Forget the IoT – Digital Business Needs Ubiquitous Connectivity


Over the past half-decade, technology and service providers were busy repositioning offerings and adding capabilities they positioned for the Internet of Things (IoT). The conference circuit exploded with people singing the praises of connected devices. Then, in 2018, questions began to emerge. Enterprises made real deployments, but they didn’t live up to the tremendous hype of a few years ago. Most importantly, implementers realized the IoT is not an island – the benefits of connecting the physical and digital worlds come from the integration of existing systems and other emerging technologies. And they found using agile practices helps them move faster toward digital business.

Our recent ISG Provider Lens reports (Figure 1) show that enterprises are shifting away from their IoT plans toward application deployments that leverage ubiquitous connectivity to improve business outcomes. The research shows that companies in the automotive, healthcare and retail industries are deploying connected applications. A connected vending machine, for instance, gives real-time data for inventory replenishment, machine location and marketing analysis. A connected medicinal blister pack alerts patients, doctors and pharmacies as needed. Connected cars enable in-vehicle entertainment and information and provide data in support of future autonomous driving. And the platforms from technology and service providers provide the integration and services needed to enable such applications.

Figure 1:   ISG Provider Lens Internet of Things Quadrant Reports 2018

ISG Provider Lens Internet of Things Quadrant Reports 2018

Source: ISG Research

At the recent ISG Digital Business Summit, representatives from several companies told their digital transformation stories, each relying on ubiquitous connectivity. A major airline is improving engagement with its always-connected customers. A large bank ensures the best available network services to accelerate and protect financial transactions. A manufacturer connects sensors to equipment to reduce downtime and improve productivity. A restaurant adds a smartphone app to ease ordering and encourage repeat business. These successes are tied to both innovative technology capabilities and the organization’s ability to adapt to change.

The truth is, IoT may simply be the wrong term to use in these kinds of digital transformation stories – the term IoT focuses exclusively on sensors and the internet. Instead, the idea of ubiquitous connectivity helps broaden the discussion to include other ways of connecting, including short-range wireless, private and machine-to-machine networks. Sensors are no longer exceptional. They are everywhere, embedded in all kinds of objects and even in people.

Deployments that rely on ubiquitous connectivity can face significant obstacles. Users, enterprises and governments are increasingly concerned about privacy, even as organizations up their consumption of data. And hackers present security problems as they target anything connected to the web while device manufacturers often put cost and time-to-market ahead of ensuring they comply with security best practices.

The explosion of the number of connected devices and their increased mobility also create a massive integration challenge for application builders. Rapid innovation on devices and platforms means enterprises must contend with technology that rapidly becomes obsolete – and with severe maintenance implications. The unintended consequences of ubiquitous connectivity emerge daily. Self-driving cars have accidents. Voice assistants send conversations to contacts unbeknownst to their owners. Police deploy face recognition systems in public venues without discussion. Infrastructure requirements for 5G face local opposition from those concerned about the medical effects of small-cell towers on humans nearby.

As enterprises adopt digital business practices, they should avoid focusing only on “the things” connected to the Internet, and instead build ubiquitous connectivity to improve business outcomes. This will allow them to embrace rapid assessment, automation, organizational change management, proper governance and agile practices. Join me at the ISG Future Networks Summit in Chicago, September 24-25, where we’ll discuss ubiquitous connectivity and how the network can enable digital transformation.