Navigant Research Blog

Tech Companies Are Shifting Health Services to the Home

— April 12, 2018

The healthcare industry faces many challenges due to a growing elderly population, increased lifespans, general population growth, and a greater number of chronic conditions. The digitization of healthcare is solving some of these issues by enhancing the quality and cost-effectiveness of patient care and support. Digital healthcare solutions can empower consumers to better engage and control their own health, moving healthcare services from the hospital to the home, a trend that is discussed at length in the Navigant Research report Capitalizing on the Nexus of IoT and Home Healthcare.

Amazon Leading in Health Innovations

Stakeholders across the residential value chain are recognizing the potential opportunity in the convergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) and healthcare, as demonstrated in increased market activity over the past year. For example, Amazon, which has made significant strides in recent years with its Echo products, Alexa digital assistant, and various in-home services, has also been making significant (though somewhat secretive) investments in healthcare.

The company alluded to its plans in 2016 when CEO Jeff Bezos was quoted saying, “I think healthcare is going to be one of those industries that is elevated and made better by machine learning and artificial intelligence. And I actually think Echo and Alexa do have a role to play in that.” Since then, the company has announced a partnership with J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway to improve healthcare services for its US employees, partnered with Merck and Luminary Labs for the Alexa Diabetes Challenge, and piloted an Alexa skill with Libertana Home Health for elderly care.

Other Companies Are Capitalizing on This Market

Amazon is not the only tech company becoming more invested in the health services industry. Uber also recently announced its Uber Health service, which allows a range of healthcare professionals to book rides to medical facilities on their clients’ behalf.

In March 2018, Google outlined a roadmap to move the healthcare industry to the cloud, which includes its new Cloud Healthcare API to help healthcare organizations manage, analyze, and detect trends from patient data. Apple is investing in health through the rollout of its Apple Watch 3, which is enhanced with several health features like heart rhythm monitoring, which the company is also focusing on in a pilot with Stanford Medicine.

Health Emerging as a Smart Home Use Case

IoT technologies are expected to have a major impact on the healthcare industry, and are already shifting many services into the home and hands of consumers. This has created the emergence of health as a value proposition for the smart home. Significant investments from tech companies not only show the significance of this market, but also contribute to increased competition. This is a signal to other companies invested in the residential market that healthcare should weigh in as a use case when developing future roadmaps for their products and services.

 

Challenges of Partnerships and Acquisitions in the IoT Lighting Market

— April 10, 2018

The commercial lighting market has new and expanded technology solution offerings that are helping to address customer pain points through new use cases. Lighting manufacturers and technology companies providing Internet of Things (IoT) solutions are focusing on optimizing space utilization, enhancing retail customers’ shopping experience, asset tracking to improve operational efficiencies, and providing energy management and visualization features to analyze building system data. Vendors have expanded their offerings through internal growth and acquisitions. As the industry is undergoing continual change and advancement, it is expected there will be challenges to overcome for vendors competing in this shifting landscape.

Interoperability and Partnership and Acquisition Integration

Interoperability is a leading challenge faced by the lighting industry. Many systems are proprietary or are a modified version of standards, which creates the same issues as a proprietary system. There are groups working to address this issue, which can provide customers with more options and eliminate the need to select all components from the same vendor.

The IoT lighting market has seen an increased number of acquisitions and partnerships as companies look to expand their solution portfolios and provide a customized solution to the customer. Partnerships and acquisitions require integrating different systems and components, which can be complicated when devices aren’t interoperable. And while the growing number of partnerships within this market have helped alleviate issues surrounding interoperability, problems remain when some components of a system use open communication standards but some devices are not interoperable at the communication level.

Partnerships and Acquisitions That Provide Value

With the growing number of partnerships and acquisitions, it can seem like companies make these moves for the sake of publicity. Partnerships must be strategic to expand the capabilities of a company’s offering. For a company to provide a complete IoT lighting solution portfolio without partnerships is difficult—likely impossible. It is best to allow each company to focus on its own area of expertise, not only to provide an improved offering to its clients, but also to increase business for the companies involved in the partnership. The IoT lighting market is in its infancy, and partnerships are still forming  as companies realize areas within their offerings may need complementing and expanding. There is even more potential to provide customers with customized solutions to address their pain points when partnerships form between multiple companies, as opposed to a siloed system where a company has multiple individual partnerships.

In some cases, a vendor may choose to expand its offerings through an acquisition rather than a partnership or internal growth. Again, there can be challenges with interoperability of new products and solutions. Caution is needed in acquisition integration, and acquiring a company and not integrating them fully can also prove a challenge. If an acquired company remains segregated from the new parent company, it begs the question of why that company was acquired instead of partnered with. Is there a benefit in one method of expansion over another? Currently, companies are showing success in both forms of go-to-market strategies, and it isn’t clear which provides greater success. As the market matures, one avenue of increased solution offerings may become preferred. In the current state of the market, it is apparent that both partnerships and acquisitions provide substantial value—but must be entered upon with caution.

 

The Vulnerable Electric Grid Might Be Tougher Than You Think

— April 10, 2018

The ongoing struggle to keep the US electric grid safe from attacks can seem like a losing proposition, especially given recent reports of Russian-sponsored hacking attempts and a serious warning about increasing vulnerability. However, there are quieter accounts of progress among those working to keep the grid safe.

Berkeley Lab Threat Detection Tool

One is a 3-year project led by Berkeley Lab researchers and supported by several key partners that features a new tool to detect cyber-physical attacks. The researchers designed a new architecture that combines a micro phasor measurement unit (μPMU) that captures data about the grid’s physical state with information from commonly used SCADA monitoring systems. Together, the combined data provides real-time feedback about grid performance through a redundant set of measurements with high fidelity. The idea is to bridge the gap between the physical world and the cyber world and find discrepancies that could indicate certain types of attacks are underway against grid components.

The Department of Energy (DOE) supported Berkeley Lab project is moving to the technology transfer stage, with the team preparing a final report and meeting with industry stakeholders to introduce them to this novel security framework. Partners on the project included EnerNex, EPRI, Riverside Public Utilities, and Southern Company.

Insurance Model to Protect the Grid?

In what seems like a stretch, two University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researchers are investigating the potential of a new insurance model aimed at motivating utilities and regulators to invest more in cybersecurity assets. The idea is to support utilities implementing high cybersecurity tools with lower insurance premiums, and to penalize those with low cybersecurity processes with higher premiums. The two have funding from the National Science Foundation to build predictive models in a project that blends several disciplines, including electrical engineering, computer science, actuarial science, and statistics. More to come on this front, for sure.

Going Retro for Grid Security?

Meanwhile, there is a move in Congress to support older style tools to help safeguard the grid. The retro effort comes in the form of a senate bill that, if passed, would direct the national laboratories to partner with private companies to identify analog approaches that do not rely on digital infrastructure or tools. According to senators supporting the bill, the idea springs from the 2015 cyber attack on Ukraine’s energy grid in which operators restored power relatively quickly using human-powered or analog systems instead of digital. The bill is not without critics, one of whom claims it is a mistake to look backward for answers such as the ones proposed, though he applauds the focus being placed on enhanced security.

So the Grid Could Be Okay?

The takeaway from these disparate and under-the-radar efforts should be a sense of calm that not all is doom and gloom when it comes to grid security. The grid might be tougher than you think. The good guys are working on new solutions, too (be sure to check out Navigant Research’s recent report, Managing IoT Cybersecurity Threats in the Energy Cloud Ecosystem). Some solutions might have limited effects, like going retro, but there is hope future attacks will be countered with robust defenses that thwart attacks and keep the grid safe.

Power Standards Lab μPMU

Note: Developed at Power Standards Lab under a project led by Berkeley Lab and funded by DOE’s ARPA-E program, µPMUs are designed to increase situational awareness at the power distribution grid level.

(Source: Power Standards Lab)

 

Hacks, Hacks Everywhere: FERC, US Energy Grid, Atlanta Are All Targets

— April 3, 2018

Like Amazon deliveries, cyber attacks keep showing up on a regular basis. In recent days: the US charged nine Iranian citizens with a state-sponsored attack against a range of companies and agencies, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); the Trump administration blamed Russia for ongoing attempts to hack the US energy grid and other critical infrastructure; and key parts of Atlanta’s municipal computer system were knocked out by a ransomware attacker. Reports like these are becoming all too common.

State-Sponsored Attacks Warrant Concern

The first two raise serious red flags. State-sponsored attacks fall into the highest level of sophisticated cyber attacks. The hackers use the most advanced tools to break in, and with governments behind them they have nearly limitless resources to achieve their nefarious goals. Plus, they have the time to mount attacks over years if need be, probing on many fronts for the weak spots, and lurking in the background of computer systems or devices with almost undetected code. The Iranian attackers were said to have been operating from 2013 until the end of 2017, or roughly 4 years.

Hacking a federal agency or probing critical infrastructure poses dangerous threats. Messing with critical infrastructure can be viewed as an act of war, or a precursor to such hostilities. These types of attacks are not new, of course, and more than likely the US itself engages in these cyber techniques of probing and spying on friends and enemies on a regular basis. Experts warn that state-sponsored attacks are growing in scale, frequency, and sophistication, according to Leo Taddeo, chief information security officer at Cyxtera, a provider of infrastructure security solutions.

To Thwart Cyber Attacks, Cities Must Plan and Budget

Atlanta’s case is somewhat more benign. The attack kept some customers from paying bills, and residents were unable to access court-related information. As much as 4 days after the initial report of the attack the city’s servers were still struggling to enable online bill payments or the collection of fees. Moreover, the city had not said whether it would pay the ransom demand or not. For Atlanta, this cyber attack must sting, since it prides itself as a leading-edge smart city. Part of being on that leading edge, though, is accepting risks that come with newer technologies and learning hard lessons. The lesson here: make sure you plan and budget for the latest tools and best people to thwart cybercriminals, because this type of threat is not going away anytime soon.

These cyber attacks underscore the challenges of a connected Internet of Things (IoT) world. As governments, corporations, and utilities take advantage of IoT technologies, they must keep security measures at the forefront of all they do (see Navigant Research’s report, Managing IoT Cybersecurity Threats in the Energy Cloud Ecosystem, for practical steps to reduce the risks posed by cyber attacks). A smart grid or a smart city looks rather dumb when the security piece gets short shrift.

 

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