Device makers and their customers must understand and address five principles to successfully navigate a world made up of billions of connections between people, devices, organizations, and ideas.
The never-ending demands that companies place on their connected devices is why Bsquare has identified Always On as our third principle, which is deeply integrated with the Unprecedented Speed and Unbounded Scale seen today.
Always On makes the management of connected devices particularly important. Whether in airports, warehouses, or hotels, machines that are always on are usually designed to be unattended, which requires constant vigilance. This should be paramount in designing solutions for healthcare, for example, where connected devices contain private, personally identifiable health information.
There are two elements to the concept of Always On—your devices need to keep working, and they need to stay secure.
Quite literally, your customers are expecting these devices to be working practically any hour of the day, for as long and as frequently as they need to be. If machines go down, your customers are delivering a poor experience for their customers, whether it’s the hungry family at McDonald’s or the nurse monitoring a patient.
And security is not something you do once and forget. The whole point is to have a constant connection with constantly updated information. The threat from a failure or a bad actor is ever present, so the monitoring must be diligent, and it must be fast. If a device goes down, how quickly can you get it back up and running again?
Safeguarding always-on devices is easy to do when you’re planning for five or 10 machines, but it’s a lot harder when you’re scaling up to a fleet of 50,000.
One way is to ensure backup. A robust system design will include the ability to reroute to functioning servers. Adept use of the cloud can help, with contracts that allow for an ebb and flow of use or when a sudden catastrophe like a tornado takes out a data center.
Another way to achieve a speedy solution is to fix problems remotely. Otherwise, say the operating system on a digital traffic sign fails, you need to shut down the road and send a truck with a scaffolding so someone can climb up and push a button. When devices are always on, failure can be highly visible.
Why are we increasingly seeing devices used in this way? It’s often a function of economics. Devices can replace employees or allow them to be focused on more important work.
But as we move more in this direction of always-on automation, we must also be mindful of the impact on people. Hospitals, for example, are increasingly using kiosks for patients to automatically check in and get a name tag. If these machines fail, hospital administrators may have to pull nurses off patient care that day to handle the work.
Connected devices are now so embedded in business that, for many companies, it’s no longer just nice to have them always on, they must be. If suddenly a row of kiosks at a grocery store went down because they were inoperable, it would not merely be inconvenient. It could shut down business for the day.
Think of the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack last year. The scale and reach of that hack and the damage caused from one stolen password shocked business and government leaders when a compromised system managed to shut down access to gas across the Eastern seaboard.
The lesson to me is clear. If you’re managing something that’s always on with something that’s always on — devices managing devices and software managing software — you stand a better chance of success.
We will continue to address our remaining two principles in future blogs: Systemic Learning and Collective Wisdom.