The Role of Big Data and Cybersecurity in Smart Cities

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Smart cities are coming. The integration of networking technologies to public and private infrastructure is still in its infancy, and as this trend continues, everything about buildings and infrastructure will change. In fact, recent analysis from Frost & Sullivan, The Smart Building Systems Market in North America, finds that the market earned revenue of $2.5 billion in 2013 and estimates this to reach $4.29 billion in 2018. Construction, operations, maintenance, use, commissioning, and decommissioning are all set to be disrupted. So the question is; if you are an asset manager and not a computer programmer, how does this affect you, and how should you react?

Every part of an asset will soon create data. That data is valuable. It might not be immediately apparent how each data stream can be used, but it can be. This is certain. As a manager of a complex asset with various systems and resulting data streams, exact relationships between systems and their performance can be measured and optimized automatically. The productive functions of that asset should tie into the functional ones; the asset itself becomes a dynamic, revenue-generating piece of the portfolio.

The value in this data is uncovered through statistical analytics. The availability of advanced data analysis through cloud providers is increasing, and the cost effectiveness is improving. By serving raw data to an analytics team, and having the key relationships and insights returned can deliver incredible value to the asset portfolio. Many of these analytics firms will even perform this service through performance contracting, with the up-front investment to the asset manager being little or nothing, and the analytics firm being paid through shared energy and maintenance savings. The ability to outsource this function to an expert third-party provider enables organizations serving any industry to benefit from the advancements being made in IT.

Perhaps more valuable than any operational cost savings which can benefit an asset’s portfolio are the improvements to the business processes which can be implemented as a result of increased visibility into operational concerns. The asset should understand the work being done in and around it, and respond appropriately to accommodate those activities. Take for example a presentation meeting with ten participants of a $200 per hour average bill rate. There are some AV difficulties at the beginning of the meeting, causing a 15 minute delay in the start of the presentation. This costs the organization $500, as one quarter of an hour for each of ten participants is wasted in setting up a system which could have been preprogrammed to automatically upload the presentation in question.

Automatic optimization is perhaps the greatest advantage of a smart asset management system. The ability to graphically monitor and remotely control an asset is great, but it does require the constant attention by and intervention of a person, who could be doing other things. By programming the system to self-diagnose and react to changing parameters, the system takes the onus off the user to maximize performance, freeing up valuable time for the manager. This is particularly true in cases where multiple systems are networked together and can optimize dynamically. One example revolves around the advantages of networking lighting and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning: The color of light influences how warm or cold people feel; cold, blue light makes us feel cold, while warm, redder lights make us feel warmer. The implication is that an asset manager can maintain a less strict temperature range inside their facility while maintaining the comfort of its occupants, if they can exercise sufficient control over the lighting system. If the asset is able to dynamically monitor the temperature in the room, and the behavior of its occupants, it can alter the light spectrum and temperature range within the zone to maximize savings across climate changes and occupant use. This is just one example of the cross-system advantages that arise when considering automated optimization.

By networking any asset or infrastructure, there is a risk of cybersecurity threat. This is particularly true when the business functions of an organization are tied to the asset’s operations, and there is potential monetary gain to be made through cybercrime. Fortunately, the degree to which hackers are willing to spend time and effort breaching a system is limited, and by making the system fundamentally secure will dissuade most illegal efforts. Basic, low-cost solutions are available to secure the system, and include proper education and standards for passwords, limiting physical access to server and communication equipment, restricted access for BYOD, hot-desking, and telecommuting, and using end-to-end encryption technologies. While no system can be said to be truly hack-proof, by incorporating all of these cybersecurity strategies, the time and effort a cybercrime group would need to invest in compromising the system is simply not worth it.

It is important to note that the cyber-criminal community does not hack systems exclusively for monetary gain. There have been numerous instances where a system was compromised with no possibility of the hackers making money. The motivations are instead around the challenge of breaching a new form of security, and the vast majority of these instances has no consequences to the owner, and is never noticed and reported. The implication is that all networked systems need to be protected, regardless of how small an advantage the potential criminal could gain as a result. It’s the culture of “there’s a mountain over there, and even though there’s nothing at the top, I’m going to go climb it”, and possibly some bragging rights. Thankfully, the degree to which hackers are willing to climb up steep hills is limited, and does depend on the possibility of monetary gain, so the preventative measures for most asset management systems can be relatively easily implemented by the owning organization.

Big data and cybersecurity are critical areas for asset managers in the 21st century. The value smart, connected systems can provide is unarguable, and the challenges they pose are surmountable. Implementing these technologies properly will have positive implications for both the top and bottom-lines of an organization, and can become a competitive advantage for whatever organization implements them. The smart city of the future will include many assets like this; will yours be one of them?

Frost & Sullivan, the Growth Partnership Company, works in collaboration with clients to leverage visionary innovation that addresses the global challenges and related growth opportunities that will make or break today’s market participants.