IoT Reality Check: What Happens When the Software Doesn't Work?

To get the Internet of Things right, you need to get the software right.
By Jyoti Bansal
Apr 12, 2016

The Internet of Things is kicking in the afterburners on the digital transformation that started with the smartphone and ultimately will have us surrounded by smart, connected devices that anticipate our every need and desire. Soon, I'll be able to just think a thought, and the world around me—my world, personalized for me—will respond to my wishes. Yes, life is good and getting better in the 21st century—as long as everything works the way it's supposed to.

But nothing works perfectly all the time.

In the IoT world, my lights might not go on automatically. Or the thermostat might forget when I'm coming home. These are minor inconveniences, and life goes on.

But what if you're in business and the hiccup brings your assembly line to a standstill, or causes millions of devices that consumers bought from you to malfunction? Or what if it's a medical device that forgets what it's supposed to do? Or a controller for the power grid? An autonomous car? The blades of a windmill? The potential for catastrophic or deadly consequences is frighteningly real.

Meet The Internet Of Things That Can Go Wrong
In the Internet of Things, there are two types of failure to consider. One is user experience failure, in which a device or service doesn't work the way the user expects it to. The other is functional failure, in which the device or service works incorrectly or completely fails.

In either case, there is a whole range of opportunities for users to be disappointed, processes to go awry or equipment to shut down. The Internet of Things depends on an interconnected, interdependent series of physical and virtual events that create a given transaction. There's the endpoint—the sensor or device—which is where we're likely to look first for problems. This kind of hardware is usually fairly cheap, and durability and redundancy can be engineered in, to a point. Energy to power the device is an ongoing issue. That's often a battery, which, on the bright side, has a predictable lifespan. But as we'll discuss in a moment, circumstances can compromise battery power output.

Next, there's the operating system (OS) that drives the hardware, the network that carries the communications (from Internet backbone to local connections), the IoT platform that connects the edge devices with the enterprise system, and the applications themselves that ingest and process the data and execute the responses. And at any step along the way, there can be third-party dependencies that create even more potential failure points.

Software is the glue that holds it all together and drives every IoT event, process and transaction from the endpoint to the enterprise's back end. It is what makes the Internet of Things possible.

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