These are exciting times for tech-driven integration. The Internet of Things is in fact taking over the world in both concept and practice, perpetually changing the way industries work together. The IoT has spurred the rapid evolution of ideas that affect our day-to-day activities and will undoubtedly accelerate the tech world's capability to make digital ecosystems 'of the future' a present-day reality.
According to Gartner, "The Internet of Things installed base will grow to 26 billion units by 2020. IoT product and service suppliers will generate incremental revenue exceeding $300 billion, mostly in services, in 2020. It will result in $1.9 trillion in global economic value-add through sales into diverse end markets.”
At the core of IoT is the principle of using sensors to connect smart technologies with everyday life. The practice of mining data from the sensors that make up an IoT ecosystem is what ushers forth and shapes a brave new world full of technologies that automate processes, expedite progress, connect industries, and ultimately, improve overall user experiences.
The chances are great that you've seen the widening array of embedded applications that make the IoT a tangible thing. For example, wearable technologies are redefining the fitness world; word processing algorithms and social media capabilities are increasing news coverage and brand awareness, through automation and habit-recognition software, with unprecedented velocity. The age of 'smart' cities -- whose traffic patterns and technological capabilities seamlessly integrate with business and personal operations -- has arrived. Within these cities are 'smart' homes which contain thermostats that auto-adjust with the climate and a plethora of other appliances that transform how we live and work. Imagine these homes using refrigerator software that scans the interior food items and sets reminders to restock the items with approaching expiration dates.
As we expand the connectivity of the IoT and we get into systems that directly affect public safety and personal lives, like medical devices and systems, automotive safety, and an array of infrastructure protocols, the consequences of a system breach or network failure are higher than ever before. The capabilities of the IoT are wonderful, however, such interconnectedness requires Quality Assurance (QA) well before the amalgamation of devices, sensors, and applications can be fully-integrated and released to market. Quality Assurance is partly reliant on consumer-based data cultivated from the needs, behavior patterns, market trends, history, and habits connecting industries. As a technological ecosystem, the IoT must continually mine data analytics to ensure would-be supporting networks and systems can handle the technological evolution. The QA process for the IoT tests and validates new technologies with the aim of regularly improving existing and future systems.
What is the Connection Between IoT and QA?
According to Cognizant, a consulting company and provider of information technology, QA affects what it specifies as 'Core Components' comprised of: Things, Communication, and Computing.
Things can be thought of as physical objects with sensors (embedded or attached) that enable the object to interact with an external environment.
Communication is the main networking element that enables the object (thing) to communicate with another thing and/or the external environment by way of a communication protocol that is based on a type of network, such as a hard-wired connection, WAN, LAN, or cellular provider.
Computing dictates behavior and is conducted on a mobile device, desktop workstation, or server, which in-turn processes and analyzes mined data. Computing must make intelligent decisions and deductions within a specified system that ultimately forms the connection for actual use and the analysis of user behavior.
A real-life and real-time application of this concept is a car's navigation system, which is comprised of a 'thing' -- the hardware component housed in the console. The thing communicates with satellite readings accessed on networks and the computing component churns out data to help the driver dictate their route (user behavior) as an outcome.
Will the IoT Lead to Emerging Markets?
Testing associated with QA aims to empower IoT's wide-ranging spectrum of influence. Designers and developers aim to take advantage of the day-to-day growth bridging human decision-making with tech-driven intelligence. The IoT's continued influence is paving the way for emerging markets, as evidenced by the melding of previously unconnected industries and verticals. One example is logistics companies, which provide the agricultural industry with tools, software, and processes that help farmers keep accurate harvest yields. New markets such as these can benefit from the high-velocity growth associated with rapid innovation; this is apparent with something like the wearable fitness technology -- a movement that has literally re-shaped not only the fitness industry, but the lives of millions of people who've integrated said technology with their lives.
What Types of Challenges are Associated with Quality Assurance (QA) and IoT?
As with any evolving industry, QA revolving around the IoT must continue in order to optimize processes and overall user experiences. The function of QA is critical. Testing hardware and software components and reporting results-driven feedback in real-time is merely part of the process. Organizations must perform rigorous testing on applications, platforms, and the corresponding technologies prior to full-scale market release.
Tech-driven innovation forces businesses and governments to take a long, hard look at the IoT and take the core principles related to QA into account, such as: security, data privacy, and ease-of-integration. To create a truly digital ecosystem with near-seamless data sharing between appliances, machines, and data centers across global networks requires the continued development of compatible physical and digital technologies -- both of which are cost-heavy initiatives. Moreover, QA steps must test reliability along with scalability.
Manufacturers, vendors, and users within the IoT will also be held accountable by the Federal Trade Commission for the security and stability of their products and services. "The Internet of Things is already impacting the daily lives of millions of Americans through the adoption of health and fitness monitors, home security devices, connected cars and household appliances, among other applications. Such devices offer the potential for improved health-monitoring, safer highways, and more efficient home energy use, among other potential benefits. However, the FTC report also notes that connected devices raise numerous privacy and security concerns that could undermine consumer confidence."
What Types of IoT QA Exist?
Hardware-Software compatibility validation is a process that assesses a system in which to test a product and its corresponding service delivery. The relationship between an object and the software it interacts with must be validated by analyzing large-scale sensor interactions within a real-time IoT environment.
User-Device Interaction validates two tiers of standards: market-driven standards and government-based standards. Market-driven standards are assessed by performance, reliability, and user-experience feedback. Government-based standards align with federal and state laws to ensure considerations take place before large-scale releases -- such standards and testing are not dictated by market demand, but by governmental allowances. Quality Assurance administrators must test the merging hardware with the appropriate software on devices that will form the digital ecosystem.
Cross-domain Interoperability measures how different devices interact with one another and the digital environment. Validation considerations such as hardware compatibility, encryption checks, and security standards from the device-layer to the network-layer take place.
Security QA tests data privacy and network and system reliability across several IoT ecosystems. This type of QA is closely-tied to governmental regulations. Another aspect of security testing for the IoT is ensuring measures are taken to maintain personal privacy and safety, as highly-sensitive and accessible systems (personal data, financial information, web cameras, recording software, GPS devices, medical readings, etc.) are always targets for hackers. QA administrators have to be several steps ahead of these hackers to ensure a service's reliability, security, and trustworthiness is strong.
User-Experience Validation tests how a device, service, or system works across networks based on data collected from use cases, user experience write-ups and reports, front-end usability tests, and of course, back-end functionality validation.
Environment Acceptance Testing is a process that transitions the raw functionality testing in a contained and limited environment ("Does this device work on this 'test' network?") to a full-scale, open market (experience-based) functionality test in a dynamic environment. Devices, applications, and sensors here transition from Release to Manufacturing (RTM) to General Availability (GA) and release to the Web.
Currently, the cost of production for many of these IoT-based technologies remains high. Innovative leadership must include cost-conscious analysis to accurately develop methods of delivery for a world where the IoT can best serve people and enterprises. Obstacles will continue to present themselves along the way; funding, production, data governance and compliance issues, and regulations are but a few of the challenges in store for full IoT integration. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the impacts of the IoT and how it affects industries and daily life.
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