Why Businesses Need Partnerships to Realize IoT Potential

Chris Moorhead
May 15, 2018

 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is having a transformational effect in business and in consumers’ lives. Organizations are using IoT devices to uncover inefficiencies and cut costs or to collect and monetize data about the way customers use their products. For consumers, devices like smart speakers in their kitchens make daily tasks easier and more convenient, while things like connected LED lightbulbs or car entertainment systems can personalize experiences.

However, challenges in securing IoT devices put these benefits in jeopardy. IoT ecosystems in businesses and in consumers’ homes are becoming more complex and collect more data than ever before, yet there are no clear regulations on how these devices and data should be protected from theft or manipulation. As a result, many IoT devices are released with inadequate hardware or data security measures.

Whether it’s business pressures pushing unsecured devices and services towards the market, or a lack of IoT security expertise causing a security shortfall, it’s evident that best practices are still taking shape. Regulations will surely follow, and most IT decision makers and consumers agree that there should be regulations in place for IoT security. In fact, a recent survey[1] of 1,500 IT decision makers and 10,500 consumers worldwide found that 96% of businesses and 90% of consumers feel IoT security should be regulated.

Before regulation can be put in place, however, a consensus needs to be reached on the best ways to secure IoT devices and the data they collect. Given the state of IoT security in business today and consumer expectations for new devices and services, organizations would be wise to proactively partner with IoT security experts to strengthen their defenses and adopt better security habits. Such partnerships, on top of protecting organizations from the huge losses associated with breaches, could even put businesses ahead of the regulatory curve, giving them a competitive advantage and forging stronger relationships with customers.

Fortunately, partnerships are already driving a significant amount of IoT activity. Almost all (95%) decision makers polled say that their organization partners with others to implement IoT devices or services, and on average they maintain partnerships with three IoT vendors. However, only 31% of those partnerships are aimed at securing the IoT. More often it’s cloud service providers (51%) or IoT service providers (50%) who are tapped for partnerships.

Security spending lags behind other categories in IoT budgets, too. For those organizations using or distributing IoT devices, decision makers reported spending only 11% of their budgets on security. That’s despite near-universal agreement among IT and business decision makers (97%) that security is a factor in consumer purchase decisions, and the lack of spending is made even more perplexing considering consumers’ readiness to voice their fears about IoT devices – 89% of those in the global survey said they were “fearful over the security of their data.”

So, why the gap between consumer demand for security, decision-makers understanding of that demand and actual spending?

Today, unfortunately, perceived costs and complexity often hamper efforts to secure IoT devices, networks or storage infrastructure. More than nine in ten decision makers (94%) polled in a recent study felt there were challenges to implementing security measures for their IoT deployments – most commonly citing costs of implementation (44%) and the large amounts of data being collected (39%) as the top challenges.

However, forecasts suggest that the IoT could more than double in size in the next two years, growing from roughly 10 to 20 billion connected devices by 2020[2]. The challenges to security that decision makers face today are only set to grow as IoT ecosystems get more complex.

Forging partnerships with IoT security specialists today can help fortify the IoT before it gets even more complex, and IT decision makers should be able to justify some increases in security spending in a few different ways.

First, the costs of implementation may not be as large a barrier if organizations form smart partnerships with IoT security specialists. Almost half (44%) of IT decision makers say partnerships can drive down the costs associated with stronger security.

IT decision makers should also consider that partnerships can create cost efficiencies through collaboration. The 21% of survey respondents who said they don’t know how to identify IoT threats can be trained to be more effective in less time, or the 30% of decision-makers who cited a lack of external guidance as a challenge to IoT security can ask for recommendations on tools or even on training materials for employees.

Partnerships with IoT security specialists can also increase IT teams’ collaborative knowledge about the IoT and related security measures, helping them spend less time managing IoT security (a benefit cited by 35% of decision-makers) while still offering the business better protection against attacks that could cripple critical systems, bring heavy fines or send customers flocking away.

Finally, smarter security teams and stronger protections at the device and network levels can also have a positive effect on customer relationships. 37% of survey respondents said that partnerships with IoT security specialists have or would increase customer trust in IoT devices. Finding ways to foster trust is worth investment as consumer confidence in IoT products is likely to play an outsized role in success in the IoT market.

Businesses may be neglecting the importance of consumer confidence right now, however. If most consumers (90%) expect that security is built into their devices, but nearly the same proportion (89%) still worry about device security and 90% think the IoT should be regulated, the survey results seem to suggest that trust in IoT businesses is on shaky ground.

Perhaps, today at least, that consumer suspicion is well placed – only 57% of businesses reported using data encryption to protect all of the data collected through IoT devices, and only 33% said they felt they have complete control over the data they collect as it moves through their existing IoT ecosystems.

Strong partnerships with IoT security specialists can close this gap between consumer expectations and businesses’ readiness to protect their IoT devices and the data they collect. With nearly half of consumers using IoT devices – four per person, on average – strong security including hardware protections and encryption (for data at rest and in transit) will be critical to success in the IoT. Forging partnerships today can reduce the costs of catching up to customer expectations, can help businesses make more valuable products and might move the whole industry more quickly towards consensus on IoT security best practices that could become tomorrow’s regulatory requirements.

 

[1] https://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3598917

[2] https://www.gemalto.com/m2m/documents/iot-security-report

 

 

Chris MoorheadChris Moorhead: In Chris’ 9 years with Gemalto, he has concentrated on the M2M/IoT industry to establish and grow relationships with Gemalto's cellular module and solution customers, with a focus on M2M pioneers and strategic partnerships in North America. Gemalto’s global culture and worldwide presence have provided Chris the opportunity to develop a truly international perspective of the M2M/IoT industry.

 

 

 

When IoT Meets Agriculture: The Story of AGRIOT LAB Technology-Transfer Initiative

Raffaele Giaffreda
May 15, 2018

 

It is no question that meeting Sustainable Development Goals will be more and more the focus of the coming years. Within these expected targets, precision agriculture is set to play an important role: climate change will be putting more strains on our hydrogeological system; this in conjunction with increasing demands for food will require particular attention dedicated to the efficient use of agricultural resources, especially irrigation water.

Trentino is a mountainous region in the North of Italy where water scarcity has never been a big issue in the past. In 2017 there also was a combination of weather conditions including also a cold spell and a series of frosty nights that in late April hit the region causing considerable damage to crop yields[1]. 2017 was the driest on record since 1800[2] and lack of water was not only a problem for irrigation but also for activating some of the countermeasures for fighting the frost via tree sprinkler systems[3].

This is just a specific example out of many similar stories that have reported in recent years, showing us undeniable trends and urging us to become more and better equipped to deal with the effects of climate change in the agricultural sector. Not only draughts and water shortages but also earlier fruit trees blossoming and extreme weather conditions are poised to influence traditional crop management procedures. Issues of cost, in a traditionally low-margin business context, remain, as well as infiltrating technology in well-established tradition-rooted practices.

This is a domain where IoT can certainly help. Sensors and connected objects have made that transition from being of interest for high-margin applications (i.e. quantified-self gadgetry) to becoming so affordable and appealing also for low-margin markets such as agriculture. Furthermore, thanks to the relatively recent advent of low-cost LPWAN technologies, sensor data collection and wide fields coverage has never been easier and cheaper. Better quality, smaller size, more precision, reduced power consumption, these are all features that have considerably improved the IoT ability to create low-cost wide-coverage solutions. Sensing and M2M communication networks are also complemented by hundreds of IoT platforms to choose from.

Having said that, stitching together a reliable and useful end-to-end system in this peculiar application domain will require certainly more than just system integration knowledge and an IoT platform license, as it is emerging from AGRIOT LAB[4], a technology transfer activity where a well-established expertise in the IoT domain is used to address the requirements of an agricultural sector characterised by long-standing traditions and relatively high resistance against technology.

To smoothen the adoption path, it is essential to interact as early as possible with agriculture and forestry domain experts and ensure the problem being addressed with an AgriTech solution is matching what these experts would consider a real problem. In particular, part of the solution design was influenced by discussions with Laimburg Research Centre[5] and Beratungsring[6] experts in the apple orchard domain. Results in this field[7] published few years ago, show considerable irrigation water savings that could be targeted with the right sensing devices and knowledge: from 50% to 90% irrigation water use reduction in the region along the Adige river, notoriously fertile for this type of crops, without affecting the yield.

From interactions with other local stakeholders it also emerged that, reducing water consumption to fulfil the plant basic needs (rather than trusting the farmer’s perception) also brings reduced electricity bills as a side effect: in many areas on the hills along the main valleys the water must still be pumped up from lower altitude natural or artificial basins/reservoirs to ensure proper irrigation during dry spells. Through these interactions, the design of cheap, yet reliable sensing solutions was targeted, paying also particular attention to how easy it would be to deploy and use sensors, what would be the required maintenance and how much would be the overall cost.

The development of a worthwhile product and associated solutions was motivated by these market needs as well as by the willingness to ensure competitiveness of the local agricultural sector and a concrete impact towards SDGs. To achieve these goals also requires working together with agronomists to target the collection of the right data at the right frequency and from the most appropriate locations. All this know-how has crop-based variations and soil/climate dependencies which, once mastered can add to the expertise and to the ability to tackle this domain in many of its facets. This is a clear differentiator for AGRIOT LAB in terms of competitive advantage and in terms of the ability to scale up and create a sustainable business in this low-margin AgriTech domain.

Customer trust must be earned gradually and patiently, hence the need to start with something simple. Working together with customers throughout experimentation has revealed that an overwhelming technology-push would produce undesired resistance and friction against adoption. The first experimentation, therefore, targeted the implementation of a sensor for ground humidity measurement purposes (Fig. 1) and a wet bulb temperature sensor (Fig. 2) to generate alerts in case of frosty conditions. These are all easy-to-deploy, stand-alone wireless devices, with low-maintenance being addressed with a board design that paid particular attention to energy efficiency in data collection, processing, and transmission. The pictures show the humidity sensor, as easy to deploy as planting a stick in the ground and the wet-bulb temperature sensor, tied to one of the supporting poles present everywhere in commercial apple orchards. To meet the low-cost requirement, the large coverage was achieved using LoRa as an M2M communication technology (Fig. 3 shows details of the weatherproof gateway implemented for the experimentation).

Reliable hardware deployment must be supported by adequate software for secure data acquisition, interpretation, and storage. It is important to ensure one can provide flexibility in where the needed infrastructure is deployed according to requirements. While public clouds are appealing from a low-maintenance perspective, many SMEs in the agricultural sector still require a private solution entirely running within their premises and under their direct control. Security and data privacy is often perceived as a must in ensuring company secrets, historical data collection and field operations are duly protected in such a highly competitive market. One must, therefore, provide means to encrypt data during communication/collection phase at the hardware level (ensured through LoRaWAN), but also achieve security at the software level with appropriate device registration and control procedures and well-designed access policies for stored data. To provide this level of flexibility AGRIOT LAB relies on its own IoT Platform developed and validated in many application domains, but also on appropriate partnerships that have been developed throughout years of collaborative projects activities.

The ongoing experimentation phase is expected now to validate the solution and ensure the transition from lab-based prototypes to outdoor commercial solutions is properly tested before considering further enhancements and engaging in more sustained go-to-market activities. The direct involvement of end-users in the experimentation has been key to establish a trust relationship where constructive feedback is gathered and the foundations for future enhancements are duly laid. Infrastructure and field test activities will be completed with the participated design of a suitable graphical user interface for visualisation of alerts and actuation control. The subsequent GUI development will be the result of personalised interactions with different customers, to suit different needs tied to different cultures and crop specificities and further tailored to the sensors deployed and related data interpretation.

Figure 1: Tensiometer for soil humidity
Figure 1: Tensiometer for soil humidity
Figure 2: Wet bulb temperature sensor
Figure 2: Wet bulb temperature sensor
Figure 3: LoRa weather-proof gateway
Figure 3: LoRa weather-proof gateway

 

[1] https://www.munichre.com/topics-online/en/2018/01/spring-frost

[2] http://www.isac.cnr.it/climstor/climate_news.html

[3] https://fruitgrowersnews.com/article/protecting-your-fruit-from-frost-and-freeze/

[4] http://www.agriotlab.com

[5] http://www.laimburg.it/

[6] http://www.beratungsring.org/

[7] Thalheimer M., Paoli N. (2012). Bedarfsgerechte Bewässerung durch Einsatz von Sensoren. Besseres Obst 57 (6), 4-6


 

raffaele giaffreda2Raffaele Giaffreda received his first degree (Laurea) in Electronic Engineering from Politecnico di Torino in 1995 and his Master of Science in Telecom Engineering from University College of London in 2001. He joined British Telecom (BT) in 1998 as a researcher, shifting his interest from optical communications systems to data networks, mainly working on information retrieval systems and context-aware wireless networks. He has worked as Research Area Head for CREATE-NET since 2008 contributing to and leading many EU collaborative projects. He is currently Chief IoT Scientist at the OpenIoT Research Unit of FBK CREATE-NET working on IoT system integration, cognitive technologies and federated learning for IoT, use of blockchains for edge computing. He is also engaged in technology transfer activities in the AgriTech domain.