Why Identity Is the Heart of the IoT


Cisco recently projected that the Internet of Things (IoT) is a $14 trillion revenue opportunity, while Gartner estimates that, by 2020, there will be 25 billion connected things. Clearly, smart, connected products—and the technologies that make them tick—are drivers of huge new growth opportunities.

However, the full potential of connected devices is only achieved when they are tied to individual identities. In fact, Gartner recently issued a press release entitled: “Gartner Says Managing Identities and Access Will Be Critical to the Success of the Internet of Things.” Managing these millions, even billions, of identities unlocks the true capabilities of the IoT by powering dynamic relationships between all of the entities in the IoT ecosystem, whether they are people, things, apps or services.

Far from being science-fiction, there are already many use cases that demonstrate the exciting potential of the IoT.

The Power of Identity: The Case of the Smart Connected Appliance
Don owns a connected washing machine that he can monitor and control from his smartphone. The machine tracks Don’s detergent levels based on factors including number of loads and average volume of detergent per load. Since Don’s customer profile stores information like his preferred brand of detergent, Brand Y is able to build long-term loyalty by sending text messages to remind him not only when to buy his preferred detergent, but which retailer has the lowest price.

The next time Don visits a retailer to purchase an accessory for his appliance, a sales associate welcomes him with a discount toward his preferred detergent as a loyalty reward, and also reminds him of new features available with an upcoming firmware update.

A connected appliance adds value through optimization of maintenance, time savings, and energy and water conservation. When married with a solid identity management strategy, this technology also opens up opportunities for new revenue streams through marketing, as well as operational cost savings.

How Identity Enables Better User Experiences in Smart, Connected Products
In a world of lightning fast search engines, live chats and social broadcasting, customers naturally expect real-time responses from connected devices. They also demand consistently reliable, frictionless performance. Businesses must ensure, then, that their identity management solution is highly available and capable of scaling to handle peak loads that can easily swell to millions of users in very short periods of time.

New, password-less authentication methods such as machine-to-machine (M2M) protocols and biometrics are rising in popularity. To maximize value, this enhanced authentication experience should be backed by equally frictionless authorization across multiple properties—enabled by a unified identity profile—for smoother, customized cross-channel experiences.

Connected products tied to individual identities add value for customers by delivering highly personal experiences that are driven by an ongoing, consenting relationship between user, product and brand. This relationship is both the measure and driver of customer lifetime value. It enhances the customer experience, allows organizations to monitor their products for maintenance and optimal performance, and understand how customers are using them.

To successfully navigate the world of connected devices, companies must build a new infrastructure to support all of the capabilities these products offer: a multi-layered system known as a “technology stack.” This stack includes: a connected product; product hardware; product software; product cloud; smart product applications; rules/analytics engine; application platform; product data database; connectivity; network communication; external information sources; and integration with business systems.

Spanning this entire structure is an identity management layer that enables secure API transactions and a repository for customer data, frictionless registration, single sign-on, and simple, flexible integration with third-party apps and services that drive the business’ bottom line.

Securing the Stack
Regarding the IoT, “Internet Father” Dr. Vint Cerf was recently cited as saying: “The nightmare headline for me is, ‘100,000 Refrigerators Attack Bank of America.’”

“The biggest challenge,” he added on, “will be helping consumers properly configure their systems so only authorized parties have access to that information or control over the devices providing it.”

The universe of smart, connected products is ballooning in both scale and complexity. To address this within their identity management strategies, companies should rely on security practices designed for consumer-facing digital business. It is critical to support API-based authentication and authorization standards—such as SAML and OAuth—and encryption for PII and other sensitive data at rest, in motion and in use.

Entities with Identities
New to identity management is a recent extension known as the Identity of Things (IDoT). The IDoT is based on the principle that all entities in the IoT ecosystem—including people, apps, services and connected things—have identities comprised of identifiers and their attributes, and that those identities define relationships between every entity.

Enabling IDoT functionality requires a strategy that unifies every entity in the system so each one can contribute as either a data generator or data consumer to fulfill business moments; including an identity management approach that integrates every entity with unified customer identities and can leverage disparate data types at internet scale.

“Managing identities and access is critical to the success of the Internet of Things (IoT), but in its current form identity and access management (IAM) cannot provide the scale or manage the complexity that the IoT brings to the enterprise,” according to Gartner, Inc. This stark reality has given rise to new digital strategies that center on customer identity as the key element in delivering a seamless and secure user experience. The quality and consistency of this experience is what will determine brand success in the age of the empowered mobile customer.

The IoT is a massive growth opportunity that will affect every business unit, from IT, to product design and management, to marketing. A well-defined customer identity management strategy is critical to IoT success. The identity of things (IDoT) is a new concept for IoT data management that calls for a new strategy that leverages identity to fulfill business moments and optimize customer experience (CX).

Edited by Ken Briodagh
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