Following the purchase of Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia aims to become a prominent force in the internet of things. Jason Collins, vice-president of internet of things, applications and analytics at Nokia, talks to European HR Frontiers about navigating the most interconnected era in history.
The internet-of-things (IoT) revolution is having a significant impact on HR departments. In 2016, an estimated 137 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury, and IoT devices such as fitness trackers enable companies concerned with employee health and performance to monitor well-being.
Some HR departments have also used trackers to detect staff whereabouts and monitor productivity. For example, a recent experiment by consultancy firm Deloitte employed sociometric badges – measuring location, voice and movement – to determine whether aspects of work were positive or negative.
With flexible and remote working becoming more commonplace, devices such as tablets and smartphones are increasingly important tools to every contemporary business.
In November 2016, Alcatel-Lucent was acquired by Nokia and merged into its Networks division. The idea was to improve connectivity, expand its product portfolio, and, most importantly, take a flying leap into IoT.
"During the past three years, Nokia has reinvented itself, emerging as a leader in the technology connecting people and things," said president and CEO Rajeev Suri. "It is focused on playing a central role in a world where everyone and everything will be connected."
The acquisition was certainly timely. With 5G just around the corner, all telecoms providers are trying to work out how they can shake up their offerings, developing the kind of high-performance networks best suited to a hyperconnected world.
Bridge the gap
Nokia is no exception. In 2016, the company demonstrated the world’s first 5G-ready network, and it is already deploying ‘4.9G’ in an attempt to bridge the gap with what’s to come. Rebranding itself as a full-scale IoT vendor, it sells network infrastructure, devices and sensors, all under its ‘intelligent management platform for all connected things’ (IMPACT) banner.
"There are a number of areas in which Nokia thinks it can add value," says Jason Collins, vice-president of IoT, applications and analytics.
"Its traditional business is focused on the evolution from 4G to 5G, so it will offer a portfolio of radio and networking gear optimised for IoT applications. Then, the area I represent is the layer above the networking – the applications and analytics software business."
Collins previously headed up IoT ecosystems and business model development at Alcatel-Lucent; at Nokia, he focuses on two types of value propositions – one broad in scope, the other more bespoke.
"The first is a horizontal infrastructure layer, where we focus on building the relationship between devices and applications," he says.
"All applications have the same fundamental needs, and a good chunk of their problems can be considered generic. The second has to do with building end-to-end vertical solutions in domains in which Nokia thinks it is particularly strong."
Regarding the first of these, IMPACT is an application-independent platform suited to communication service providers, enterprises and government. It is capable of supporting 80,000 different device types, and can handle everything from data collection to applications enablement.
As for the second, Nokia is particularly interested in working with industries such as transportation, utilities and healthcare.
"There are a lot of industries that can use this infrastructure, so you will see Nokia making very select choices in areas in which it can excel," explains Collins.
Probably the most talked-about case is the emerging concept of smart cities. These take data from various physical devices and use it to optimise how they run. As a consequence, the successful application of these systems attracts more skilled employees. Nokia is working with a number of cities directly to address the problems they are facing.
"As cities grow, a lot of stress is placed on infrastructure and anything that is limited in supply, whether that’s energy, parking spots, public transport or roads," states Collins.
"On top of that, cities in their traditional forms are not managed in the most efficient way. They tend to be broken down into departments that aren’t allowed to share investments or data, even though working together would be more efficient."
He believes that a truly smart city would move away from this siloed approach and take a more holistic overview of its needs. Ultimately, it would look towards an architecture that could meet several of those needs in tandem.
"Cities need to measure movement of crowds, monitor environmental noise, conduct law enforcement and so on,"
he reasons. "A lot of these things can be done with a common infrastructure."
With this example in mind, it is easy to see the advantage of Nokia’s platform approach. You might only need one solution now, but that solution may not be fully equipped for the sort of demands you’ll face in future.
Aside from smart cities, another much-discussed IoT application is driverless cars and this is an area in which fleet managers could benefit significantly. Here, the idea is that AI technology could be used to make the roads much safer, eliminating the deadly costs of human error.
While Nokia is not an automotive manufacturer, it does offer plenty of relevant technology.
"To give one example, driverless cars use an AI algorithm that needs to be trained how to behave in certain traffic conditions," Collins explains. "The amount of data it takes to generate a reliable algorithm for self-driving is massive – you need tens or hundreds of thousands of cars with data probes to create reliable data sets. Nokia can build very secure and efficient communication infrastructure between those cars and networks."
He adds that, while fully driverless cars may still be some way off – more for regulatory than technological reasons – their eventual deployment is inevitable.
"If you look at statistics on how many people die every year and how much money is lost in accidents, you’re talking about an industry that’s well over €1 billion a day," he says. "Driverless cars will happen no matter what because there’s too much money involved in avoiding accidents."
Of course, as the IoT revolution gathers pace, it will not be without challenges. Aside from the wave of job losses likely to accompany automation, connectivity on such a massive scale will create real security concerns.
To put it simply, as soon as a device gets connected, it becomes accessible to non-desirable entities that want to take control, or steal its data. We only need think of the recent WannaCry ransomware attack, which hit more than 200,000 computers in 150 countries, affecting many businesses.
It is hard to imagine the kind of chaos that would have ensued if IoT devices had been the target. Collins feels there are two key ways of managing this risk, the first being a matter of trust building. Developers need to create a two-way authentication model to ensure the user is who they say they are.
"You cannot trust data from an unmanaged source – it sounds very simple, but it’s overlooked in the industry," he states. "If I’m connecting my lights and my door lock to an iPhone app, that’s great, I can control stuff remotely, but how do I know I can trust the remote control entity to be authentic? If you don’t think carefully about that question, you quickly find yourself in trouble."
On top of this, developers should make sure they understand their device’s expected patterns of use. This means when anomalies arise, it’s easy to flag them up and identify the culprit, similar to how a credit card might decline an anomalous transaction.
"If you connect a parking meter to the internet, it’s very predictable what kind of conversation the parking meter should have with the outside world – you can start to do machine learning on what’s a normal pattern of behaviour," Collins explains. "If some entity from a foreign country logs in and finds a way to access the data, a good security design will alert you to that and say there’s something abnormal happening on the meter."
He believes there is a lot to be done in terms of creating industry standards and best practices for data management. Currently, such standards exist in specific verticals (for example, the HIPAA privacy regulations within healthcare), but in the future they will need to become increasingly far-reaching.
Naturally, these kinds of issues have ramifications stretching beyond IT departments. With the number of connected devices expected to surpass 20 billion by 2020, questions about data security and industrial automation are going to become front and centre in every sector. Executives will need to be highly attuned to these concerns.
"What’s important is you’re very transparent and upfront in what you’re going to do with people’s data and what your intentions are," concludes Collins. "There’s a lot of concern, and probably rightfully so, about how personal data will get used or abused. So you’ve got to be very trustworthy if you expect people to subscribe to your vision and give you access to their data, which I would consider to be the new gold."