IoT, Edge Analytics and Security
Could you tell us more about your role as VP of Business Development, Asia Pacific, Greenwave? Greenwave started about 7 years ago, focusing on smart energy projects, which is why you see the name Greenwave. At that time it was more about looking at what the interesting areas were where we could help utility companies reduce their costs and improve customer satisfaction by helping their customers manage their own costs. We did a number of projects on Smart Cities and smart utilities in Europe and Australia. Of course, along the way, the opportunity was larger because IoT started to take shape, so we evolved the company along those lines and we started focusing around IoT initially in the residential space, and also in the enterprise space as well. I joined the company seven months ago and now we’re looking to grow the business in Asia Pacific. We want to see where the opportunities lie in the residential space and enterprise space, what partnerships we need to strike in order to be successful, things of that nature.
Public-private partnerships are increasingly common, given the age of IoT where both parties are keen to leverage on the immense business and service opportunities with the development of IoT. With EDBI an STT as key investors in the company, what opportunities do you see in working closely with the public sector? Public sector projects in general tend to be quite large, especially in places like Singapore where the government is keen on making the concept of smart city all-pervasive. We have typically stayed away from large government initiatives because that’s the domain of large companies, like IBM, where you have very strong understanding of how the public sector works and how to manage those relationships. Public sector deals also typically have long lead times for conversion and that is not a business for companies at our stage of evolution to engage in. However, we’ve just acquired a very strong analytics company with its core in edge analytics. The whole concept of edge analytics is that the highest value of analytics is in immediacy; rather than hauling all the data back to a central datastore and then mining it. The focus is on actionable analytics - what can you do immediately with what you can determine in real time. So edge analytics is increasingly becoming part of the Greenwave AXON Platform, including the science of building analytics that can run on very low power CPUs, at the very edge of the network. In the case of an elevator, for example, instead of the elevator sending back data, the analytics of the performance of the elevator could be embedded in the elevator itself. The elevator does not actually continuously send back data, but only sends back data in the event of an anomaly, such as an expected part failure. And then what we do is we graph it in such a way that humans can understand it and we make all of it accessible and manageable in real time. So that’s really where the value is.
So with this acquisition in our pocket, it makes sense for us to look at partnering with companies that are working on public sector projects, large companies that have experience working with the government but not necessarily have great edge analytics capabilities, and we help them with the government projects. How do you think governments can benefit from IoT? The opportunities are obviously tremendous. Let’s look at the area of energy, not just electricity but also petrol and consumption. For most countries, fuel is an import and that can be a very substantial import bill. By using IoT from an industrial perspective, if you are able to cut down the amount of fuel consumption by vehicles on the road by even 2 or 3%, that can amount to billions of dollars in savings. It’s the small things that add up. Similarly, if you look at the power readings, by embedding IoT into power meters, instead of the government sending out someone to read the meters every other month, and incurring a significant delay between consumption and report, the consumer can see what is happening with the energy on a daily or hourly basis, or whenever he likes, because ultimately the meter is reading all the time. It’s a matter of giving more granular access to that information. If you enable the consumer to save by making him more aware of his consumption, that makes a huge difference again. Take a look at water, the management of water supply and the cases of flooding. If you are able to monitor in real time what’s happening, that gives us the ability to respond faster. In fact, IoT, without being called IoT, has been on Singapore roads for the longest time. Look at the controlled traffic lights. They were actually based on vehicular traffic. They weren’t connected to the Internet but they are networked. So IoT is really about technology that’s been around for a while, with incremental benefits. What are your thoughts on the development of IoT in the APAC region? What trends or patterns do you see in the growth of IoT in the next 3-5 years? IDC has reported that worldwide spending on IoT will grow from USD 655 billion in 2014 to USD 1.7 trillion in 2020. The expectation is that the Asia Pacific region will emerge as a leader in IoT spending. It’s growing fast and from Singapore’s perspective I believe we were in the top five for IoT penetration in Asia Pacific.
Also, I would like to split IoT into two areas: Industrial IoT (IIoT) and Residential IoT. If you look at residential (IoT) for the moment, I think in the APAC region and Southeast Asia, apart from Singapore and some parts of Malaysia, I don’t see this part of the world as ready to adopt residential IoT just yet. Singapore, Malaysia as well as parts of Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam… these are large manufacturing markets and the impact IoT can bring to manufacturing is very significant. I absolutely think there is a huge and tremendous growth opportunity for Industrial IoT in this part of the world.To me, analytics, especially, is going to play a huge role in manufacturing in the coming years. What are your thoughts on IoT security especially in recent times with IoT-related cyberattacks? Obviously it’s an area we track very carefully, so we have a security czar onboard. He joined us from Cisco Systems and he’s written a number of papers that have basically become standards in the security space. That being said, I think to some extent, it is unfair and maybe even incorrect to blame IoT for these recent security hacks. If you look a bit deeper, what’s really happened is, I would say, almost a lack of foresight on the part of certain manufacturers who issued devices that are basically open. Anything that’s out there, connected and open, basically poses a risk. If you think about the way companies thought about security in the past, it was really about “can someone get into my home”? In this case, what happened is the hackers turned that thinking completely around and not only got into the home but also got out of the home through the home. They use all these weak devices to mount DDoS attacks and the reality is that it’s going to get worse. It’s going to get much worse because this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many devices out there whose weaknesses are yet to be discovered and exploited. There are actually tools on the web that allow you to run bot scans to find devices that are using the default password. If you look at consumer routers, a lot of them issue a standard ID and password like “admin” and “password”. It’s a joke. We don’t believe in default user IDs and passwords, that’s a bad thing, and that leads to the exploits we’re seeing now, such as Mirai. We take a very different approach. As an example, we design and engineer the Wi-Fi router that Verizon issues in the USA called the Quantum Gateway. To date, Verizon has issued more than 3 million of these routers to it customers. Each of those routers have a unique password and that password is stuck on the router on a label right at front where the consumer can’t miss it.
It is not a meaningless mix of characters that is hard to type in, but a combination of words, numbers and symbols that is easy to remember yet very difficult to crack. Also, such routers are reasonably powerful and you can actually run programs inside the router to detect unusual activity that’s outbound and block it. That helps protect the network from other devices inside the network that may have been hacked.. If you put edge analytics on that you can similarly create even more value there because those edge analytics could create an alert that could be immediately escalated through the ISP’s network. Those are the kinds of forward thinking that we would like to think we are spearheading and certainly the industry has to catch up on very quickly.
Until the majority of companies get serious about this, I think this is a problem we have to live with.