Internet of Things and Implications in a Developing Economy

Introduction

Internet, today, has become an essential element in people’s lives and, in an extended way, in the affairs of communities and in the conduct of everyday affairs. There is a pervading view that Internet access is the basic need for individuals and groups to collaborate and work together in advancing common needs. Networks and associated technologies are providing advanced and sophisticated ways for people to interact and apply them for larger and common good, providing huge gains in acquiring and sharing knowledge and in providing solutions to our most pressing problems. Through numerous technological advances, society is moving towards an “always connected” state.

One of the manifestations of the internet is a paradigm called “Internet of Things” or IoT, which is a concept where objects, animate and inanimate, become part of the Internet; each with a unique identity on the network, is accessible as any computer today is, and whose position and state is known and tracked all the time. In short, there is now a model where the real-world objects can participate as digital entities and as peers in a vastly connected network of networks, which includes the internet1.

This paper presents an overview of IoT and its potential in social and community applications, which will bring benefits to the society and enhance the economy; challenges associated with IoT, especially around securing information and ensuring that control of such societal tools does not pass into the hands of malicious elements.

Evolution

From its humble beginnings as a network of computers to network of networks with the World Wide Web overlay and now to a network of people aka social networks (such as Facebook, LinkedIn etc.), the Internet has been creating value at each turn of its evolution. Today, we have over 2 billion people on the internet who collaborate and consume social media and other internet services on a daily basis. Also, with the breakthrough growth of mobile Internet access and applications, geographical distances and national borders have been breached connecting people and organisations on a massive scale. Cost of both broadband and smartphones has been declining equally bringing ubiquity to internet access, both in developed and developing countries. Research driven learnings around correlation between internet access and human development indices have also emerged. On the technology front, Personal Computers (PCs) have given way to mobile devices also termed “endpoints”, whether these are smart phones, notebooks or tablets. Also, the endpoints are now seen fitted with sensors and actuators resulting in an environment where devices that are net-connected, can sense, compute and act thereby bringing secondary and tertiary levels of intelligence to the network. In the real world of objects, these now have augmented interfaces to connect to the network and participate in a collaborative computing environment. Thus, this expands the Internet into IoT bringing a whole set of new dimensions to how humans, objects and networks communicate with each other.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in a 2005 report said that IoT will “connect the objects with sense and intelligence, both2. There are four dimensions described in this report: identifying by tags; sensing and feeling through networked-sensors; embedding ‘things’ into systems and leveraging nano-technology for shrinking things. The term “things” applies to vast instances of physical objects in the IoT concept and includes endpoints like computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones and appliances like those at home and in the office, each having a sensor interface. Through a gateway, which is essentially an aggregator, these ‘things’ connect to the internet and provide data from the sensed environment to the network and onward to the IoT processors which make sense out of the vast amount of data collected. These processors take intelligent decisions and help provide high quality services to users.

Over time, we expect almost everything, possibly, to connect to the network allowing tracking (location) and monitoring (status of the objects) in real time to a sophisticated set of processors in the IoT system. This, in effect, provides a framework to scale up and have millions and millions of devices to be connected and be the leaf-nodes providing data for massive connection of analytical engines at the backend and providing IoT services. These services get extended by means of IoT applications having the capacity and power to manage millions of users at any one time.

IoT Applications: A Developing Economy View

At the core of the IoT framework is the set of applications which define the IoT system by the services it provides to users and which leverages the humongous volume of data that comes streaming through the IoT networks from millions and billions of IoT end points which are sensors and digitally-powered objects.

Today many city services are moving to the IoT framework - take parking as an example. By connecting new things like parking meters and parking spaces, the city is able to generate optimal parking slots from the data flows coming in from the spaces, and can maximise the revenue from parking payments, increase availability of parking spaces and can ensure compliance to laws. Three categories of IoT functions are seen here in this example - tracking of spaces, situational awareness by giving a holistic picture of parking spaces real time and sensor-driven decision analytics related to pricing and provisioning. Following are some of the applications which have wide social impact:

• Monitoring and tracking the environment is a critical IoT application. Through collection of temperature and humidity parameters nationwide, it provides a compelling weather picture to citizens.

• On the electrical energy front, through use of smart energy meters and a connected energy platform, energy is balanced between demand and supply points and ensures that no energy is wasted and users are encouraged to save energy. ‘Optimised electricity’ consumption can potentially improve consumption-patterns and communicate the consumption of energy in households, office buildings and data centres allow users to tweak or load balance their consumption to off-peak times with potentially lower costs.

• Given the impact of climate change, and increasing cases of nature’s fury and disasters, by means of sensors located in notified and disaster prone areas, and through simulation, disaster management IoT applications can reasonably model and predict occurrences of landslides and avalanches for citizens in those areas to take proactive actions. Wherever in-situ monitoring is required on a granular basis and data has to pass back to a powerful processing system, which generates alerts, IoT frameworks are relevant.

• To advance the cause of citizens’ health and well-being through sensors and health equipment connected in an IoT network, monitoring of patient-parameters help a limited number of doctors and paramedics to serve a larger pool of patients. Where there are large numbers of elderly population in a special-care home, wellness, mobility and monitoring of the geriatric is possible. This is relevant as we see demographic change with rising numbers of aged people.

• Agriculture and food security is key to a nation’s progress. This is the era of drones. Imagine this scene: A farmer enclosed in a glass cabin is monitoring quadcopters, drones and driverless tractors which are tasked to provide detailed readings of soil chemistry, water content, nutrients, and growth, and measuring the progress of every plant down to the individual vegetable or fruit3.

• This is ‘precision farming’ where with lesser and lesser resources you produce more and more farm produce. There are reports that in some seminal instances water consumption reduces by 90 percent for the same output. Pesticides are a strict ‘NO’ and so are antibiotics. Governments will be able to figure out quantitatively and respond to issues affecting food security, such as famines and droughts, floods and large-scale infestation of pests. Governments can intervene by setting up agriculture command-centres which process and fuse remotely sensed parameters with embedded sensors and leverage public networks to notify and alert farmers through SMSs that he needs to take certain measures to obviate damage and loss to crops.

• One of the largest contributors to the national economy is manufacturing. Of all the points in an operational value chain that IoT can make a difference, including investments in IoT hardware—from sensors inserted in manufacturing equipment and products to electronically items with tags in the extended supply chain—the major gain comes when IoT data helps setup up machine learning protocols and help take decisions in optimising operations. Improvement of workflows and shift reorganisation dynamically are two possibilities. Also, sensor data used to predict when equipment needs repair can reduce cost of maintenance by half and reduce an equipment downtime in equal measure. Sensors measuring stock levels now help ‘just-in-time’ supply chains and autonomous on-the-shop-floor vehicles raise productivity significantly. Due to its ability to precisely and in near-real-time monitor machines, safety also gets a major fillip in an IoT controlled shop floor. As against developed economies, where huge investments were made in legacy plants and where induction of IOT requires a retrofit in most cases, we now have a potentially transformative situation in the Indian context. As we leapfrog our economy from a largely services led economy to a more balanced manufacturing based model, and as we set up new plants, we have the advantage of going for IoT enabled machines and systems de novo.

• In the cause of advancing technology advancement, IoT systems can also take the iterative cycles out of product development methodologies by putting together data about how products function, and how they are used in actual practice. Directly fetching data from deployed products and equipment rather than information gleaned from customer survey forms, developers can amend designs so that reworked models perform a lot better and to add, modify or delete features based on usage. The fact that car drivers are constantly looking for parking space availability helps the manufacturer to obtain and provide real time car park occupancy across the neighbourhood to give the user a great experience.

• Water scarcity is now real. The world population is now expected to touch 10 billion by 2050 and water scarcity emerges as the singular threat to human existence. With the importance of water for both human and economic development in societies and its acute scarcity in many places, networks of water-sensitive sensors, connected together with the appropriate simulation workflows can help monitor water interventions such as water shed management and catchment area management.

• Transportation management is another area of immense value where IoT can have a major and positive impact. Monitoring of road, rail and waterway transportation routes as well as channels can be implemented through a network of sensors providing traffic information, visibility into emergent bottlenecks and even for revenue generation from tolled usage.

• One of the largest investments by Central and State Governments, which began a few years ago, was in the Smart Cities programmes. We know that there is a massive change in demographics with a signal shift in population from villages to cities. This shift is accompanied by increased stress on existing infrastructure and services, and through Smart Cities initiatives, we expect to see several areas where IoT will provide the foundations for emerging service frameworks.

• In e-governance, at the city level, IoT will significantly deliver value in enhancing citizen experiences and quality of administration in crowd monitoring, video surveillance of roads and traffic management, water management, smart parking, public transportation management, smart street lighting, leveraging tolls on roads, air quality management, waste management, grid distribution and transmission management, and in providing smart justice through IoT connected courts and prisons. At the central level of governance, areas of IoT value creation and addition include fast-tracking of mission oriented central government initiatives like the National Disaster Management, Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission, mission for climate resilient agriculture, universalisation of elementary education through Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, National Solar Mission, Rural Health Mission and Total Sanitation Mission, to name a few.

Challenges

Organisation Restructuring

As Information and Technology (IT) is adopted widely across the organisation and as every worker becomes IT-educated in the minimal sense, the role of the traditional IT Department will change. They will need to become more of a specialist team enabling vertical departments and business units to become operationally ‘digital’ and make IoT an embedded entity in all their assets, inventories, and operations. So we see two technologies at play – one, the traditional IT which is around provision of computers, applications and networks and two, the core business and operational technologies called OT (manufacturing, hospital care, finance, facilities, transport, et al) which will now have IoT in their respective value chains. In a nutshell, IT and IoT are set to converge to provide a unified management model. The leaders have a challenge to get all their teams aligned and work outside their present silos. In a different context, IoT will challenge the vertical unit and departmental leaders to be flexible and in accepting linking up their internal systems. Organisations will transform to conduct their decision-making in a collaborative way, driven by data and rigor of analysis, with respect and dependence on IoT based decision systems.

Security

The prospect of implementing IoT in organisations should prompt even greater concern about cyber security since it highlights not only the normal risks associated with the increased use of technology and data but also the vastly greater risks of systemic fault-lines as organisations connect to tens of thousands of embedded sensors and communication endpoints. Each of the objects then becomes a potential entry point for cyber criminals, and the damage from a hack can be possibly life threatening—for example, an oxygen plant in a hospital running rogue with polluting gases or a disrupted oil pipeline running at twice the approved pressure. Multiplying inter-connections among devices and systems with links to sensitive consumer appliances can wreak havoc at massive scale and lay waste to organisational capacities in mission critical services.

Multi-Dimensional security is the way to go for a holistic security cover. Three levels of the IoT system are at play here - devices and sensors, networks and applications. Each of them have to be secure while at a holistic and integral level, the entire system across all three planes have to be secure. All the three levels require additional attention and specific security safeguards in addition to the usual security methodologies applied to contemporary systems of endpoints, networks and applications. The following are the minimum essentials:-

• Devices and chip manufacturers aligned to the lower level of the IoT need to ensure that security is integral to the device and approaches like Manufacturers Usage Description (MUD) are adopted.

• Original equipment Manufacturers (OEM) need to apply network and transport-layer security designs to reinforce the application layer. Beyond that, they can build on their hardware security design features to offer an integrated solution.

• Application developers need to leverage their control of Application Program Interfaces (API) and user interfaces to implement security in their architectures.

Lack of Standards

An area of concern is the lack of standards in IoT and IoT security. It is crucial that leading OEMs and industry leaders come together with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and other stake holders to establish IoT security standards for their industry. Proprietary standards will potentially fragment an already diverse product landscape and in this area of standards, coming together as partners even among competition will be necessary for the long term. Standardisation of technologies is important, as it will lead to better interoperability, and thus lowering the costs. Each addition of a sensor-type or a device-type should not break the IoT system through inter-operability issues and that seems to be a challenge.

IoT Competencies and Skills

Given that IoT is a transformative paradigm with massive retooling of human skills and capabilities, knowledge of IoT operations, security-specific knowledge and relevant certifications will become a standard requirement for employees both on the IT and IoT parts of the organisation. On the one hand, additional and incremental training programs for current employees may help scale up; on the other, specific IoT and IoT security talent will require to be built. IOT specialists must have a grasp of both sensor and device architectures as well as networks and applications. To build these cross-over competencies at scale, organisations will need to collaborate with peer industry players and academia.

Privacy

Proliferation and ubiquity of IoT has a significant impact on privacy. Care to protect the user’s right to privacy and trust in the IoT is crucial. There is a need to follow the principles of informed consent, data confidentiality and data security. This umbrella of trust that should be pervasive calls for control and governance at the device, network and application levels. The issue here is that access is now not sought by human entities but by objects and appliances and to ring-fence authorised areas of the IoT system is a challenge.

Conclusion

Governments are challenged to provide higher quality of services to its citizens, and the associated expectations of growth in economy requires harnessing of technology disruptions like the IoT. Developments in IoT and adapting of industry towards smart technologies, renewable energies, and automation of manufacturing throw up many opportunities which are expected to play a key role in this transformation of the services and manufacturing economy. Given the possibilities of massive positive impact that IoT can bring into areas of agriculture, energy, transportation and manufacturing, with radical innovation in the immediate future, we are set to see industry and the government investing to harness the benefits. Of course, there needs to be more research on applications which have social and economic impact, in order to transform governance, policy and administration. We will also see multi-stakeholder involvement right through the stages of technology development to systems deployment. This calls for a larger public and civic society discourse of the technology, its potential benefits, and related issues and challenges. India needs to take a leadership role in this challenge, particularly in terms of alignment of IoT play in its missions of “Skill India” and “Make in India”.

(The author is the Cybersecurity and Trust Officer for CISCO, driving the emerging cyber security initiatives in India and SAARC.)

References

1. The Internet of Things – Promise for the Future? An Introduction, Louis COETZEE1, Johan EKSTEEN2 in IST-Africa 2011 Conference Proceedings

2. International Telecommunications Union, ITU Internet Reports 2005: The Internet of Things. Executive Summary, Geneva: ITU, 2005

3. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/09/holland-agriculture-s...


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