The Internet of Things (IoT) is making everyday citizens leaders in data creation and gathering. Industry and government IT leaders alike are scrambling to find the best strategies and the most open policies to take full advantage of this shift of focus.
Chris Smith, Vice President of Technology at AT&T Government Solutions, has fully adopted this citizen-centric line of thinking. In our discussion below, Smith makes the argument that by focusing the data individual citizens create, federal agencies can cut through the red tape and react faster than ever before while also implementing policy that optimizes the needs of its citizens.
WashingtonExec: How is AT&T preparing its customers to adapt to Internet of Things applications and solutions?
Chris Smith: The Internet of Things is full of excitement and promise. It’s one of the fastest growing technology trends where all types of devices and machines are connected and “talking” to each other. AT&T has been at the forefront of this phenomenon, driving an evolution that’s changing the way people live, work, and play.
The pace of connectedness will continue to quicken. At the end of 2014, we reported nearly 20 million connected devices, up 21.2 percent from 2013. A key driver in this is connected cars. Of the 1.296 million connected devices we reported adding in the fourth quarter of 2014, about 800,000 were connected cars. That is just the beginning when you think about retrofitting all existing vehicles. We expect to have more than 10 million vehicles on our network by the end of 2017.
We are focused on how enterprise and government organizations can better achieve their mission by using the huge amounts of information that connected devices and sensors can deliver. Government agencies can find insights in that data to achieve their missions more efficiently or effectively, have better decision making capabilities, and protect the homeland. We provide the total IoT package with our state-of-the-art global network, product development, dedicated innovation centers, global SIM and expertise so customers receive all the benefits of a connected world.
Also, wearables are really beginning to take off. Various market estimates predict an increase from approximately 40 million wearable devices out there today up to 180 million or more over the next four to five years. We’re a leader in wearable devices, with the largest portfolio of wearables among U.S. carriers. We offer 30 wearable devices from 13 companies, more than any of our competitors.
There can be no doubt that billions upon billions of connected devices will help us improve our lives and make our businesses more efficient.
WashingtonExec: The U.S. Federal government is not exactly known for being agile. How do you see government agencies adapting new IT programs to the Internet of Things being brought onto secure networks?
Chris Smith: First, the focus should be on the mission and what it is that the organization is trying to achieve. Then, it is taking a strategic technology like the Internet of Things and figuring out how that can help an agency execute its mission better. From a business and programmatic standpoint, as agencies pinpoint their mission objectives they should be well versed in the capabilities that the Internet of Things and machine-to-machine communications offer. Examples include improved logistics and supply chain management, increased visibility and increased efficiency. These benefits are delivered by location services and critical asset tracking. Improved supply chain visibility allows you to better serve the customer at the end of the chain. You can improve asset management across the entirety of the supply chain. That leads to cost savings and improvements in performance and security. Customer satisfaction improvements happen when the customer at the end of that value chain knows where and when to receive that critical item.
We went from the Mainframe Era to the Client-Server Era and then the Internet. The Internet of Things is the next disruptive wave. It is an evolution of technology built on something that has been a bit more disruptive, and that’s the cloud. I think cloud has really allowed us to do things faster, better, cheaper and more securely. We can now store huge amounts of data very cheaply and securely.
WashingtonExec: What do you recommend to many public sector leaders worried about the Internet of Things and privacy concerns?
Chris Smith: First and foremost, you need to look at the problem on behalf of the citizen and be the best possible steward that you can be regarding privacy and security expectations. That means doing the right thing, i.e., implementing the right cyber security protections from the applications and the storage of information to the transit of information across the network right into the individual’s hands. It also means having the appropriate user roles and security parameters to ensure that only authorized people are accessing the information.
You’ve also got to have a strong knowledge of current cyber security threats. This is paramount for government agencies dealing with Privacy Act information where the highest standards of security are required to protect personal information. At AT&T, security and privacy are at the forefront and center of everything we do. We combine the visibility and control of our network with threat intelligence and response expertise to help organizations quickly detect threats and minimize the impact of attacks.
WashingtonExec: The Internet of Things is a new term and application being implanted onto old infrastructure. How would you describe the relationship between mobile phones and tablets with big data analytics tools?
Chris Smith: I wouldn’t say it’s old; old is a relative term with any technology. I see it as the continual march of technology progress. We went from the Mainframe Era to the Client-Server Era and then the Internet. The Internet of Things is the next disruptive wave. It is an evolution of technology built on something that has been a bit more disruptive, and that’s the cloud. I think cloud has really allowed us to do things faster, better, cheaper and more securely. We can now store huge amounts of data very cheaply and securely.
We are seeing huge investments in private clouds for enterprise and government organizations. We are seeing very good penetration in multi-tenant clouds for organizations and also very solid penetration in public clouds. That is going to allow organizations to quickly build an end-to-end set of capabilities, including Internet of Things capabilities. With our mobility, cloud, cyber security and big data capabilities delivered across our global network, we are positioned smack in the middle of the rapidly growing Internet of Things ecosystem and a prime enabler for organizations seeking to take advantage of all of those capabilities.
WashingtonExec: What is your favorite Internet of Things device or application for personal or professional use?
Chris Smith: I’m a technology enthusiast. I retrofitted my car with a device that actually makes my car a connected car. My mobile device receives maintenance alerts and warnings on my car so I know what’s happening. It tells me how much fuel is in my vehicle all the way down to 1% remaining. It connects to parking systems in some of the major cities and can tell me where there are open meters when I need to park for a meeting or personal outing. I have AT&T Digital Life and that allows me to control, wirelessly and remotely, the environmental systems in my house; heating, cooling and water as well as security for the home.
However, it’s the wearable devices that intrigue me as a businessman and as a former government official. How can I better share information around me with coworkers to be more effective? That area holds great promise and I am interested in continuing to push the envelope and explore the art of the possible.
WashingtonExec: Is there anything you have seen in the market that you would not use for yourself or that you find is too invasive?
Chris Smith: When I hear “invasive” in the context of Internet of Things, I immediately think of security, which is top of mind for everyone today.
I think it is incumbent upon those professionals who are responsible for running the enterprise and for those that run the government mission to be savvy, to understand the capabilities that are out there, and to have a very good understanding of security and the ever-evolving nature of security threats and defenses. The Internet of Things is enabled on a platform of inter-connectedness: network, applications, devices, and sensors as well as security, management and monitoring software. The best security defense to protect the Internet of Things ecosystem is similarly an ecosystem of cyber security defenses, combining all available threat information with cyber security capabilities to identify and defend against attacks.
My view is always to put one big toe in the water. Identify what you want to achieve from a business sense and then take this strategic capability around connected devices, machine-to-machine or the Internet of Things and try it. Get your feet wet. The Intelligence Community and Defense have used connected devices for many, many years with great success. It can be accomplished and it needs to be done at the right cost, securely, and delivered with great performance. Executed correctly, it will drive the mission and organization to greater heights.