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The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) has caused stratospheric growth in the number of connected devices and sensors in enterprises across all industries. It’s estimated that more than 80 “things” per second are connecting to the Internet, and by 2020 there will be a whopping 50 billion things connected to the IoT. Industries such as manufacturing and retail are being dramatically transformed by the IoT, with enterprises adopting technologies like fog computing and advanced analytics, or deploying hundreds of thousands of sensors throughout every aspect of their supply chains to create efficiencies, increase productivity, and gain real-time insights about their customers.

The connected car market today is facing many of the same IoT-related challenges that enterprises in other industries have already encountered and overcome. Here’s my take on some of the best practices and lessons learned along the way — many of which can be applied to the connected car market to help automakers and their partners harness the full potential of the IoT. Because this is such an important topic with many lessons to be learned, we’ll explore it over the course of a two-part series.

In many ways, the connected car can be considered the ultimate “thing” in the IoT. These data centers on wheels are truly the epitome of everyone’s best hopes and greatest challenges when it comes to the IoT.

With often more than 100 onboard computers continuously monitoring location, component performance, driving behavior, and more, experts estimate that highly automated vehicles will generate four terabytes of data per hour! And, as our transportation systems become even more connected through vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication, the amount of data generated is going to shift into overdrive.

As a result, automakers and their partners are beginning to experience many of the same challenges that enterprises in other industries have, including managing an overwhelming number of connected devices and the huge volume of data they generate, as well as challenges related to security, pervasive connectivity, bandwidth optimization, and more.

Lesson #1: Managing mushrooming devices when traditional methods won’t scale

Not long ago, enterprise IT revolved around managing a few large mainframes. Then suddenly, new paradigms emerged, like client-server, distributed, and mobile computing — forcing enterprise IT to evolve. The trend of bring your own device (BYOD — allowing employees to connect their personal devices to the company network) created additional challenges, as IT professionals became responsible for managing not only numerous machines, but also a huge number of potentially unsecured personal devices connecting to the network.

The situation in the connected car market is very similar. At first, the number of internet-connected cars was very small. But today, as the number of sensors and electronic control units multiplies, the connected car operates almost like a small enterprise on wheels. Different entities transmit potentially different types of data to different destinations, with different purposes and privacy and security requirements.

The diversity of suppliers of these parts further complicates the ecosystem. Multiply this by the skyrocketing numbers of connected vehicles (more than 380 million connected cars are expected to be on the road by 2021), and the challenge of managing all these connected devices becomes understandably overwhelming.

Take, for example, a typical retailer. Traditionally, enterprises have been able to manage up to about 200 devices per IT staff member; however, with the rise of the IoT, retailers now need to manage not just a few hundred thousand devices, but millions. With traditional IT approaches, this would mean adding tens of thousands of IT staff!

Newly emerging automated network management software and services make it possible to manage more than 1 million devices per IT staff. With network automation, a connected car automaker can see at a glance how each individual part is performing across a fleet of vehicles, indicating where there are opportunities for improvement in security and reliability, or even opportunities for new features, for example.

Lesson #2: Change management and software updates

Another challenge that comes with the growing number of connected vehicles is how to manage changes and software updates for their many related components and applications. The average vehicle already has more than 100 million lines of code under the hood, but the amount and complexity of software in vehicles is poised to explode as advanced driver assistance features and highly automated driving begin to take off.

Likewise, as connected cars bring more new experiences to drivers and passengers, both the vehicles and the policies that govern their use will become more complex and personalized, making management of widely varying configurations daunting.

Today, most vehicles receive software and configuration updates in the repair shop, so updates are less frequent and more readily bundled into packages that have passed a rigorous battery of quality assurance and safety tests. With over-the-air (OTA) updates, however, automakers can push new software and configurations to vehicles immediately.

This allows them to perform repairs on the spot without the need for a service appointment, patch vulnerabilities, and satisfy consumer demand for new features at the moment when they are most primed to purchase. Just imagine not having to make a pit stop at the mechanic to have that pesky “check engine” or “maintenance required” light on your dashboard dealt with! Yet making sure all these updates are compatible and will function with existing code in the car is a significant undertaking.

By automating in-vehicle networks and leveraging the cloud for centralized management and control, automakers can manage all the vehicles and their devices, while reducing the complexity of version control across different models of vehicles. Though the connected car market is still in its early days, automakers can put themselves on the right path forward by applying many of the enterprise IoT best practices developed in other industries, in order to better manage the millions of connected vehicles that will be on our roadways in the years to come.

Shaun Kirby is the director of automotive and connected car at Cisco, the multinational technology conglomerate.

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