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Riding on the Internet of Things to become a smart nation

Industry stalwarts discuss the opportunities and the way forward for IoT in Singapore
Thursday, July 7, 2016 - 05:50
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"In the next decade, we can expect smart machines to enter offices, factories and homes in numbers we have never seen before. The adoption of IoT technologies will be a key component for smart nation services and enable the exploitation of technology and innovation to address challenges, such as the increased strain on healthcare facilities and resources, traffic planning and congestion prevention, with the aim of enhancing residents' quality of life." - Lee Chew Chiat
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"Security in the new digital age will be best achieved by applying the same capabilities that allow machines to be intelligent and connected to ensure that machines stay protected and safe. The point is that innovation must be applied to security mechanisms in the same way it is applied to provide everyday life enhancements. We must evolve security measures to individual biometric markers that are not only more secure, but are also more convenient to consumers." - Shamus Weiland
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"At Gartner, we expect IoT to be the most game-changing IT initiative since cloud computing in terms of its impact on both business and enterprise IT. IoT will spur a new wave of IT systems to store and analyse the flood of data generated by thousands or millions of 'things'. The unprecedented volume, velocity and variety of this data will force organisations to change their IT infrastructures and adopt new platforms, practices and mindsets." - Anmol Singh
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"I would expect the proliferation of IoT to deliver on convenience and resource-optimisation solutions. Commuting to work should be a breeze; I imagine not having to queue for my coffee. In the medium term, I hope the industry will address deeper social issues, such as ageing population, health and food nutrition. To me, if we can harness IoT to effectively improve lives, not just making things more efficient, then we will truly be a smart nation." - Tan Teik Guan

Roundtable participants:

  • Lee Chew Chiat, Public Sector Industry leader, Deloitte South-east Asia;
  • Shamus Weiland, managing director, CIO Consumer Asia-Pacific and Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Global Product Development, Citi;
  • Anmol Singh, principal research analyst, Gartner;
  • Tan Teik Guan, mentor-in-residence, Infocomm Investments Pte Ltd

Moderator: Amit Roy Choudhury


WITH Singapore making progress on its journey to becoming a Smart Nation, The Business Times homes in on the Internet of Things (IoT), a technology to make the services associated with a smart nation - such as digital healthcare, smart energy and digital manufacturing - possible. An IoT network enables connected devices to communicate, send information and formulate actionable intelligence. Industry experts discuss the opportunities and the way forward for IoT in Singapore. Be low are excerpts:

The Business Times: The Internet of things (IoT) is the buzzword in the technology sector and research agencies have quoted huge numbers when discussing the market opportunities it represents. Do you think some of the buzz is just hype, or is IoT really transformational in scope?

Lee Chew Chiat: The buzz around IoT revolves around machine-to-machine communication, cloud computing, networks of data-gathering sensors, mobile and instantaneous connection. What people don't realise is that IoT is already here. It is not just about machines being "smart". It is about sensors that gather data. IoT comes together when you connect sensors and machines.

IoT has myriad applications in the public sector and has already proven to be transformational. Smart watches and Internet-enabled appliances aside, some of the most significant implementation of IoT-based systems within the manufacturing, logistics and healthcare sectors are already in place and transforming the world.

The value that IoT brings lies in the information it creates. It has powerful potential for boosting data analytics. Strategically deployed, data analytics can help organisations translate IoT's digital data into meaningful insights that can go into developing new products, business models and better living for people.

That said, the challenge lies in limiting IoT to our existing operating environment and incorporating it into what we do to create insights and reduce variables for businesses.

Shamus Weiland: Intelligent connectivity of machines to each other will allow for optimised, unfiltered decisions and create a tipping point. The pace of change and results will be exponential versus anything previously experienced.

From the Renaissance to the Internet Age, I believe we are now embarking on a period of intelligent automation which will be enabled by the IoT combined with artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and other evolving innovations.

Anmol Singh: At Gartner, we expect IoT to be the most game-changing IT initiative since cloud computing in terms of its impact on both business and enterprise IT. Driven by business' desire for increased efficiency and new revenue opportunities, IoT will spur a new wave of IT systems to store and analyse the flood of data generated by thousands or millions of devices, or "things". The unprecedented volume, velocity and variety of this data will force organisations to change their IT infrastructures, especially their data management and analytics systems, and adopt new platforms, practices and mindsets.

Tan Teik Guan: I believe IoT presents a real and distinct opportunity for the industry. From a technology perspective, it adds two more dimensions - data and connectivity - that can be exploited by new-generation products and services. Just look at how Sony, with its portable Walkman, seeded the concept of mobility with on-demand availability - music in this case. I would like to see a Singapore company take on the IoT challenge and transform the world.

BT: How vital do you think IoT and its related technologies like cloud computing, wearable devices and monitors and big-data analytics will be to build a smart nation?

Chew Chiat: Over the past 50 years, Singapore has seen ample proof of just how powerful technology can be. Consumer project makers, healthcare providers, retailers and distributors, our government - all have learned to use IT to get better and quicker at responding to marketplace demands. In the next decade, we can expect smart machines to enter offices, factories and homes in numbers we have never seen before. They will become integral to teaching, medicine, production, security, and virtually every domain of our lives.

The adoption of IoT technologies will be a key component for smart nation services and enable the exploitation of technology and innovation to address challenges, such as the increased strain on healthcare facilities and resources, traffic planning and congestion prevention, with the aim of enhancing residents' quality of life.

As business cases are refined, you can scale technology solutions to the enterprise. There is no need to reinvent the wheel for IoT initiatives. Activating and connecting existing infrastructure could also leapfrog some implementation steps.

Establishing appropriate protocols to ensure connectivity, public safety, cybersecurity and fairness will be a complex undertaking, but essential for future success. In line with this, our government must also transform how it regulates industries, develops new policies and undertakes procurement.

Shamus: I believe open software through API (application programme interface) gateways, cloud computing, and intelligent connectivity of machines and devices will have a part in enabling Singapore to build a smart nation. Given these capabilities are easily available, creating the right balance of security and protection versus openness and innovation will be critical to success. Governments can help by investing in digital capabilities like national identification as well as creating incentives for innovation.

Anmol: Data analytics and user-based services enriched by IoT technologies are becoming increasingly crucial in optimising smart-city operations.

The implementation of IoT and related technologies, however, also leads to an increase in operational and maintenance costs that governments must consider. Examples of potential operational and maintenance costs include that for wireless network connectivity and counter measures against cyber attacks.Teik Guan: We must recognise that the Smart Nation initiative is much bigger than IoT. Yet, if we look at the five sectors highlighted by Minister Heng Swee Keat during his budget speech on SG-Innovate, namely Smart Energy, Digital Manufacturing, Fintech, Digital Health and IoT, we will realise that IoT stands out as the only horizontal sector that cuts across all the industries. So regardless of programmes that are launched within the banking or health or government segments, you can be sure that IoT will feature in them.

I'd like to point out a key technology factor that's missing in your question - skills and talent development. To achieve smart nation status, we need people who are more savvy in choosing and using technology effectively, as well as a talent pool of ICT (infocomm technology) practitioners who can contribute in the industry, as entrepreneurs or in ancillary positions.

BT: IoT means lots of data being generated and shared via the cloud, sometimes without human intervention. Since data means money, robust cyber security is a must as Anmol pointed out. The additional point is that many companies, which do not have the natural cyber security instincts, like consumer appliances makers, TV manufacturers and others are building and selling gadgets that connect to the Internet. Security and patching of OSes (Operating Systems) may not come naturally to these companies as it does to, say, Microsoft. What kind of security risk does this pose, and how can security issues be addressed without stymying growth in IoT?

Chew Chiat: Too often, software and products today are built to work as intended, and cyber security is factored into the equation only after the product is out on the market. Hence, it is important that vendors, government and enterprises build security into the IoT from the beginning.

One of the key pillars in Singapore's Smart Nation initiative is security. Emerging IoT solutions for security and privacy are promising. These include making users' mobile phones their security and privacy key that can confirm device pairing, leveraging cryptography, instead of a keyboard and passwords.

Today, IoT devices are using disparate platforms. As technology matures, there could be a possibility to create common platforms like that of IoS (Apple's operating system for mobile devices) and Android where security for IoT devices can be made secure and user privacy can be preserved.

Shamus: Security in the new digital age will be best achieved by applying the same capabilities that allowed machines to be intelligent and connected to ensure that machines stay protected and safe. The point is that innovation must be applied to security mechanisms in the same way it is applied to provide everyday life enhancements. We must evolve security measures to individual biometric markers that are not only more secure, but are also more convenient to consumers.

Anmol: The constrained nature of IoT devices open up new attack vectors and vulnerabilities using the security threats that apply to general-purpose devices (such as laptops and PCs) on IP-based arbitrary networks. These vulnerabilities could be exploited to introduce a range of threats targeted at compromising security and performance of IoT devices. It becomes even susceptible as IoT networks include multiple devices using a variety of communication channels from bluetooth to Internet to cellular.

When it comes to securing sensors and devices, lack of proper identification and authentication of devices could lead to serious security threats for IoT, some of which include eavesdropping or snooping where an eavesdropper is listening on the commands issued and data transferred on the network, revealing some sensitive information about the operation of the infrastructure.

Teik Guan: You are right to point out that IoT projects tend to generate a lot of data, although I disagree that big data should be one of the expected outcomes. As the industry matures, I believe that we will start to see differentiation between good IoT projects versus poorly designed or implemented IoT projects.

For example, in domestic-IoT, say within a household setting, I may expect an IoT-enabled washing machine to be able to download the most resource-efficient, least garment-abrasive algorithms to wash my laundry, or even re-order detergent at the lowest price when stocks are low, but I certainly don't want the washing machine to be informing online shopping portals of my preferred brands of shirts or the condition of my socks. Can there be a set of standards or best practices in play?

In industrial-IoT, the need for security becomes even more apparent. Large amounts of data (from cameras, voice transmissions, video images and transaction information) are likely to be collected, aggregated, processed and subsequently applied on. A breach, in this case, becomes even more dangerous. How about companies that abuse the data they have legitimately collected? I expect that the industry needs not just robust security, but a convergence of standards, best practices and monitoring and enforcement to get IoT to take off.

BT: Please give a personal overview of how a combination of IoT and smart cities are expected to transform our daily lives. Also how do we as individuals ensure that security is not compromised at a personal level?

Chew Chiat: In the area of healthcare monitoring, wireless sensing technology embedded in the walls of buildings, or any fittings, can monitor breathing, heart rate and other vital signs in real time. ... This will transform our healthcare from a reactive model to one that is more proactive.

Shamus: Basic tasks no longer require human mindshare or task ownership, as these are now owned and performed by machines. Grocery purchases, transportation, maintenance and repair of machines, including the most important machine - our bodies - will be executed or informed by machines. Just like today, risks must be considered in this open and technologically connected world, but we are already seeing a generational shift in expectations on what should remain private versus what should be shared.

Anmol: A common healthcare scenario where an elderly person with critical diabetes condition is diagnosed for increased levels of blood sugar by a wearable device on his or her wrist and the nearby healthcare service provider is notified of the condition. While the IoT technologies ensure alerting and monitoring of person's health status, a smart city infrastructure ensures timely response and delivery of services in this scenario to save a life.

Teik Guan: At the onset, I would expect the proliferation of IoT to deliver on convenience and resource-optimisation solutions. Commuting to work should be a breeze; I don't imagine having to queue for my coffee; and I look forward to having lower utility bills. In the medium term, I hope the industry will gravitate towards innovating in IoT to address deeper social issues, such as ageing population, health and food nutrition. To me, if we can harness IoT to effectively improve lives, not just making things more efficient, then we will truly be a smart nation.

On the security front, I would encourage everyone to be mindful of your direct and indirect digital footprint as you go on with your daily lives. Data that is not captured can't be stolen or misused. Separately, I would like to see the regulators take a more serious view in monitoring and enforcing data privacy standards in the IoT space.

This series is brought to you by Deloitte