Live Interview Session: Unlocking IoT Full Potential in the New Normal

Eric Chan

Eric Chan is Vice President of Intel and General Manager of Internet of Things Group (IOTG) Customer Engineering. He leads a worldwide customer engineering team with the charter to deliver product collateral, reference designs, platform solutions and customer support to enable customers and ecosystem partners to accelerate their designs into production.

Tiong Khe Hock

Tiong Khe Hock is the Managing Director of Omron Electronics Sdn Bhd. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from University of Malaya and has over 35 years of experience in the field of instrumentation, control and industrial automation. He has led the company for almost 20 years and has built a team of competent sales and application engineers capable of offering automation solutions to meet the diverse needs of its clients. Currently, he is also the President of Malaysia Automation Technology Association (MATA), a leading association focusing on industrial automation and Industry 4.0 in Malaysia.

1. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned most countries to a new normal living and one of them is applying and depending on the Internet of Things (IoT). While millennials and Gen Z might have an easier approach to this, how do people generally adapt to the IoT, especially Baby Boomers?

Mr. Tiong Khe Hock: It’s a challenge for baby boomers although by enlarge most of them can utilize devices such as smartphones, computers, and tab. The major disadvantage is for those who live in rural areas. Perhaps they don’t have any exposure to the internet and smart devices. If you compare with the younger generation today, they are more likely to be able to utilize the mobile apps in the smart devices. As for me representing baby boomers, I do not have any problem in terms of following up with the changes in technology such as Internet of Things (IoT) and digital transformation. However, I have to say that not everyone in my generation is as fortunate as me as some of them may still be struggling with using smart devices. I believe this is a situation where as society progresses, those who are living in the urban area will benefit from digital transformation but those in the rural areas will be left out.

Mr. Eric Chan: We have seen the whole emergence of the smartphone. Digital transformation has helped to onboard people. Nowadays, we use smartphones nearly for everything, whether ordering a ride-share or a portion of food. Smart devices today have made it simpler, thanks to the advancement of technology. Some of the cellular coverage data plans, whether 4G or 5G, help to bring people together. The concern we had is that we want to get everybody on board to have access to technology. It’s a good thing as we don’t want the technology to be only available to a certain group. In this case, we are doing well on the consumer side, however for the enterprise side, we should make it easier for those working in factories or warehouses so that any group of age can easily adopt the digital transformation.

2. The global economic impact of the outbreak has caused a massive loss to most companies. Is it advisable for industry players to implement IoT with limited resources?

Mr. Tiong Khe Hock: Many enterprises worldwide are affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. Although it has caused massive losses in our country, it is said that this virus actually act as a catalyst that accelerates the adoption of IoT or digital transformation, especially for bigger enterprises. The industry players especially the Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) are obviously laggard in this adoption. Even in advanced countries like Germany, I’ve heard that the adoption in SMEs is only about 20%. That’s understandable because SMEs are more concerned with their day to day operation and are trying to survive especially under this pandemic. However, it is still important for SMEs to implement some level of digital transformation despite this hard time.

For those companies who are unprepared before this pandemic, they can’t even operate remotely during the lockdown as their employees are unable to work from home (WFH). Although it is difficult for SMEs, I believe they should find ways to do it. Malaysian government has launched the national policy on Industry 4.0 called Industry4WRD since 2018 and there should be a lot of awareness for SMEs to get themselves ready for the assessment. Based on what we have heard, most SMEs are still taking their time. The government is concerned and thus is trying to provide help to SMEs in whatever ways possible. I would like to introduce an initiative by MPC and M&E Productivity Nexus, called Productivity 1010.

Under this program, we provide free virtual mentoring sessions to guide SMEs on the right ways to prioritize their investment in their digitalization journey. For those companies who have limited resources to start the digitization journey, they may get assistance in the form of matching grants from the government. If companies don’t take the initiatives to adopt the digital transformation, it will be hard for their business to survive in the long run. Therefore, I would urge more industry players to start the digital transformation journey in whatever ways possible.

Mr. Eric Chan: This global pandemic has triggered and also accelerated the digital transformation and all sorts of businesses are impacted by it. Consumers are concerned about dining out, or leaving home to buy groceries. They have no choice but to opt for delivery services. In this case, businesses could try applying the benefit of the internet to gather a lot of data as this data will provide insights into the ongoing pandemic. If businesses apply artificial intelligence (AI), they can get more insight into customers’ buying patterns, and look at how to reduce costs.

This is the best time to try adapting digital transformation. As for Intel, we’ve done a lot of work and we have the market-ready solutions. Our ecosystem has proven it. Businesses don’t have to do a lot but place a call to us, as in Malaysia, we are working with the government such as the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA), one of the agencies for investment. We have provided a development kit for SMEs to start applying the Internet of Things (IoT), taking the data they have and showing them how to use AI to improve the process. I encourage companies to start small as that is the way you will get on board with the next wave of the digital economy.

3. There was a case of low connectivity in rural areas such as in Sabah and Sarawak. Why there is discrimination between rural and urban areas on connectivity as IoT is regarded as essential in the new normal? Are there any plans and incentives being discussed?

Mr. Tiong Khe Hock: The digital divide between the rural and the urban areas is not discrimination but rather because of the business decision taken by the telco companies involved. To achieve economy of scale, the telco companies will choose to lay fiber optic cables in areas that are more densely populated. According to our demographic profile, more people are living in urban areas. Therefore, it is quite natural for people who live in the urban areas to receive a high speed of internet connection. To rectify this, it requires the government to step in because if you leave it to the enterprise or business, they will find it unprofitable for them to lay more fiber optic cable in the rural areas.

It’s quite unfortunate for the student of Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), Veveonah Mosibin that she had to stay up on a tree to do her online examination but that’s the reality we are facing unless the government decides to step in. However, the government has stated in 2021 budget that the allocation is estimated to be 7.6 billion to improve the internet speed as well as internet connection in the rural area especially in Sabah and Sarawak.

Mr. Eric Chan: Connectivity is becoming a basic amenity, so the government needs to assist in this situation. From what we’ve learned from the Movement Control Order (MCO), most students have to study from home and the majority of them don’t have good connectivity. This will make it harder for them to get into online education. Therefore, the government has to aid the telco companies to be able to do their part. However, it does take time and this is where companies such as Intel could help, by figuring out how to address lowbandwidth connectivity.

One of the ways we can do this is by pushing intelligence to the edge without moving all the data back up to the cloud to get it processed. Otherwise, there will not always be enough bandwidth in the network to carry the workload required. In my view, if we collaborate with the government along with the telco companies, we can help a lot of people beyond the cities, and share the full benefits of IoT with rural areas.

4. The pandemic has caused a massive and increasing use of hybrid IT which leads to risk exposures for companies. Based on your view, what are the key issues behind this IoT originated attack? What are the strategies enterprises should imply to overcome this?

Mr. Tiong Khe Hock: As far as this risk exposure is concerned, companies should see cyberattack security as one of their top priority issues. As a company, we view this cybersecurity as one of the big risks that we must consider all the time. We regularly receive update on cyber security risks and all our employees have to attend regular training to equip ourselves with new knowledge to manage this risk. The tactics used by hackers are mostly initiated through email, so companies should educate their employees on the proper way to handle emails. They need to have a team of people or at least one or two persons who are very familiar with this area to take charge. Companies also need to have the necessary hardware and software in place for them to monitor their risk exposure.

Mr. Eric Chan: Market research tells us that security is the number one concern when it comes to IoT adoption. If we are not able to protect people’s data, consumers will not feel secure to use smart devices at home. This is a crucial concern for all solution providers including Intel. Thus, we have provided a lot of silicon with enhanced security. Besides the silicon, we also providing firmware with enhanced protection from hackers. It’s very important for us, and Intel has a security-first pledge, where all our products go through ongoing testing to ensure thorough security. New patches are released whenever vulnerabilities, gaps, or risks are discovered. Together with our partners, we have provided a lot of security enhancements.

5. In your opinion, do you think the ongoing pandemic will accelerate a significant growth in connected IoT devices and generate more data in the coming years? What is your take from this?

Mr. Tiong Khe Hock: This pandemic has accelerated the growth of digital transformation in many enterprises. The manufacturing industry is a bit stagnant compared to the consumer industry. The usage of IoT devices in manufacturing industry especially in the SMEs is still low as most of them do not see the importance of data collection for the immediate future. The take-up for Industry4WRD readiness assessment is still a little slow and that’s the reason why MATA is very much involved with activities organized by the Malaysia Productivity Corporation (MPC) to educate SMEs to help them identify the areas they should focus on.

For example, the self-diagnostic too land prioritization tool can aid them in knowing which area they should prioritize and the area that can provide them with the biggest return. We are also helping them to come up with a roadmap. If they face funding issues, they can try to get financial assistance from the government.

Mr. Eric Chan: We want to have the smart and connected IoT to gather a lot of data insights for us so that we know what’s going on and how we can respond in real-time, sometimes even remotely. However, what we did not foresee is that we don’t know what to do with all the data we collect, as not much of this data comes from AI. We found out that AI feeds on data and the more we collect the better it gets. If people wish to adopt AI, they’ll need to get a large data set which we call the training data set.

Once they complete the training process on the data, they will be able to create inferencing to get the right answers from their AI every time. IoT coupled with data generation will make a difference to the enterprise. I encourage people to look into this huge opportunity, as data is becoming like the new oil. A transformation is happening and the sooner we create the right environment to capture and extract insights on the vast amounts of data we have available, the better.