Bastion Deblieck studied linguistics at the KU (Catholic University) Leuven. In 2001, he was one of the founders of Ten- Force. Among other things, he worked on the company’s semantic technology. Today he is Chief Commercial Officer.
TenForce develops software that companies use to manage complex activities, ranging from project management to safety, the environment and health. Among other things, the TenForce solutions use semantic technology, machine learning and the IoT. The company is based in Leuven and has 70 staff.
According to Fabio Bottacci, expert in the Industrial IoT (IIoT) at the World Economic Forum, the added value of the IoT depends on how it is combined with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning for data analysis. So doesn’t the IoT have a future without AI?
Bastiaan Deblieck: “I see the IoT, first and foremost, as an extension of the senses. You can listen, see and feel with it. Instead of sending a staff member to a building site to take a measurement, you receive continuous, up-to-date measurement data via a sensor.
So, for instance, you can chart the noise pollution on a building site. Of course, we get a totally different story in a context where thousands of sensors are in use, such as in an industrial plant. In this case, huge data volumes are generated that have to be analyzed immediately and produce an instant response, such as to optimize the working of a machine or schedule preventive maintenance. In a case like this, AI can provide substantial added value.”
Bottacci also says that edge computing is essential for the Industrial IoT. Real-time analysis and automated action are necessary to safeguard business-critical production lines against serious damage or problems, he maintains. How do you see that?
Bastiaan: “In the context of the Industrial IoT, broadband and latency are decisive factors. This involves data from thousands of equipment sensors that come together – often wirelessly – on an IoT platform in the cloud. That is where the analysis takes place, after which the system sends actions back to the machines.
The size of the data volumes and the distance to be covered can increase the latency. With certain processes – such as safety in a chemical plant, for instance – this delay poses a problem. The solution is to provide the necessary processing power locally, close to the sensors that gather the data. A small, local datacenter like this is placed at the edge of the network. Hence the name edge computing. When the analysis and response really need to be in real time, edge computing offers an answer.”
So do companies need to evolve towards a new IT architecture whereby the cloud does not necessarily provide the best solution for all applications?
Bastiaan: “That’s right. The IoT is one of the drivers behind the development of a new level of hybrid IT. Today, companies often already work with a combination of on-site and cloud. Edge computing is a third element here. The big challenge lies in managing the infrastructural ecosystem as a single whole.”
“If an IoT application automatically generates a financial transaction, blockchain can ensure that this is done properly and securely.”
Bastiaan Deblieck – Chief Commercial Officer at TenForce
IDC estimates that by 2020, 80% of IoT expenditure will go on B2B applications. Do you think the market for consumer applications will bring about fast change here? Or the segment of IoT solutions for governments and local authorities?
Bastiaan: “It seems clear to me that the IoT is filtering through into all markets. The technology is evolving rapidly. A sensor is, at most, the size of a crown cork. You can fit them almost anywhere, at a price that is falling steadily. And I don’t suppose the general public has issues with the rise of new IoT applications.
Almost everyone has a smartphone in their pocket. So, as a consumer, you are, by definition, a walking IoT solution. For that matter, it’s no coincidence that Microsoft launched a smart thermostat last summer. The battle to bring the IoT into our houses and cars is well under way.”
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) ensure that various separate elements form one, powerful network. Without APIs, IoT devices are useless. Do you agree?
Bastiaan: “APIs are crucial to the success of the IoT. Recently, at TenForce, we added the IoT functionality to our software. In barely two hours, we were connected to the Proximus LoRaWAN platform.
That said, if it had taken two weeks, we’d still have done it. Because it works so fast, it means that you can make huge progress in a short time. The importance of APIs can hardly be overestimated. You see that on the big cloud platforms, too. The components you find on Microsoft Azure are almost incredible. And they are all based on APIs.”
What challenges do you see in terms of security for the IoT? How do companies need to respond to this?
Bastiaan: “It’s not just about security, but about combining security with privacy. As a company you have to keep a cool head, not panic, adopt a pragmatic attitude. Yes, there are risks. You have to chart them and then deal with them.
Security – including in the IoT context – is always based on the combined action of three elements: regulations, technology and people. And here too, people are often the biggest risk. Above all, IT security is a question of the assessment that you make as a company: the cost of the potential risk versus the cost of guarding against that risk.”
Can the combination of blockchain and the IoT prove useful here?
Bastiaan: “Blockchain offers an excellent means of managing transactions and identity. These two elements are essential in an automated world. On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. So when you buy something in the digital world, you want certainty about the transaction and about the identity of the other party.
Link the IoT in here and you enter the field of automatic transactions, triggered by sensors. A simple example: you drive through a toll gate and a transaction takes place automatically via the IoT. For the process to run smoothly, blockchain may offer an appropriate answer.”
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