Wednesday, 01 March 2017 10:15

Where is IoT going?


"Successful IoT projects... become essentially invisible," according to IDC associate vice-president for IoT Asia Pacific, Hugh Ujhazy. "If they're really working well, you never really see them."

"IoT is nothing new," he told a media briefing hosted by Seagate, as industry has been doing it for decades. What's changed recently is that big cost reductions — 4x for sensors, 40x for connectivity and 60x for processing — have made it more broadly affordable.

"It's all about business," said MasterCard APAC vice-president of innovation management for digital payments, Tobias Puehse. The obvious aspect is achieving greater operational efficiency. "IoT is all about... cognitive offloading," and simplification generates value, he said.

But there are also benefits from creating intellectual property value within a broader system, providing there is a mechanism to fairly compensate the various players.

MasterCard wants to ensure "great flow" for person-device and device-device communication. "Who would want to sign-on every IoT device?" he asked, which could be interpreted as meaning that MasterCard may have more interests in this area than just the transfer of value.

IoT needs to be inclusive, said Puehse. It helps democratise access to information and services, and makes things cheaper. But we need to "make sure we do it for the benefit of society" not just small groups, he warned.

It can help individuals by promoting "frictionless flows," suggested Ujhazy. For example, the technology is used in Singapore to allow retailers (presumably including hospitality businesses) to direct offers to spectators leaving a stadium in order to smooth the flow of people onto the train system. (Anyone who has stood on a crowded platform at Richmond Station after a big event at the MCG might welcome something similar, but it would work better for venues such as Etihad Stadium where there are more nearby businesses to absorb people.)

IoT is a key part of the move towards smart cities. While the automotive and airline industries are "probably at the forefront of IoT", according to Seagate senior vice-president of global sales and sales operations B.S. Teh, "safety and security will be next," and smart cities will enable a more efficient lifestyle.

"Smart enterprises will be attracted to smart cities," said Ujhazy. They want well-defined and mature infrastructure, and applications that allow the integration of large sources of data. Cities will compete to attract organisations and talent, partly by offering smart infrastructure, he predicted.

But security and privacy are essential: "We have to create an environment of trust," said Ujhazy.

That means multiple layers of security, including the physical security of end points, session encryption, identity and access controls, and verification of devices and gateways. Even simple tests such as checking that a device is sending an appropriate amount of data for its function have a role. The good news is that, according to Ujhazy, these issues are being addressed.

But he warned that the relatively long lifespan of some devices — as much as 10 or 15 years — security is going to be an ongoing problem as new exploits keep being found. "The 'moat and castle wall' approach to security is not going to work," he warned.

Puehse predicted that device-specific and purpose-specific tokenisation (as used in the payments industry for systems such as Apple Pay) may be used more widely as it "will not be easily compromised".

Quantum encryption is the most secure, observed Professor Dim-Lee Kwong — the executive director of Singapore's Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R) Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the National University of Singapore — but it does come at significant cost.

Health is another area that could see significant benefits from IoT.

"IoT will play a significant role" in reducing costs and the burden on patients, said Prof Kwong. More resources need to be put into AI in this area, but there is "a lot of hype today" as most tasks can be performed by a human in less than a second. "Machine learning is really far behind."

Wearables have the potential to support remote health and preventive diagnostics, said Ujhazy. There are opportunities to reduce costs, for example, if wearable sensors show a condition is under control, less frequent visits to the doctor (whether in the flesh or via telepresence) may be appropriate. But the potential for fatalities and the possibility of malicious intervention means there is a particular need for security and data validation.

Regardless of the area of application, "not all of the data is going to be useful," said Teh, observing that data is unlikely to be of use if it is not analysed.

That leads to the question of where the data is stored and analysed. Can the data be stored locally? Is sufficient bandwidth available to transfer it? Privacy, security and cost all present challenges, he said, but falling costs mean more deployments and secure and safe solutions that preserve the integrity of data are needed.

It seems there is no single answer to whether analytics should be performed at the edge or in data centres. Kwong suggested surveillance cameras need to do analytics on the spot, as large scale deployments involving thousands of cameras are more difficult.

IoT is needed for the efficient utilisation of diminishing resources and assets, said Teh. Even though IoT has been around for decades, it's "really at the infancy," he said, but we are "beginning to have a clearer vision of what it can do for us".

Disclosure: The writer attended the event in Singapore as a guest of Seagate.

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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