Mar 262015
 
building sydney as a smart city

“It’s amazing what can be achieved when government is committed and prepared to partner with industry,” was the AIIA Internet of Things summit MC’s reaction to a presentation from Steve Leonard on Singapore’s quest to become a connected city today.

Leonard, the head of Singapore’s IDA, had laid how the nation had embarked on a smartcity project due to the pressures of increased population and an ageing society. The government sees technology as a way to deliver health services more effectively and use scarce resources more efficiently.

One of the areas Leonard cited was in traffic management where the city’s bureaucrats asked “how can we double the traffic on our roads without building anything new?”

The answer lies in smartcars and autonomous vehicles, Singapore has partnered with MIT to run a driverless car pilot on some of the city’s roads. Leonard points out that cars can travel closer together when run by computers rather than being driven by humans.

For governments traffic management is one of the easiest ways to introduce the internet of things into smart cities says Lutz Heuser, Chief Technology Officer of Germany’s Urban Software Institute.

Heuser worries that many cities are “sitting on the fence” when it comes to rolling out IoT and smartcity initiatives and sees “the humble lightpost” as being one of the ways technology can be rolled out into urban environment.

Smart censors in the street lights

Smart censors in the street lights

This echoes the Geek’s tour of Barcelona where street light poles are a key part of the city’s digital infrastructure, providing a base for sensors and the Wi-Fi connectivity needed for devices like intelligent rubbish bins and digital services.

One of the advantages of using intelligent, or at least half smart, lightpoles is that local governments are replacing them on a regular basis – around three quarters of Europe’s poles are more than twenty-five years old – which means they can be rolled out as part of a planned maintenance programs.

Having rolled out connected city initiatives like Barcelona’s smartbins or Singapore’s ‘fibre hydrants’ – fibre nodes around the city that government and emergency services can tap into when needed – local businesses can then leverage off that infrastructure to further improve the well being of citizens.

For governments, the rolling out of smartcity technologies is to deliver better services more efficiently. As Singapore and Barcelona have showing, by working with local businesses it becomes far easy for agencies to deliver real improvements in their communities.

 

Mar 262015
 
Big data takes our online, shopping and social media use it is the business challenge for our time

This morning I’m speaking on ABC Radio’s Overnights about the risks of the Australian government’s law to force telecommunications companies to retain users’ metadata for two years.

While the act, currently before the Senate having passed the House of Representatives last week after the poorly named ‘opposition’ Labor Party supported it, mandates that telcos and ISPs will have to retain the details of users’ connection times, places and type of device for two years and that government agencies will be able to access this data without a warrant.

The program was broadcast on 26 March 2015 at 4.15am Eastern Time with Trevor Chappell and is can be listened to on the ABC radio website.

Some resources on the data retention bill follow;

Mar 252015
 
The law applies online to social media and other web services

Today the Australian internet industry celebrated twenty years of commercial operations with the Rewind/Fast Forward conference that looked at the evolution of the online economy down under and its future.

Naturally the Internet of Things was an important part of the discussion looking at the internet’s future and one of the panels examined the effects of the IoT on industry and society.

During the session chairman of the Communications Alliance industry association, John Stanton, raised an important point about how the IoT creates problems for existing laws and the regulators as a wave of connected devices are released onto the market place.

The risks are varied, and Stanton’s list isn’t exhaustive with a few other aspects such as liability not explored while some of the issues he raises are a problem for other internet based services like cloud computing and social media.

Roaming rules

Having fought many regulatory battles over roaming charges and access between networks, it’s not surprising Stanton and the Communications Alliance would raise this as an issue.

Dealing with roaming devices will probably be a big challenge for mobile Machine to Machine (M2M) technologies, particularly in the logistics, airline and travel industries. We can expect some bitter billing battles between clients and their providers before regulators start to step in.

Number schemes

Again this is more an issue for mobile M2M consumers. Currently every SIM card has its own phone number once the service is activated.  It may be that regulators have to revise their numbering schemes or allow providers to use alternative addressing methods to contact devices.

Data sovereignty

Where data lives is going to continue to be a vexed issue for cloud computing consumers, particularly given the varied laws between nations.

Short of an international treaty, it’s difficult to see how this problem is going to be resolved beyond companies learning to manage the risks.

Identity management

Data integrity is essential for the IoT and accurately determining the identity of individuals and devices is going to be a challenge for those designing systems.

Over time we can expect to see some elegant and clever solutions to identity management in the IoT however masquerading as a legitimate device will always be a way malicious actors will try to hack systems.

Privacy

For domestic users, the privacy of what remains in data stores is going to be a major concern as domestic devices and wearables gather greater amounts of personal information. We can expect laws to be tightened on the duties and obligations of those collecting the data.

Access Security

Who can do what with a networked device is another problem, should a malicious player or a defective component get onto the system, the damage they can do needs to be minimised. What constitutes unlawful access to a computer network and the penalties needs to be carefully thought out.

Spectrum allocation and cost

Governments around the world have been reaping the rewards of selling licenses to network operators. As the need for reliable but low data usage IoT networks grows, the economics of many of the existing licenses changes which could present challenges for both the operators and governments.

Access to low cost and low data access networks

Following on from the economics of M2M networks, the question of mandating slicing of scarce spectrum for IoT applications or reserving some frequencies becomes a question. How such licenses are granted will cause much friction and many headaches between regulators and operators.

Commercial value of information

How much data is worth will always be a problem in an economy where information is power and money. This though may turn out to be more subtle as information is only valuable in the eyes of the beholder.

Where information becomes particularly valuable is in financial markets and highly competitive sectors so we can see the IoT becoming part of insider trading and unfair competition actions. These will, by definition, be complex.

Like any new set of technologies the internet of things raises a whole new range of legal issues as society adapts to new ways of doing business and communicating. What we’re going to see is a period of experimentation with laws as we try to figure out how the IoT fits into society.

Mar 062015
 
southofengland_iphone_tracking

Today Australian incumbent telco announced a scheme to give customers access to their personal metadata being stored by the company.

In a post on the company’s Telstra Exchange blog the company’s Chief Risk Officer, Kate Hughes described how the service will work with a standard enquiry being free through the web portal with more complex queries attracting of fee of $25 or more.

The program is a response to the Australian Parliament’s controversial intention to introduce a mandatory data retention regime which will force telcos and ISPs to retain a record of customer’s connection information.

We believe that if the police can ask for information relating to you, you should be able to as well.

At present the scheme is quite labor intensive, a request for information involves a great deal of manual processing under the company’s current systems however Hughes is optimistic they will be able to deal with the workload.

“We haven’t yet built the system that will enable us to quickly get that data,” Hughes told this website in an interview after the announcement. “If you came to us today and asked for that dataset it wouldn’t be a simple request.”

The metadata opportunity

In some respects the metadata proposal is an opportunity for the company to comply with the requirement of the Australian Privacy Principles that were introduced last year where companies are obliged to disclose to their customers any personally identifiable information they hold.

For large organisations like Telstra this presents a problem as it’s difficult to know exactly what information every arm of the business has been collecting. Putting the data into a centralised web portal makes it easier to manage the requirements of various acts.

That Telstra is struggling with this task illustrates the problems the data retention proposals present to smaller companies with far fewer resources to gather, store and manage the information.

Unclear requirements

Another problem facing Hughes, Telstra and the entire Australian communications industry is no-one is quite clear exactly what data will be required under the act, the legislation proposed the minister can declare what information should be retained while the industry believes this should be hard coded into the act which will make it harder for governments to expand their powers.

What is clear is that regardless of what’s passed into law, technology is going to stay ahead of the legislators, “I do think though this will be very much a ‘point in time’ debate,” Hughes said. “Metadata will evolve more quickly than this legislation can probably keep pace with so I think we will find ourselves back here in two years.”

In many ways Australia’s metadata proposals illustrates the problems facing governments and businesses in managing data during an era where its growing exponentially, it may well turn out for telcos, consumers and government agencies that ultimately less is more.

Feb 282015
 
v8-supercars-launceston-communications-satellite

It’s tough being in export markets, particularly high tech ones were government supported industries are competing with each other with taxpayer funded and subsidies and guarantees.

A great example of this is the story of Australia’s Newsat, a company formed to launch the country’s first privately owned satellite.

The satellite business is tough industry with high costs, substantial risks and a number of state backed organisations competing for work.

So Newsat found willing partners – dare one call them distressed investors – who were prepared to put taxpayers’ money on the line to get a slice of the project. In Newsat’s case the US Exim bank and France’s Compagnie Française d’Assurance pour le Commerce Extérieur (COFACE).

Together the French and US agencies tipped in just short of four hundred million US Dollars, with Exim tipping in $280 million as a direct loan to support the company’s choice of American contractor Lockheed Martin to build the satellites.

Exim bank has featured on this website before in the discussion about the perverse result that US airlines get subsidies from European export agencies to buy Airbuses while European Airlines get support to buy Boeings. The result is a zero sum game where the big loser is the taxpayer.

Newsat shows again the flaws in this export model; despite early optimism, particularly around the provision of lucrative communications services to remote mines in regional Australia, the company has never really looked like delivering on its promise with the stock price bouncing around 15 Australian cents and valuing the entire company at just under a hundred million Aussie dollars.

While the big losers in this scheme appear to be Australian shareholders along with the US and French taxpayers – the Australian government had no interest in the project and Newsat was flatly rejected as the satellite provider by the country’s National Broadband Project – it turns out the executives will do quite well from the project.

Fairfax Media’s Business Day reports the Newsat project is mired in various legal and management problems not helped by the chief executive Adrian Ballintine and investor relations manager Kahina Koucha travelling the world in first class.

Koucha accompanied Ballantine and a handful of other NewSat executives on their 2013 and 2014 global sales missions. There is no doubt the NewSat team worked very hard drumming up support for Jabiru-1. But it also appears that Ballintine and his team used company funds to travel in opulent style.

Koucha’s Instagram snapshots of the NewSat trips to New York, Washington, Paris, Dubai and London look like the setting for a clichéd, blinged-out hip hop music video. There are the first class airline cabins, luxury hotels, French champagne, a Rolex watch and lavish dinners. The NewSat crew from Melbourne were clearly the coolest in the satellite sphere.

In the past two financial years, NewSat has spent almost $1 million on travel, according to its published accounts. As Koucha wrote on one of her Instagram posts of herself relaxing in an airline’s first class cabin while on a NewSat trip: “We travel in stylllleeee (sic)”.

When the US and French taxpayers are picking up the tabs, why not live like a gangsta?

Despite the hard work of Ballantine, Koucha and the rest Newstar’s executive team, the company continues to struggle in the search for customers for it’s already launched Jabiru-2 and the Jabiru-1 project is now in jeopardy due to missed payment deadlines.

At least somebody had some first class travel and good meals out of the venture and no doubt in the scheme of things, Newsat is small beer compared to many of the export projects being funded by the US and French taxpayers.

Feb 222015
 
how are we using data in our business

“To my knowledge we have had no data breaches,” stated Tim Morris at the Tech Leaders conference in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney on Sunday.

Morris, the Australian Federal Police force’s Assistant Commissioner for High Tech Crime Operations, was explaining the controversial data retention bill currently before the nation’s Parliament which will require telecommunications companies to keep customers’  connection details – considered to be ‘metadata’ – for two years.

The bill is fiercely opposed by Australia’s tech community, including this writer, as it’s an expensive   and unnecessary invasion of privacy that will do little to protect the community but expose ordinary citizens to a wide range of risks.

One of those risks is that of the data stores being hacked, a threat that Morris downplayed with some qualifications.

As we’re seeing in the Snowden revelations, there are few organisations that are secure against determined criminals and the Australian Federal Police are no exception.

For all organisations, not just government agencies, the question about data should be ‘do we need this?’

In a time of ‘Big Data’ where it’s possible to collect and store massive amounts of information, it’s tempting to become a data hoarder which exposes managers to various risks, not the least that of it being stolen my hackers. It may well be that reducing those risks simply means collecting less data.

Certainly in Australia, the data retention act will only create more headaches and risks while doing little to help public safety agencies to do their job. Just because you can collect data doesn’t mean you should.

Jan 282015
 
old farm equipment

Last week’s events in Canberra shows business can’t wait for the government to lead industry change. If you want to keep up with technology, you’re going to have to do it yourself.

In the wake of the Global Financial Crisis many of my business clients were in trouble as banks tightened their lines of credit and consumers slammed their wallets shut. After a decade of running businesses, it was time to get a job.

The job I found was with the small business division of the New South Wales Government’s then Department of State and Regional Development where I quickly discovered how many companies and ‘entrepreneurs’ came looking to the government for money and leadership.

While there were some state government support programs available for exporting, high-tech and biotech businesses almost all of those approaching the Department were hopelessly unqualified for the assistance that was at best only involved marginal amounts of money.

The toughest part of my job was gently turning those people away without upsetting them too much. Often I failed and part of the reason for that was that many of those believed the government would take leadership in a changing digital world and fund ideas that would help the state’s and nation’s competitiveness.

I was reminded of my brief period as a public servant and the futile attempt for  with last week’s disasters for the Australian tech sector; the Prime Minister’s claim that social media is little more than digital graffiti and the still born announcement of a Chief Transformation Officer.

Last week’s announcement of Chief Transformation Officer who happens to have no budget – the UK office the local initiative is based upon received more than a hundred million dollars in the Brits’ last budget –  is probably the best indication of how far behind the ball Australian governments, particularly the Federal level, are in dealing with a changing economy.

A Chief Transformation, or Digital, Officer can be an important catalyst for change but to achieve that they have to have the support of the organisation’s leadership; if the CEO or minister isn’t on board then the CTO or CDO is doomed to irrelevance.

The Prime Minister’s blithe dismissal of social media as being digital graffiti over the weekend shows just how little support an office charged with managing the Australian government’s transition to digital services will get from the executive. The sad thing is none of the likely alternatives – on either side of politics – to the current Prime Minister seem to be any more across the changes facing governments in a connected century.

One good example of the profound changes we’re seeing is in agriculture; this feature on farming robots shows just how technology and automation is changing life on the land. These applications of robotics are going to affect every industry, including government.

As we’ve discussed before, if you want digital leadership then you’re going to have to provide it yourself . If you’re going to wait for the government, then times are going to overtake you. How are you facing the changes to your business and marketplace?