Why smart homes are the future of the smart enterprise

The first HomeKit-compatible Thread accessories are beginning to appear, and while that’s good news for consumers, it should also be good news for enterprise users.

What the Thread?

Originally designed by Nest, Samsung and ARM, Thread is an IP-based connectivity standard for smart devices. It’s a low-power mesh technology protocol that uses existing standards, such as IPv6, BLE, and others. At its simplest, it means devices from different manufacturers should be able to work together, securely, responsively, and with minimal cost to battery life.

Now supported by Apple, HomePod mini can be used as a base station for a Thread network, with the Eve Weather clearly destined to become one of the first new Apple-focused products to ship with support for it. (Eve Systems began updating existing products to support Thread in fall 2020.)

“By enabling Thread on their devices, Eve delivers a meaningful value today, and lays the groundwork for a scalable, robust smart home ecosystem,” said Sujata Neidig, vice president of the Thread Group.

Thread is also a key element of the CHIP (Connected Home over IP) standard that’s currently being developed by partners, including Apple. And while the present focus is on smart homes, recent years have shown us that technologies that gain mass market adoption will eventually be deployed across the enterprise.

The consumerization of IT

The consumerization of IT means it’s no longer acceptable for the technologies used at work to be more complex or less efficient than those we use in daily life. We know productivity, efficiency — even job satisfaction and staff retention — all suffer when people are forced to endure a poor technology experience.

These shifts in expectations are accentuated when employees work from home. Think about it: Home workers can quite literally experience better technology and applications in their personal lives than they do at work, side-by-side on the same desk.

One of the implications of COVID-19 that hasn’t yet been addressed is how to ensure the technology experience employees get in the office is at least as good as the one they have at home, once people return to the workplace more frequently.

Employers who get that balance right will find it much easier to attract better and more loyal staff, even if they don’t visit the office very often.

But IT reaches beyond the elites

What’s important here is that while this is a typical experience for those who can work from home, it’s also likely to reflect that of those who cannot.

Apple’s iPhone has defined a smartphone usage expectation every smartphone manufacturer strives to meet. The company’s continued annual iteration of the user experience raises all the boats.

Which means everyone you meet, from point-of-sales workers to delivery, maintenance and public-facing staff, already use – and expect – the same kind of high-end user experience.

That’s where the Internet of Things (IoT) will (increasingly) come into effect, given the rapid proliferation of IoT systems across many of the same key enterprises that have insisted employees attend the workplace during recent lockdowns. It should be clear that consumerization reaches beyond the so-called “professional classes.”

Every business is a digital business

As businesses become digitized, we’re seeing growing use of sensor-based solutions, data analytics, and deployment of smart, connected devices. The devil in this detail has been the existence of sometimes-conflicting IoT standards, which means business-usable data has been kept in incompatible siloes.

As management systems head into the cloud and effective multi-cloud management solutions appear, we’re seeing better use of this valuable information. We’re also seeing new connectivity standards emerge in consumer markets, which may help underpin IoT deployment across the enterprise.

After all, if reality follows the path of IT consumerization, we can expect at least part of future enterprise IoT connectivity to emerge in consumer markets. That’s where Thread and upcoming developments from the also Apple-supported Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP) should step in.

We’ve got to get it together

These systems aim to make it much easier to deploy smart home devices from multiple manufacturers using a variety of proprietary standards in a compatible way. CHIP remains in development. Thread (which uses the IPv6 standard, which is itself adopted within the CHIP model) is available already.

It is important to note that the latter protocol is being designed to complement Thread (and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth BLE), which means these devices should work together pretty well when CHIP submits its first spec later in 2021.

The imminent emergence of an interoperable IoT standard should help reassure consumer and enterprise purchasers that any systems they do put in place will be supported in the long-term. And yes, while we still need to wait to see how these protocols support privacy and the extent to which they are secure, this is a step in the right direction.

Because, ultimately, it should be no harder to deploy (and manage) a piece of smart machinery than it is to install a smart lightbulb or home thermostat. 

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me at the AppleHolic’s bar & grill group on MeWe.