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Digital Lumens: Why CIOs should 'lean in' to the IoT

Boston-based startup Digital Lumens is embedded in the world of the Internet of Things (IoT). The startup, with only 100 employees, manufactures intelligent LED light fixtures, each containing a sensor that collects and transmits data. SearchCIO sat down with Tom Pincince, CEO of Digital Lumens, and Yolonda Smith, applications engineer at Digital Lumens, who shared their insights on IoT security, the business value IoT can bring to companies to how CIOs should handle this emerging tech trend.

Tom Pincince: The idea behind Digital Lumens was to make every light intelligent. We looked at two trends that were happening at the same time. One was that LEDs were becoming more powerful, more cost effective. And at the same time, intelligence in terms of small things, small compute power, networking was also becoming more powerful, more intelligent and less expensive; and our idea was to put those together so that every time you turned on a light it used less energy and every time you turned on a light it collected information about what's happening in the building to make your life more effective.

Many CIOs and IT leaders have voiced their concerns about handling the data that will inevitably come with the IoT. I asked Pincince what advice he would give CIOs surrounding IoT security.

Pincince: I think the first thing that CIOs need to do is lean forward into IoT. I think in many cases CIOs are watching it happen without their control and management. I think that engenders fear, engenders fear about management of data, engenders fear about products and organization, I'm sure engenders fear about security.

Pincince and Smith compared the adoption of IoT to the adoption of BYOD. When BYOD began entering the workplace, CIOs were wary. Now, however, many organizations are enthusiastically embracing the trend and creating business strategies around it. Pincince and Smith predict the same will happen with IoT.

Yolonda Smith: When we flash back to the days of bring your own device there was a little bit of trepidation around that opportunity as well. But, you know, once they understood and once they developed security policies that were flexible enough to help their company grow and to help their company advance forward, they were able to very quickly bring those types of technologies into their network architecture. And I think the Internet of Things is the same thing.

Pincince: There's nothing about IoT that's more secure or insecure than all the other technologies that we have in our environment. … I don't want to see IoT become the boogey man where it really stops the adoption of these types of technologies which will change the ways the businesses are run.

It's the role of the CIO to lean forward, talk about the security and policy procedures of the company but then say, 'Well, once you have those in our building, how can we help you? How can we think about that data flow? How can we store that reliably for you? What are other integration points?' I think one of the great things that CIOs have is perspective on what's going on around the entire business. I think right now, in many cases, folks who are bringing in IoT either because they're an employee or a building manager are trying not to talk to CIOs, because they think the only thing that will happen is that they will say no. [But] the business benefit is so great that I think that the balance between making it secure and making it useful can easily be reached.

How can data produced by connected objects benefit the business? Smith uses Digital Lumens' intelligent LED lights as an example.

Smith: The Internet of Things allows us to understand a plethora of things about the world that we didn't know before. … What we've seen with Digital Lumens is that, very quickly having all of this data that's coming in, it tells a story that goes just beyond the lights. … People have been able to take that information that they get from the lights and make other business decisions around it.

For instance, one of the big things that we've been able to include in our product is this facility occupancy map. What this map does is show you where the hottest pockets of activity are. And I actually showed that map to a facility manager and a general manager at a certain point and you just saw his eyes go to saucers because, all of a sudden, he recognized that he can make other decisions based upon that information I just gave him. It was a very large warehouse with over 1,500 lights there and what he was able to do was actually change up his inventory to be able to pull product off of his shelves quicker and get them to the trucks quicker, so that way he could get the competitive advantage over his contemporaries. It was actually really cool that they were able to take it from [having] a light sensor to actually having inventory management.

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Great explanation of how CIOs can use IoT to better the business. Really like the example provided by Yolanda re: how a company used this LED IoT data to make a business decision. CIOs should definition "lean forward."
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Traditional corporations are still about command and control. Small companies and start ups are more flexible, they have better chances adopting IoT strategies.
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