As Dubai and the rest of the UAE rapidly move toward the concept of technologically advanced and interconnected “smart” cities, the term “Internet of Things” (IoT) is rapidly moving from techno-buzzword to real-world application that is dramatically changing the way people and businesses in the UAE live and work.
Broadly speaking, IoT refers to a network of physical devices – ranging from vehicles to refrigerators and other home appliances – that are connected to each other and, as a result, are constantly exchanging data.
It’s a network of machines, essentially, rather than a flow of information that requires human extraction or utilisation. According to the experts, these interconnected devices have the potential to drastically change the nature of business in the 21st century.
For Steve Dunbar, the MEA IoT director for Microsoft, IoT has reached a point where it is getting “past the hype”. “We talk a lot about what the art of the possible is, but it’s starting to mature,” he says. “It’s about business value. It’s about the results customers can expect from it.”
From a business perspective, Dunbar notes that IoT brings with it a number of clear benefits, primarily around increased efficiencies. “Often that’s where businesses want to start with this technology. Companies want to dip their toe in the water with IoT and typically they’re looking at cost savings,” he says, giving the remote monitoring of assets and predictive and preventive maintenance as examples.
Dr Anil Khurana, PwC partner and Middle East consumer and industrial products leader, notes that IoT technology and thousands of sensors have already fundamentally changed the operations of various industries. As a prime example, Dr Khurana says that IoT can help “track and trace” the necessary parts of an aircraft under construction, simplifying the process and increasing efficiencies.
“In that case, it’s important to understand how track-and-trace can actually help. Think about the ability to forecast, in a semi-conductor factory, what the quality yield will be of the product. That’s a function of having a ‘digital twin’ to be able to simulate what the ambient conditions are,” he explains. “Or think of a building itself, one that can leverage information, data and sensors to be able to provide input to the production and design processes to be able to optimise it.”
Already, many of the potential applications of IoT are taking shape in Dubai, where, in October 2017, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, officially launched a government IoT strategy that is hoped to lead to the creation of the world’s most advanced IoT ecosystem over the coming three years.
“Dubai’s push to build the future today has helped establish a digital infrastructure that is now a strategic national asset in the wake of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Sheikh Mohammed said at the time. “It is a fortune that all stakeholders in the Dubai government must work together to preserve.”
According to Dubai government officials, Dubai’s IoT “data wealth” in the realm of IoT will generate AED17.9bn ($4.8bn) in value by 2021. Open and shared data – a vital part of the IoT ecosystem – is expected to add another AED10.4bn ($2.8bn) to the UAE’s GDP by the same year.
Jihad Tayara, the vice president of business development and partnerships, new business and innovation at du, the UAE’s second largest telecoms provider, says that ultimately the success of Dubai’s use of data and IoT technologies is best judged by the positive transformation it brings to the lives of the emirate’s residents.
Among the best examples, he notes, is the announcement that the UAE plans to deploy a centralised fire alarm system that connects all buildings in the country to speed up emergency responses and limit damage. The “Hassantuk” integrated alarm system – known as the Smart Monitoring, Alert and Control System – will connect 150,000 existing UAE apartment blocks, commercial properties and other buildings to pick up on smoke or other abnormalities and alert nearby civil defence units within milliseconds.
“This is really something that could change people’s lives. It’s a transformation of everyday life, rather than just creating a technology buzzword or implementing technology,” Tayara says. “The target of Smart Dubai is to turn Dubai into the happiest place on earth.”
Just as transformative, Tayara notes, is the “Dubai Pulse”, a platform that shares data from a wide variety of sources in the public and private sector, allowing entrepreneurs, private citizens and public sector entities to use data to glean insights into Dubai and improve efficiency and seamlessness.
“Dubai is one of the few cities in the world that has a data classification law. Data is classified as public data, shared data, private data, or secret data. We’re working with government entities to host that data on the Dubai Pulse platform,” he says. “The story of accessing data and making sense of data is happening now, as we speak.”
As the amount of interconnected devices goes up and the amount of data they produce increases exponentially, so does the potential for cyberattacks on the IoT network. Already, a recent survey from American research and advisory firm Gartner found that 20 percent of organisations have observed at least one IoT attack over the last three years.
According to Tayara, effectively combating these threats will require a “mindset transformation” on the part of UAE companies. “Businesses have been used to only securing their premises and their servers. That’s what we’ve been doing for the past 20, 25 years, and it was relatively easy,” he says. “Now you’re moving on from your own equipment to the cloud, and then moving from the cloud to the connectivity medium all the way to the end point. This is really the most difficult part, securing the end-to-end.”
Dr Khurana, for his part, adds that the additional risks associated with IoT stem from the fact that the number of “touch points” that can be targeted by cyber threat actors has “expanded and exploded” as more devices come online. “Whether it’s at a telco or machinery at a plant, devices all need to be connected to an OEM [original equipment manufacturer] and to some cloud solution, which means that every device, just like our phones, is connected. The key point is ensuring the security of all those connection points and the security of the transactions, interactions and data transfer.”
While concerns over the security of IoT devices will certainly pose a challenge for companies beginning their journeys into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Dr Khurana says that perhaps a larger challenge will come from businesses being forced to rapidly adapt to radical changes in their business model as they work to keep pace with new technological possibilities.
To drive his point home, Dr Khurana compares the introduction and implementation of IoT technologies to the implementation of electric power in manufacturing, business and trade more than 130 years ago. “It essentially meant that you re-wired your businesses and industry completely. Everything. In some ways, we are doing the same thing again,” he says. “This time, the re-wiring is about all the things that revolve around data, connectivity, security and information. All of a sudden, these things are all connected at the same time.
“Inevitably, the business model changes. Efficiency parameters go to a different level. If you take the example of a factory, downtime is typically 10 percent, but with IoT its goes down to one percent. That’s massive,” he adds. “If global productivity in industry improves by one percent, it has a $15 trillion per year implication.
We, people working in these industries, will also change. We’ve heard about the threat of AI eliminating human jobs…that’s far-fetched, but human skills, training and roles will change. Those are big changes that we will see.”
This future, Dr Khurana concludes, is closer to reality than many believe. “I think the horizon isn’t 50 years away, but 10 years,” he says.
In October 2017, Sheikh Mohammed officially unveiled the Dubai IoT Strategy, with the stated aim of protecting the emirate’s data wealth and encouraging government departments to take part in the Smart Dubai Plan 2021, which aims to create a 100 percent paperless government. The IoT strategy is also designed to unify the data sources for the Dubai Pulse Platform, which the government has described as its “digital backbone”.
The strategy will be implemented in four phases over the next three years. In the first phase, governments will work with departments to implement IoT strategies, which will then be harmonised in the second phase. In the third phase – dubbed the “optimisation phase” – government entities will begin to fully implement the IoT strategy and see returns in six strategic domains: governance, management, acceleration, deployment, monetisation and security.
In May, Dubai will host the Internet of Things Expo and Conference (iOTx), a regional gathering that will focus on IoT market needs. Among the speakers slated to attend are representatives of local government entities, as well as prominent companies including Vodafone, Google, JP Morgan and Apple, as well as representatives of the European Parliament, the city of Amsterdam and the UK’s House of Lords. Sessions include:
Discussing the convergence of new technologies with IoT to create thinking cities, with:
- Mr Ger Baron, Chief Technology Officer, City of Amsterdam
- Ammar Al Malik, Executive Director, Dubai Internet City
- Ghazi Atallah, CEO, NXN
Investigating how IoT is enabling smarter transportation in the region’s future cities, with:
- Chris Ballinger, CFO and Head of Mobility Services, Toyota Research Institute
- Sebastien Henot, Manager of Business Innovation, Renault
- Faisal Rashid, Director Demand Side Management, Supreme Council of Energy
Examining strategies to monetise your IoT implementation
Discussing the appropriate business models to allow long term commercialisation of IoT, with:
- Dr Mohammad Yekta, Data Scientist, Apple
- Kai Gait, Senior Global Digital Director, GlaxoSmithKline
- Naimish Shah, Head of Innovation & Emerging Technology, Emirates NBDFor all the latest tech news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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