The Internet of Things – the next big data quality challenge

Those of us who’ve been in technology and data for a while know a ‘hype’ when we see one. I’ve personally been through the hype cycles of CRM systems, the Cloud and big data. We’re now seeing more and more in industry and mainstream press about the Internet of Things and Blockchain.

I won’t cover the latter in detail (as I, like most people am still trying to understand it!) but will look at how smart fridges, connected cars and pretty much every device you can think of are not only presenting society with huge opportunities, but also a major data quality headache.

With our 2018 Global Research indicating that 39% of organisations see IoT devices as one of the biggest data-driven opportunities over the next five years, there is certainly a good argument to be made to tackle the data quality challenges now before they become data quality problems that may hold back your future IoT efforts.

In this two-part special, I’ll be looking firstly at the opportunity and challenges that are coming out of increasing adoption of IoT devices. In the second part, I’ll go on to consider in a bit more detail how the underlying format and quality of data can impact success, as well as some ways you can look to tackle these early on.

Help! My fridge has banned me from eating cheese! 

To the casual observer; the Internet of Things (IoT) has so far extended only as far as air quality sensors, robo-vacuums, wrist-worn activity trackers, WiFi enabled home security, app-controlled light bulbs, increasing connectivity to their car and for some brave souls an internet connected fridge, dishwasher or washing machine.

Actually, that’s a longer list than I was expecting. The growth of IoT devices (or smart, connected, autonomous things) is clearly accelerating.

Making better decisions  

The opportunity that the IoT presents is certainly appealing. Imagine an always-on, smart, future where everything we do and every place we go is combined to help us quantify ourselves and make better choices. The organisations that can play an active role in making that happen will be those who stand out from the crowd as IoT becomes a more established part of our everyday lives and consumers begin to expect it.

The exciting part is that, as we’re seeing, this isn’t just a hazy vision of the future – it’s starting to happen right now. But for as much as there’s untold opportunity, there’s also some very clear challenges and considerations that organisations need to be taking on right now if they want to move forward with innovation in IoT.

One of the major challenges is around data and privacy because clearly all of these devices will need to be able to share data with each other and the apps and platforms that then help us to make decisions. Let’s consider this challenge in a bit more detail before we delve more into the data challenge itself in part two.

Balancing the risks  privacy, transparency and security 

Perhaps the most common concern about the IoT is around privacy and data security. There have been instances where connected devices have been hacked to steal data, access other devices on the same network, and become part of botnets.

Of course, the very nature of the IoT brings up unique challenges due to the lack of human interaction in some processes, the sheer number of devices collecting data or the simple nature of low powered devices and sensors (i.e. lacking their own security features). What’s more important though is the transparency that device manufacturers and network managers have with the people within those networks.

For example, should someone who picks up an item of clothing in a shop that has an RFID tag on the label be made aware that the tag can be tracked inside and potentially outside the shop? Could the location of the tag be linked with their transaction and store loyalty card?

Or what happens when your connected home network ‘sees’ devices passing by your house on a regular basis and you share that data publicly? Could individuals be identified by their device ID without their knowledge when their movements past multiple networks and sensors are linked?

Simply put, whilst the IoT is likely to bring a whole range of benefits to businesses and consumers, everyone needs to consider the unexpected impacts of combining data from separate devices and other sources. Whilst Privacy by Design should be front of mind, the wider community will need to come together to debate when and how data from different devices should be combined and how the benefits and risks balanced.

Are we close to a time when my calorie counting device (on my wrist or implanted elsewhere) can let my fridge know that I’ve had my target amount of fat and dairy today so it can dissuade me from the 11pm cheese and cracker snack? I’m not sure we’re quite there yet and one of the reasons is the data – do the standards exist to bring data together, is the quality high enough and is it collected in a form that protects our privacy?

Look out for part two of this blog where I’ll delve further into how data standards and quality are one of the biggest barriers to realising the opportunity that IoT brings.