Navigant Research Blog

Microsoft Pushes IoT as a Service as Competition Heats Up

— May 12, 2017

In a quiet way, many different businesses are helping to establish a stronger foothold for the Internet of Things (IoT), moving beyond the hype and delivering on the buzzy promises from several years back. As evidence, Microsoft recently launched IoT Central, an IoT as a service (IoTaaS) offering that enables companies to deploy IoT technologies without having to do so from scratch using in-house resources.

Early Adopters

IoT Central’s goal is to help companies rapidly design, build, and deliver smart products and integrate them with enterprise-scale systems. So far, early adopting companies of IoT Central—thyssenkrupp Elevator, Rolls-Royce, and Sandvik Coromant, according to reports—are in the manufacturing and engineering sectors. IoT Central is part of a suite of IoT-related products from Microsoft, including Azure Suite IoT (a platform as a service [PaaS] offering for developing backend applications) and Azure IoT Hub, which acts as the messaging infrastructure for distributed device communications.

But Microsoft is not alone in helping to establish a stronger corporate foothold for the IoT. Competitors like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, and Oracle, to name a few, offer several IoT-related services for business clients. And recently the head of AWS, Andy Jassy, said, “Of all the buzzwords everybody has talked about, the one that has delivered fastest on its promises is IoT and connected devices.” That’s a strong validation.

IoT and Utility Patents

IoT has also arrived for utilities. A recent piece by Alec Schibanoff, a vice president at patent broker and consulting services firm IPOfferings LLC, notes the many patents for operational efficiency and security that have been granted over the years form the basis of the modern grid. One was granted as far back as 2002.

Next Steps for IoT

These are all signs of a maturing IoT landscape, one that will underpin Energy Cloud 2.0 as envisioned by Navigant Research and outlined in the free white paper, Navigating the Energy Transformation. But there is much more value to be unleashed from IoT devices and connected systems. We’ve only scratched the surface around data analytics, and future applications and services have yet to materialize. Many companies are starting to explore the possibilities. It won’t be too many years before the IoT will make louder noises as a solid platform for business innovation and efficiency.

 

IoT Cybersecurity Clouds

— May 4, 2017

The dark Internet of Things (IoT) cybersecurity clouds keep hanging around with the latest news about malware that can wipe data from infected devices. Researchers from Palo Alto Networks discovered malicious software called Amnesia that can infect digital video recorders. If Amnesia senses it is running in a virtual environment, it can wipe critical directories from the file system. The researchers say this is a new capability in malware aimed at Linux-based embedded devices—which include smart TVs, wireless routers, switches, set-top boxes, in-vehicle entertainment systems, navigation hardware, industrial automation equipment, and medical instruments. This potential threat goes beyond consumer devices and could affect the electrical grid. Several other threats against IoT devices have surfaced as well:

  • University of Michigan researchers demonstrated they could hack into sensors on smartphones, automobiles, and IoT devices using a $5 speaker. They targeted microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS accelerometers, which measure speed changes in three dimensions. Using acoustic tones, they deceived 15 different accelerometer models into registering movements that never happened.
  • Engineers at Israeli firm Argus Cyber Security remotely shut down a car engine using a smartphone app, a Bluetooth connection, and a $75 dongle, which insurance companies install frequently to monitor driving. The engineers triggered a signal that disabled a car’s fuel pump, something that would only happen after a collision, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
  • A doll named Cayla was investigated by regulators in Germany for being a security threat. The doll does not link directly to the Internet, but can be accessed via Bluetooth to any mobile device that has the doll’s dedicated app. Researchers found the dolls recorded voices and sent data to a third party specializing in voice recognition.

Security Is Top Concern for Developers

Among developers who write software for IoT devices, security concerns remain high. Nearly 47% of developers who responded say security is their top concern and has remained number one for 3 years, according to an annual survey (see slide 16) by the Eclipse Foundation. The situation does not seem to be getting much better in terms of the potential threats posed by IoT devices. However, beyond the negative headlines, there is some positive work taking place:

  • The prpl Foundation is making progress on efforts to reduce threats to IoT devices. Members of this open source and community-driven foundation are focused on enhancing the security and interoperability of embedded devices.
  • Two industry groups joined forces to improve Internet security. The Online Trust Alliance (OTA) has partnered with the Internet Society to improve security and data privacy. For several months, the OTA has promoted a new framework for securing the IoT, supporting multiple built-in security measures for devices from the beginning, and advocating strong security through the entire IoT product lifecycle.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) continues to push a broad set of initiatives to create a safer marketplace through its Cybersecurity for IoT program.

Will the Clouds Part?

So where do we stand in this process to create a more secure IoT world? In short, there is progress taking place. One thing to keep in mind: the IoT security threat is not going away anytime soon. That said, key stakeholders need to stay focused on providing stronger security measures for IoT devices and services. Otherwise, IoT market opportunities (see Navigant Research’s Emerging IoT Business Models report) will be lost or needlessly delayed. We are in for cloudy skies for the next several years, so get used to a blend of bad news about breaches coupled with positive steps to thwart them.

 

Move Over Alexa! Text Messaging Wants a Seat, Too

— March 28, 2017

Using your voice to control your smart home might not become as popular as previously thought. Text messaging is looking for a seat at this table, too—especially for controlling smart appliances.

Ever since Amazon’s Echo device, better known as Alexa, stormed the market, voice activation has dominated smart home technology. This device was the star at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, where vendors of smart home and Internet of Things devices and services clamored to stay in Alexa’s orbit. For example, Google’s voice-activated Home device now competes with Alexa for market and mind share. Home, launched in late 2016, gets prominent retail display inside Verizon Wireless stores and seems to be riding in Alexa’s wake.

A New Use for an Older Technology

But an older technology lurks: text messaging. Unified Inbox, a small Singapore company, offers a text messaging service that has attracted the attention of several major appliance manufacturers, including Bosch. The service works by adding a user’s home to a contacts list in an app like WhatsApp; a message such as “preheat the oven to 300 degrees at 5:00 p.m.” can then get passed to an oven.

While this type of text messaging has yet to catch on with consumers, some technology leaders, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, are fans. Zuckerberg has been tinkering with Jarvis, his own voice-activated artificial intelligence program. He has discovered that he prefers text, mostly because the use of it feels less disturbing to people around him compared to voice-activated devices.

Texting has its place, and it should take hold among consumers in the coming months and years. However, the pace of adoption could be muted in the United States, where smart appliances are not that attractive to consumers. A report by Mintel last year found that 56% of respondents are willing to pay more for an energy efficient washing machine (good for consumers and utility demand-side management programs). Yet, just 11%-12% would pay more for a washing machine with smart features—including the ability to diagnose problems or monitor and control the machine from a mobile device.

An Open Question

Smart or connected appliances have already entered the market, and Navigant Research expects steady growth for this category going forward (see our Market Data: IoT for Residential Energy Customers report). But how people will interact with these smart appliances is still an open question. Voice activation has its place, but there is room for other user interfaces such as text messaging. The view here is that multiple interfaces will be available, and users will have to decide how best to control their own smart devices. There is no clear winner here—at least for the near term.

 

IoT and Millennials

— March 24, 2017

The much studied Millennial generation has some issues with Internet of Things (IoT) devices. A new survey says this cohort of young American adults—ages 18 to 29—is the least likely to own an IoT product. This trend presents a challenge for utilities attempting to promote programs like demand response that can link to IoT products such as smart thermostats, air conditioners, or appliances.

According to the study conducted by the Association of Energy Services Professionals and strategic marketing firm Essense Partners, 85% of Millennial respondents do not own IoT devices. The percentage of non-IoT device owners in the other age groups is as follows: 79% for ages 30-44; 81% for ages 45-59; and 84% for the 60 and older group. The study was conducted among 2,700 consumers.

Among respondents who do own IoT devices, the Millennials also represent the least likely cohort to take part in utility programs. They participate at half the rate of those in the 30-44 and 45-59 age groups, and almost a third of the rate compared to the 60 and older set.

Of course, the main reason for lower ownership of IoT devices among Millennials is they are less likely to be homeowners. Therefore, they are not as likely in the market to buy IoT devices that can help manage energy usage.

But there is another reason lurking around the edges: they are worried the most about the devices being hacked. In a survey conducted by KPMG, 74% of Millennials say they would use more IoT devices if they had more confidence that the devices were secure. Among the other age groups, 63% of Generation Xers hold the same view about device security and nearly half of Baby Boomers (47%) say the same.

Part of the Solution: Device Security Standards

One way to boost confidence among consumers and drive adoption of IoT devices is for industry stakeholders to agree on security standards. An effort that has surfaced recently is being spearheaded by Consumer Reports (CR), which is promoting a digital consumer protection standard, along with its cyber expert partners (digital privacy tools provider Disconnect; privacy policy researcher Ranking Digital Rights; and Cyber Independent Testing Lab). The CR privacy standard has four key features: products should be built to be secure; products should preserve consumer privacy; products should protect the idea of ownership; and companies should act ethically. The full standard is in its first draft, and CR expects stakeholders to help shape and improve it going forward.

The need is evident for IoT device security standards such as CR’s and others like NIST’s Cybersecurity for IoT program and UL’s Cybersecurity Assurance Program. Navigant Research applauds these efforts to create standards, as noted in its report, Emerging IoT Business Models. Utilities would be wise to get behind these efforts as well to ensure that their customers, including skeptical Millennials, gain the confidence to adopt devices like smart thermostats and feel more willing to take part in demand-side management programs.

 

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