Mobile 2 Go: Connecting the 'Internet of Things'
Managing talking devices at store raises set up, security issues
OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. -- If you can believe the stat, 3.8 billion devices out there can talk to each other today. In 2015, that number will jump 30% to 4.9 billion. R2-D2 and C-3PO have been mighty prolific since the first Star Wars movie.
Of course, these figures that research firm Gartner Group, Stamford, Conn., put out recently refer to are mostly static devices, devoid of anything cuddly or humanoid. We're talking sensory meters, tracking devices and energy monitors typically involving areas of manufacturing, utilities and transportation.
But that doesn't preclude the retail environment. Certainly convenience stores have to worry about cooler temps, fuel-tank levels and what registers are ringing up crazy amounts of no sales. And as awareness of all this technology creeps into the c-store industry, so will demand for the infrastructure that will listen to these devices, collect the data and turn that raw stuff into cost-saving or profit-building action.
Those pathways and bridges are what I found myself talking about recently with Dirk Heinen, CEO of data connectivity and security firm Acumera, Austin, Texas. I was curious about how it all worked, how store systems were changing and what challenges lurked.
We talked about the huge amounts of data that goes in and out stores daily, be it from tank gages, hand-held scanners or tablets that area managers bring in.
I started to sense a growling sea of data churning and churning.
In tandem with the massive amount of data is the burden of data security. Compliance to Payment Card Industry or PCI mandates have already reshaped how data flows at c-stores, with much of the credit- and debit-card pathways now being segmented away from all the other data that ebbs and flows through the store.
With these two pressures—data load and security—in mind, came the idea of mobile, and its use operationally in helping address these challenges.
Heinen suggested I look at the problem as first a wide-area network (WAN) which connects the store to the Internet and a local area network (LAN), which connects everything within the store to each other or to a hub on site. With WAN, a cellular solution is most likely, Heinen says, something akin to having a mobile-phone account.
For LAN, he says smaller-distance solutions are all possible, including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
It all began to make sense, especially when we started talking about security. He brought up the breach at department store giant Target and how a third-party HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) partner had access to a part of Target's systems. Hackers broke into that third-party entryway and eventually got into the store-level point of sale (POS), where it set up malware.
Many companies today are actually pushing the information third parties need up from the stores into the cloud. That way, third parties have the data they need without having to reach into the actual store systems.
Now, if you've followed my train of thought to here, I am deeply grateful. I rambled. But if we are all going to survive—dare I say thrive—in this growing world of automated conversations and things talking to other things, then at least to me, it's important to bump around behind the curtain and get a pulse on the mechanics of it all.