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Gartner: Why CIOs should care about the connected home
Mon, 29th Aug 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

In the connected home, a garden watering system might monitor and irrigate plants and be connected to and controlled by a smartphone app. In a more complex system, the watering system would be connected to the water supply utility and use intelligent cloud services to combine weather forecasts and pricing the minimize costs. In times of drought, the system might prioritize using limited water supplies for more valuable plants.

The technological and commercial effects of the connected home could have a wide reaching impact on the role of CIOs, depending on the company and products. However, the connected home also represents an opportunity for CIOs to be involved in the implementation and operation of new products and strategies. CIOs could be directly or indirectly impacted by the smart home, depending on whether the company is creating the connected products and services or determining how other companies' products will affect security.

Because smart homes introduce many types of connected devices to a new environment, CIOs must be involved in the security and architectural management of the integration, and host conversations about the ethics of connected home products, said Nick Jones, vice president at Gartner. With the right preparation and team, CIOs can tackle the issues and smoothly navigate into the world of smart homes.

Support the connected home

Technology within the connected home can range from simple devices, such as controllable LED light bulbs, to complex collaborating sets of devices, such as home hubs or smart meters. Since no one company will dominate all facets of the connected home, devices from different suppliers and industries will need to communicate and work together to serve the customer. Products from established vendors in existing industries will need to communicate with unproven companies and new technologies in a world containing up to 10 wireless standards.

Needless to say the smart home will be technically diverse, creating a serious challenge for CIOs and their teams who work on products or analyze the data. It will require new architectures and infrastructures, and even novel solutions to allow all the companies that create the technology to communicate with their products.

Build a team with the correct skill set

It's fairly easy to conclude the smart home will require upgrades in technology and new architectures, but it will also require CIOs to review staffing needs. Depending on how involved in the smart home the company becomes, whether developing smart products or maintaining a cloud service that supports the technology, CIOs need to assess the team they currently have against the necessary skill sets. Some of the gaps can be filled with training, others will require new types of experts in embedded software development or embedded user experience design. CIOs may need staff versed in working with a new type of vendors who specialize in IoT platforms or supporting new products.

In addition to the direct IT team, CIOs will need to educate executives on the current and potential difficulties of the smart home. Most early IoT adopters are discovering security and integration are more expensive and complex than anticipated, so it's equally important that the business partners understand the complexity of the tasks.

Manage the risks

Before deciding on any methods, CIOs should host a discussion about the digital ethics of what the organization can and should do with the information. As CIO, it's important to establish a digital ethics policy before your department begins the decision making process about data storage, encryptions and processing.

The technology for smart homes comes with inherent security risks. Most of the smart home involves immature technology that will require security assessment. Poorly designed connected devices are vulnerable to hacking, which threatens the consumer's home infrastructure, and could provide a path to the enterprise infrastructure. Consider the scenario presented above, if the weather sensor is poorly designed, hackers could potentially access the data being collected by the entire string of technology, or even the entire house. Beyond that, CIO's teams can contribute to authentication, information management, testing, software licensing, scalability, extensibility, and partner management.

Many of the technologies collect private or sensitive data at the consumer level. For example, some technology is constantly managing data about people's lives and habits that CIOs will need to secure and ethically manage. Part of the CIOs role in regards to smart home will involve educating enthusiastic businesses as to the risks of connected technology, and ensuring they are asking the right questions when it comes to hardware or software partners.