Technology is improving lives – but make sure you manage the risks

Technology can build better lives. Of this, there can be no doubt. From ancient man’s invention of the wheel to modern scientists’ development of recent vaccines – plus the many thousands of technological innovations in between – the evidence is conclusive.

But sadly, it is equally apparent that technology brings the potential for bad as well as good. History is littered with unsavoury examples of its malign use and, as recent rises in cybercrime attest, the latest digital technologies are no exception. The challenge for manufacturers, therefore, is to embrace the advantages of digital solutions, while protecting themselves from their inherent or evolving risks.

The Internet of Things

Nowhere is this challenge more keenly felt than the Internet of Things (IoT).

The IoT refers to a network of devices that are connected to the internet and can communicate with each other. They include commonplace gadgets, such as smartphones, laptops, home devices like broadband routers and smart meters, and commercial or industrial devices such as those found in smart buildings and automated manufacturing. All such devices can gather, share and analyze data, and create actions.

The last decade has seen exponential growth in the IoT, with further steep rises predicted in the number of connected devices being made and used. This expansion is being fuelled by technological innovations, including Artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, the Cloud and Big Data, which are all part of the digital ecosystem that enables IoT devices to work.

In recent months, measures taken to cope with the impact of the pandemic, often to reduce human interaction, have also accelerated the growth and importance of the IoT. Yet the advantages of connected devices go much further.

Improving lives

With the increased collection and analysis of data from connected devices comes the ability to know more about ‘assets’ at any given time, from the location of people and vehicles to the temperature of products, the performance of machinery, the emissions from factories, and much more.

Many manufacturing organizations are embracing these advances to deliver IoT devices and solutions that make lives better and societies more sustainable.

Take the simple task of controlling your household lighting and heating. Rather than doing this manually, or using your phone to do it remotely, the IoT allows the devices in your home to ‘learn’ your habits and preferences, while simultaneously monitoring temperature and daylight, checking on the weather forecast, analyzing gas and electricity prices, and then providing you with your ideal environment at the most cost-effective price. It is an entirely automated process, revolving around real-time communication of accurate intelligence based on analysis of Big Data – and it all takes place without you having to think about it.

Boosting performance

The same model applies for businesses, moving far beyond environmental control and energy management to encompass a host of other areas, such as access and security, fire detection and alarm, water and waste services, enterprise integration, factory production systems – and much more.

The hallmark of the IoT is that it takes the fallible human out of many processes, creating improved outcomes at lower cost – and this is where its benefit lies.

The IoT offers the prospect of improved operational performance brought about by ‘doing things better and doing new things’. Through the digital transformation of customer/user experience, it enables a business to respond and adapt to changing demand, scaling up or down quickly and efficiently. And this creates a ‘virtuous circle’, with a more efficient and effective organization further satisfying customers.

New and improved customer experiences brought about by successful adoption of the IoT can help boost existing business, create new revenue streams, and generate increased profits. In short, the digital transformation brought about by the IoT offers a major boost to organizational performance.

Managing the risks

But, like past technological innovations, IoT devices that should enable better lives and more efficient businesses can also be used for the wrong reasons. Once devices are connected to the internet, they become vulnerable to potential security and privacy breaches, often in the form of criminal activities such as hacking and phishing.

Cybercrime that can take advantage of insecure IoT is on the rise. Recent research by the manufacturers’ organization Make UK reveals the staggering scale of the threat, finding that as many as half of Britain’s manufacturers have fallen victim to cyber-crime in the last 12 months.

Manufacturers that fail to identify IoT vulnerabilities not only risk breaches of security, but also unintended lapses in data privacy, causing financial and reputational losses.

Regulation forms an important defence in reducing IoT security risks, and businesses must stay abreast of regulatory requirements. But regulation has limitations, sometimes setting requirements too low, or making them inappropriate for an IoT device’s intended use.

While connected devices are already delivering major improvements across society – from human health and wellbeing to manufacturing and the built environment – manufacturers must do more than simply jump on the IoT bandwagon, without regard for security and privacy. Often, they should go further than regulations require to ensure that the connected devices they make, or use, are safe and secure.

A standards-based approach

It’s not just the manufacturers of IoT devices that must overcome risks and grasp opportunities presented by technological change. There are digital solutions emerging across the whole of manufacturing industry, and BSI is working with key partners in numerous sectors to develop standards and recommendations to help manufacturers operate in a more connected and digital manner – and to do so safely and securely.

Across industry, we are focused on a standards-based approach to shape best practices and increase confidence and trust to benefit the wider market. Such an approach, coupled with collaboration to break down barriers and build support, is the key for manufacturers to be able to harness the benefits of digital technology, while also managing its risks and building their own organizational resilience.