Tech leaders upbeat about future of IoT industry in Florida | Crain's Orlando

Tech leaders upbeat about future of IoT industry in Florida

Florida International University in Miami was the first university in the nation to offer a bachelor's degree in the internet of things. | Photo courtesy of FIU

The internet of things has fast become a part of our lexicon and daily rituals – from baby monitors and sprinklers that run on Wi-Fi to bigger networks involving artificial intelligence and blockchain technology. But how are business executives and other officials in Florida deploying and using the technology?

Crain's recently spoke with six experts in the state's tech industry, academia and local government to get the lowdown on IoT's job opportunities, startup potential and workforce readiness in Florida, as well its security challenges. For the industry to flourish here, "Florida needs more people who can think outside of the box," according to a top executive with Clearwater-based Tech Data.

Rosa Akhtarkhavari, chief information officer for the city of Orlando, is responsible for all aspects of the city's enterprise architecture, and IT strategy, security and IT operation.

Raymond Carr is chief technology officer at Occam Technology Group, and 2017 Tampa Bay Tech Executive of the Year. Occam provides hardware and software developers for end-to-end IoT sensor, gateway, security and communications solutions.

Chester Kennedy is CEO of BRIDG, a Central Florida-based not-for-profit public-private partnership for advanced research and development capabilities and manufacturing processes related to applications and industries connected by IoT.

John McClure is IoT product manager at Clearwater, Florida-based Tech Data, the state’s largest company by revenue and a leading global end-to-end distributor of technology products, services and solutions, including IoT.

Sanjay Patel is CEO of TIO Home, a smart home automation technology company based in West Melbourne.

Selcuk Uluagac is director of the Cyber-Physical Systems Security Lab at Florida International University in Miami. Uluagac’s lab conducts research on the security and privacy of IoT devices and applications.

What’s the one thing that you’re most excited about in the world of IoT?

McClure (Tech Data): The increasing adoption rate among today’s businesses. IoT is not new, but businesses that want to gain an edge or keep an edge against their competition are diving in because IoT is now at the point where the benefits and affordability of IoT solutions make the investment completely necessary and justifiable.

Patel (TIO Home): We’re giving users the ability to choose from a set of experiences, whether they’re selecting those experiences by the time of day, by a touch of a button, using an app or via voice control. Right now, we’re testing voice capabilities with Alexa, and we’ll introduce that by the end of the month, and we’ll add it to the preconfigured packages.

Uluagac (FIU): Cyberspace is expanding fast with the introduction of new IoT devices like wearables, smart watches, glasses, fitness trackers, medical devices, internet-connected house appliances and vehicles. There will be billions of IoT devices connected to the internet in a few years, and more than trillions of dollars will be invested in manufacturing IoT devices.

I’m excited about educating the future cyber workforce for this emerging IoT realm. While it’s exciting to watch the explosion of the IoT technologies, most current products do not have privacy built into them. I’m also excited to work on building and designing novel IoT technologies to tackle such new privacy and security challenges.

Akhtarkhavari (City of Orlando): We are in the process of replacing our computer-aided dispatch and mobile — that touches the 911 center and call takers for police dispatch and firefighters, and all the police cars and the fire trucks. That’s about two-thirds of the city. We’re allowing zero chances for error because it’s people’s lives. That’s exciting.

Carr (Occam Technologies): While we work with all forms of IoT communications, right now we’re focused on the LoRa and LoRaWAN technologies, which allow us to quickly develop IoT sensors with inexpensive, long-range capabilities. Think of it as competitive to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but much farther distances. It also competes with cell data, but at a lower cost.

What kinds of integrations are fueling your business right now?

Patel: We have to make everything as plug-and-play as possible. One out of three adults experiences high frustration when using a smart device, and that’s the whole reason you want a smart device — to limit frustration. It’s a fast-moving space and a competitive space so, as we integrate third parties, we’re being selective.

Akhtarkhavari: Integration is a very critical part of our business. To be sure we have accuracy and efficiencies, we look at how the process and data flow from one system to others. In order to do that, we need to build integration. It’s an ongoing cycle. For example, we’re looking at which pieces of information collected by transportation can be used by public safety. Or if [the data is] collected by economic development, how can it be used by transportation? We take opportunities when we’re putting in new systems to integrate them with the old or to build [in options] to integrate them at a later time.

How important are strategic partnerships in the successful deployment of IoT systems?

Akhtarkhavari: We look at partnerships that are built on mutual benefits and not transactional. Transactional relationships end at the end of the transaction. Usually, when we install high-cost systems, we are looking at between 10 to 15 years, so we want that partnership to continue so we can continue that continuous improvement cycle and also be able to grow as our needs grow and new technology evolves.

When we were responding to the Pulse tragedy, for example, we needed to make some quick provisions. Microsoft deployed their crisis team at no cost and helped us put the One Orlando Fund up on the cloud, so we could handle the large number of transactions. Another example during that same time was with one of our telecom providers that just came in and provided us with what we needed to support our emergency center. This is what I consider partnerships. Some providers [might] not provide a response if it’s not in the contract.

Kennedy: Our business model is all about the right strategic partnerships. In addition to the key physical infrastructure, a large component of BRIDG’s ability to add value is for us to serve as a conduit to help connect partners with other partners to accelerate the development of new products.

How would you characterize Florida’s IoT workforce and its ability to meet the industry’s needs?

McClure: Florida needs more people who can think outside of the box. If you are looking toward a career in IoT, you should consider becoming a “hybrid” — someone who can sell like a sales champion, speak to the technical aspect like a system engineer, and still be adaptable to the ever-changing environment of IoT.

Kennedy: Our goal is for BRIDG to serve as the catalyst to help bring those high-value, quality jobs to Florida. For the longer-term pipeline, we are proud to partner with Osceola County School District on the opening of a new STEM-centric choice high school to be located with us in NeoCity (NeoCity Academy).

Uluagac: According to recent figures by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, there currently are more than 12,000 cybersecurity job openings in Florida and more than 37,000 employees working in cybersecurity-related jobs. Given the explosive growth of IoT devices and applications, these numbers will only grow. 

FIU is the first university in the nation to offer a B.S. degree on IoT focused on four major areas of IoT — hardware, software, communication and cybersecurity. We received a $2 million-plus grant to educate and prepare our students for the next generation cyber workforce from Cybercorps SFS program, a program supported by the National Science Foundation in collaboration with Department of Homeland Security, as well as a major grant from Cisco to design IoT classes for the hospitality and cruise industry.

How can users maximize data use from IoT systems?

Akhtarkhavari: We have very strong data analysts who can take that data and produce actionable intelligence. I think it’s really understanding your data, to be able to derive intelligence from that. Collect the data and get value out of the information. It will help you make the right decision to change your operations.

Carr:  The disciplines needed to successfully implement IoT are vast. IoT requires the understanding of real-time embedded hardware/security development in the sensor, as well as, the transport of that data via a network/backbone, and finally into the IT space where data analytics and such may be applied.

The value is in the data, but the process of obtaining that data is unique in that it must traverse through a number of disciplines to be successfully recorded. Our approach has been to partner with the academic community to better educate the engineering students as to IoT and the differing methods of data acquisition. One example of that is our "Wall-Less” IoT Lab Concept collaboration with the University of South Florida.

How are you addressing the ongoing issue of cybersecurity among IoT devices/connections?

Kennedy: I spent a lot of time participating in the evolution of the industry and seeing firsthand the emergence of new threats as the world became more connected and our diverse adversaries increased in sophistication. 

At BRIDG, we are working to enable our strategic partners to be positioned to provide Physically Unclonable Function (PUF) capabilities for IoT devices, which could be a game-changer for the IoT industry. This includes an improved cryptography capability that is ... extremely tamper-resistant to enable secure communications. [Another focus is] a chip-based electronic fingerprint capability; the ability to know which IoT device is being communicated with can be greatly enhanced with a unique “fingerprint” for each device.

One of the best ways to mitigate threats is to know and control the integrity of the entire design and manufacturing supply chain for these advanced electronics. Design them and build them someplace that you trust, using people that you trust.

Akhtarkhavari: As the threats and the landscape continue to change, we continue to shore up our defenses and our response. The landscape is changing so fast. The processes we have in place — we have strong partnerships in place, definitely with [the police] intelligence. We also have a very positive relationship with, and we take advantage of, services provided to us at no cost by the Department of Homeland Security.

What if any benefit is there to being located here in Florida?

Uluagac: Miami is a major hub connected to world destinations and offers world-class services in finance, commerce, culture, media, entertainment, the arts, and international logistics and trade. The region has a huge potential for startups. Any emerging technologies as pervasive as IoT will easily find many application domains in South Florida and will have many realistic opportunities for growth and scaling up.

Connect with Florida's IoT experts on Twitter: Tech Data at @Tech_Data; Occam Technology Group at @occamtechgroup; TIO Home at @TIOhome; Florida International University at @FIUonline; BRIDG at @FollowBRIDG; and city of Orlando at @citybeautiful.

April 16, 2018 - 11:20am