By John Alec Stouras
COVID-19 has genuinely changed the world we live in. We have to wear masks everywhere; we have to keep a six-feet distance; we have to monitor our health in ways we do not usually do in our previous day-to-day existence. Will things ever truly get back to normal? Technology and medical experts have stated a resounding no. Items will likely have to change. For more information, read this paper by MIT’s Technology Review on the coronavirus and changing behaviors.
Do not despair yet. Though things will ultimately change forever, we will still go back to some normalcy of going to the workplace. But, we are going to likely use the Internet of Things (IoT) to achieve that goal. The Internet of Things is a broad phrase for technology devices that are connected together. The connectivity usually occurs via a WI-FI network, or Bluetooth connect-ability. The best example is if you have multiple smart devices at your home, like an Apple Home Pod/Alexa, a smart phone, and smart light bulbs. The Internet of Things, as an office tool, is likely going to be the only method of achieving any sort of normalcy. So, let’s dive into the changes that are going to have to be made involving it: company policy, types of IoT devices, Types of Companies Offering IoT devices, Employee Concerns, Human Resources, New IoT roles, and Privacy/Cybersecurity concerns.
“All Company Policy Is By Me Ok”
Company policy is going to have to change, and it will need to incorporate both the IoT aspect, and the other changes your business will have to make to its policies involving telework. The company policy will change according to the other topics below, such as the types of IoT devices, and social distancing policies you will implement. You will ultimately, as a company, have to be more lenient in allowing people to work from home. Likely, telework as an option for individuals, if feasible, will be allowed more often in the workplace. As stated in this Forbes article, companies are going to have to be more flexible with their employees such as with e-learning and training, as well as working from home.
Types of Devices that can help
IoT devices are going to be especially helpful during this time. Do not believe me? Let’s look at the markets then. Though every market has suffered during this time, IoT markets have maintained an optimistic growth rate; you can see that here. They will be used in most workplaces, whether for better or for worse. So, let’s get into important devices.
Wearable IoT Devices: Employees who have to work in close proximity together should wear IoT devices that can communicate with each other as to avoid getting to close to each other. The way they work, according to Occupational Health and Safety Online, is that they would create an audio cue if workers got to close to each other alerting them of being too close. For more information, click here. Also, it’ll keep data on how close employees have been, in the unfortunate event of someone contracting COVID-19, this data can be accessed. Then, the data would be used to find out who may have potentially been in contact with them, and they would be alerted.
Air-Monitor IoT Sensors: There are IoT devices that can be placed throughout a workplace to detect the air quality of the area. Now originally, this was all about air-condition, which may help general office things. You actually are going to need healthy air for your employees, especially because of the viruses that could be floating around like COVID-19. Air quality IoT sensors will likely soon be programmed to detect if COVID-19 has entered your building. They will also provide clear ventilation and air-filtration. All are very important things for a healthy office.
The Other IoT Devices: There are even other IoT devices that serve various needs. One is a device called “20Sec4Life” that dispenses soap and plays an audible tone to help people wash their hands as per the World Health Organization’s recommendation for twenty seconds of washing hands. There are many other IoT devices for businesses and some of them you already know of, like automatic light bulbs and sensors that’ll turn on when you walk into a bathroom, or automatic sensor faucets. These are very low-tech IoT devices, but they can cut down on things, such as electricity and water bills significantly if they are in tack.
You can see that IoT devices can do more than just power-saving by turning off lights when no one is there. Also, some industries like the airline industry are already using IoT’s to limit contact. Airliners already have a plentiful amount of sensors that check on various mechanics like engines. Nevertheless, they are using IoT devices to track passenger and cargo flow as well as other things. Taking the lead with the airline industry could be small businesses, like yours!
Types Of Companies Offering packages
Companies are going to start offering IoT packages soon, and you may want to pick one up for your office. Microsoft has been discussing releasing a business package, as well as other companies, so keep your eyes out. This will allow a plentiful amount of IoT devices at a reduced cost.
Concerns? You Betcha!
I have talked a lot about the advantages and devices that you can acquire, but let’s talk about the major concerns. With that many connected devices, you’ll have various concerns that will arise both on the client and employee side. I’ve sorted them into four current concerns: HR issues, new roles (new hire) issues, privacy concerns, and cybersecurity issues.
Human Resources Problems
HR departments are going to be inundated with the amount of data that will come in from IoT devices. Figuring out ways to organize, store, and interpret this data will be paramount for these devices to be of any use whatsoever. Also, data means power in our new technological era. And as our favorite Uncle Ben from Spider-Man said: “With great power comes great responsibility.” This means that there will be checks and balances in the HR space, better recruiting, and more oversight. Keep these in mind when thinking about new IoT devices.
New Roles Issues
You may need to hire cybersecurity professionals and security officers who make sure the IoT devices you install are safe, secure, and compliant. Creating a new role and hiring new professionals can be a daunting task, so getting assistance will be key here. However, hackers have ways of perpetrating in unique ways; sometimes they even apply to jobs just to hack. So, make sure your HR representative or department does proper vetting for a role that involves both sensitive information and sensitive policy decisions.
Anytime you have a new technology in your office, there are privacy concerns. Your employees will have them, your consumers will have them, and even you will have them. Because devices can be accessed, and IoT devices are usually always on, people will have problems with the way they operate. There are ways to mitigate these concerns, which is the best thing. One of them is to make sure you buy IoT devices that apply to privacy-by-design principles, as well as keeping privacy policies that are actively enforced in your business.
Keeping privacy, as a part of your top-of-mind awareness, is difficult. Also, privacy and cybersecurity overlap in many ways, so it can be hard to keep track where things fit. So, it is extremely important to have other people comment on privacy and cybersecurity concerns.
Anytime you hook up a device to a network, you have another possible entry point to have bad actors attack your business. As seen in this TechRepublic article, malware attacks are down, but IoT and ransomware attacks have risen 109%. In the same article, we see that malware targeting IoT devices has risen to 20.2 million, which is a 50% increase. It is odd to think that a smart bulb could infiltrate your entire company’s network, but it can. Attacking a weak IoT device is slim pickings for a hacker, so they go right to the heart through the IoT device. According to Tripwire, there are two main goals you are going to have to follow to protect IoT devices: Protect Device Security and Protect Data Security. The first is to attempt to prevent IoT devices from being hacked, and the second is defending the data that is collected and stored.
These are easy tasks to say, but lots of little parts going into device and data security. Addressing both issues is going to be paramount if you are going to put IoT devices in your small business’ toolbox. Let’s start with some tips that’ll help your business protect your IoT devices and data:
Malware, Ransomware, Anywhere: Keep an eye out for any suspicious emails, applications, and even physical devices. The biggest enemies will be from malware and ransomware, which is the method for hackers to penetrate your network via your IoT device.
Invest in Cybersecurity: Invest in a great cybersecurity solution to protect your network. You have heard of a couple of these security solutions because they often broadcast to consumers for antivirus solutions: Norton, McAfee, etc.
Ask the maker: Manufacturers are aware of various security risks. Therefore, some products offer a higher level of security that should not go unnoticed by small business purchasers, like you. Do your research, and ask the IoT device manufacturers what type of security comes innately with the device itself.
Have your devices speak in tongues: Use encrypted communications not only between humans, but also between devices. This will help out especially against malware and ransomware. Find IoT devices that use encryption; spend the extra money because the security is worth it.
Remember, and I have said this in my prior articles, security concerns do not have a high return on investment. This means that small business owners often allow these concerns to fall by the wayside. Just because something that does not have a high return of investment, does not mean it’s not important. Because, even though it takes money and does not give much in return, security actually will save you thousands of dollars in the end.
IoT devices are going to be a huge part of the next technological era, and having them will increase business productivity, and keep your employees safer. Because of this, you are going to have to take some of the important steps above to make sure your company works effectively and stays protected. Keep the concerns in mind, and you’ll be fine when selecting IoT devices for your small business.
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