality, and capitalize on new revenue streams.
The Impact of IoT on the Corporate IT Service Desk
These enterprise IoT “infrastructures” need supporting, and the existing corporate IT service desk/help desk is the most likely home for that support capability. Some might argue that support should lie with the business function that supplies the IoT-enabled service – for instance, that the facilities team should support a connected intelligent heating system. However, many of the issues that enterprises have already encountered with IoT devices relate to such business functions simply not understanding the risks and management needs, of what is ultimately technology.
It will probably be an ongoing topic of debate for many companies, as the different lines of business “empires” want to keep or gain control of things, but for now, let’s assume that the corporate IT service desk has responsibility for IoT devices and the dependent services. There are a number of things that will affect them, such as:
- Increased volumes. The IoT brings with it more end points, higher bandwidth usage, increased storage requirements, and more incidents. The IoT increases the IT infrastructure, and the scale of the management and support needs, by an order of magnitude. Service desks and their support tools will need to be able to handle thousands, potentially millions, of new end points and their data transmission and storage needs.
- Greater complexity. When we talk of enterprise IoT devices we often think of things that aren’t attached to, or associated with people – for example a network-connected scanner or the sensors powering intelligent lighting or heating systems. But let’s not forget the IoT devices directly used by people. From the traditional PC and smart phone, through tablets and wearables, to intelligent personal assistants (such as the Echo) where voice is now the UI. Thus, complexity is not only the increased types of technology but also the reliance on different technologies for people to “get things done.”
- Increased security requirements. Security now gets, and will continue to get, a big chunk of the enterprise IoT attention; and rightly so. In late-2016 we saw the first large-scale security attack attributed to the IoT – a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on Dyn, an internet infrastructure company, which was believed to be the work of a bot that uses IoT devices, protected only by the factory-default log-in details, to attack online services. IT security per se will of course also continue to be a high priority area for IT organizations in 2017.
- Asset and configuration management. When an IT device is “used” by a person, it’s often easier to know (or to find out) it’s location, purpose, owner, and the impact of its failure. In the absence of “end users,” service desks will need to have a better appreciation and understanding of IoT assets – whether via configuration management, asset management, or knowledge management. This also covers the need to understand whether devices are up to date in terms of software and security patches.
Five Ways to Better Equip Your Service Desk for IoT
There are of course going to be far more than five things that could be done to help IT service desks deal with the growth in numbers and importance of IoT devices. But here are five to get you thinking:
- Service desk people need the ability to look beyond the technology to see the business impact of IoT device failures. Plus, the ability to recognize that a “silent” IoT device might be a far more urgent priority than a shouting business colleague – as the former might have a much worse business impact than the latter.
- Service desk people need new or improved IT management tools. Some might say they need new IoT management tools but I’m sure most IT pros would prefer to be able to use fewer management tools wherever possible. Ideally, existing IT management tools need to be able to deal with the types and high volumes of IoT devices we will see. Plus, the ability to predict future failures and launch remedial action before services are adversely impacted.
- Built-in redundancy and/or localized (but secure) stock. Cheap doesn’t always mean “easily breakable” but cheap does mean that it might cost more to visit and fix/replace an IoT device than the device costs (although some IoT devices will be expensive). And this is before the cost of business-affecting downtime is added into the equation. Thus, having crunched the numbers, it might be better to over-deploy cheaper IoT devices or to keep a local stock of spare devices such that downtime and the costs of replacement are minimized.
- Access to local support resources. I’m not referring to traditional desktop support but suitably-skilled business colleagues who are able to quickly rip-and-replace simple, inexpensive IoT devices when remote access can’t quickly diagnose and fix the issue. This is reinforced by localized stock (#3 above) and my next point (#5 below).
- Access to knowledge and better collaboration. In an IoT-dependent world, the availability of knowledge becomes even more important. Not just for service desk agents who now have a wider range of technology, and potentially services, to support. But also for business colleagues who might be assigned to support an IoT device that they use personally or that they are responsible for due to their locality. Plus, better collaboration is needed too, given that the issue and resolution might not always be addressable by the remote IT service desk team, with the issue passed to facilities, say, for a building engineer to address.
So there you have some key points to consider with the IoT. What would you add or disagree with?