Horizontal collaboration in Europe and smart cities

Innovation News Network speaks to Kees van der Klauw and Omar Elloumi of AIOTI about the development of IoT and how horizontal collaboration in Europe will make it easier to digest and manage big data.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a key term in almost every sector and industry; with the importance of becoming more interconnected, technology experts are setting their focus on IoT. It is also a particularly prevalent research and development area in the upcoming smart city revolution, which is predicted to improve liveability and sustainability of cities. Importantly, interoperability and horizontal collaboration in Europe – particularly at the data level – will make big data easier to digest, manage and contribute to these benefits.

Improved mobility and logistics, safety, air quality and healthier living are just a few of the proposed benefits of smart city implementation; and Innovation News Network spoke to Kees van der Klauw and Omar Elloumi from the Alliance of Internet of Things Innovation (AIOTI) to shed light on the concept of IoT and smart cities, explaining how horizontal collaboration in Europe can transfigure its cities to become a more structured and interconnected ecosystem.

The strain on smart cities: how can IoT solve this?

According to the AIOTI: within the next 25 years, across the European Union, towns and cities will be inhabited by more than two thirds of the overall EU-28 population. This implies that two thirds of the EU’s population will benefit from improved logistics, innovative development and horizontal collaboration in Europe that can be brought to the agenda through the burgeoning technology of smart cities.

Kees van der Klauw, management board chair at AIOTI, commented on the growing population of EU cities, stating: “The percentage of EU population who are residing in cities is only going to increase, and the estimated amount by 2050 is greater than the number we see today. You can imagine the strain that this increase is going to bring and the enormous challenge awaiting cities in terms of making them liveable.” AIOTI’s WG smart cities chair, Omar Elloumi, suggests that the solution to the ever-growing demands on cities requires attention and that automation is the key to solving the problems, but we must be citizen-centric. Both predict that implementing smart systems through horizontal collaboration in Europe, with a vast amount of automated control, will aid in making European cities liveable. Van der Klauw backed up the use of IoT, proposing: “Between IoT technology and automation we can produce these ‘smart’ products which will benefit not only the cities and logistics, but also assisted living. Smart monitoring of people is an example where technology can drive down costs whilst also improving the standard of living.” The ability to use smart monitoring within the healthcare sector can provide data faster and easier to nurses, thus preventing people from becoming hospitalised with quicker and more tailored care.

IoT growth and implementation can bring a multitude of benefits to both consumers and industries, which both van der Klauw and Elloumi described as “too many to list in one article”. A few examples of benefits to consumers include: health, ageing well, better air quality, energy saving, reducing energy poverty, safer driving; and the list goes on. For industries, IoT is the driving force for making industries competitive – a key aspect of digitising EU industries. IoT enabled cities, van der Klauw and Elloumi agree, are about citizens and economic prosperity.

Vertical integration v. horizontal collaboration in Europe: the importance of a combined system

There are two potential IoT models that have emerged over the years: horizontal collaboration and vertical integration. The widespread belief is that horizontal collaboration across application domains (such as mobility, energy, healthcare) is the most beneficial model to follow when researching and developing the common elements in IoT systems, such as standards, interoperability, technologies and experience in building ecosystems and applying policies such as security and privacy. It demands collaboration and allows multiple providers to work within a common framework. Elloumi backs up the common praise for horizontal collaboration: “We use the term horizontal approach as a single IoT platform for all applications may not be realistic. Such an approach combines a multitude of platforms and applications and this is very important for innovation and market impact.”

Despite the benefits of horizontal collaboration in Europe, several systems that are currently being offered follow a narrow vertical framework. The reasoning behind this is purely down to the fact that such systems are easier to develop as they do not support an application across multiple domains. But the drawback of a siloed approach is duplication of efforts and in many cases a lack of critical mass which leads to high maintenance cost; there is a requirement for more open systems in place.

With this in mind, it is imperative to consider whether enough is being done at an EU level to support the development of horizontal collaboration to generate more innovative systems development for IoT. Elloumi and van der Klauw both agree that more needs to be done across Europe, with van der Klauw commenting: “Traditionally, there has been support for technology. This has been under the assumption that stimulating research will automatically generate a solution. However, technology is not necessarily the only bottleneck. We have seen a lot of money being spent on software, but that does not create a platform. We need to follow a different approach and I believe that this is where our efforts need to be placed in the coming years.” According to Elloumi: “There is a lot of work to be done on integration taking into account new and emerging business models and that’s critical for success. The whole area of semantic interoperability seems very promising, but an extra effort is needed before entering the main stream. The work on SAREF (Smart Appliances Ref Ontology) incubated by EC has a clear chance for success including beyond EU boundaries”

The interview conveyed an important realisation for the growth of IoT through horizontal collaboration in Europe, as both van der Klauw and Elloumi outlined: “An important aspect for IoT growth is reusability and application proliferation: the infrastructure we are deploying today can serve many applications, even ones we never thought of. Of course, for this to happen we need to have reusability in mind, which can only be achieved through a horizontal approach.”

The AIOTI supports the open standards based approach for IoT in smart cities – and IoT as a general rule. Van der Klauw emphasised the AIOTI view on horizontal collaboration in Europe, saying: “At the end of the day you can build all functionalities, but what you must orchestrate is interoperability of data and pay critical attention to other non-functional elements such as security, resilience and privacy. We need a distributed system of IoT, or a distributed system in smart cities that allows all of the key players to contribute their research and developments, in a more stable and a much more socially acceptable way. This will be the crucial element for success.”

It is stressed that having an open standards-based approach is a must if we are to cope in a cost efficient manner with application and device proliferation and achieve sustainability. The open standards approach that AIOTI follows goes beyond its role in achieving interoperability, the importance of standards are to combat fragmentation, reduce costs, avoid lock-in to solution or cloud providers, lower capital and operating expenditure, ultimately scaling IoT. It is clear that interoperability is key for a healthy IoT industry in the EU because it creates the necessary conditions for smaller and larger players to innovate and be profitable, hence why we must now focus more on horizontal collaboration in Europe, rather than vertical integration.

The barriers preventing pan-European IoT roll-out in smart cities

Despite Europe being a large hub for IoT technology, there are still a variety of challenges that must be overcome before citizens can begin attaining the full potential of a smart city. The common shared concerns discussed by van der Klauw and Elloumi were the ideas that Europe needs to be better at accepting failure and optimising the positives that come from trial and error. Kees van der Klauw compared the situation of Europe to that of the United States and China – two very competitive IoT nations. Van der Klauw expressed the differences between the cities saying: “In the United States you will find very large powerful platform companies – such as Google, Amazon and Apple – orchestrating development. In China the government are at the forefront of the drive. However, in Europe there is no such power. If we want to put Europe on the map in IoT, we must create a collaborative platform. Too many cities are trying to do things on their own, a city with one million inhabitants is still way too small to implement everything by themselves in my view.” Experience sharing and horizontal collaboration in Europe across governments, businesses and citizens are essential to creating successful platforms.

As with all big data and technology ideologies, it is crucial that cybersecurity issues are addressed. Elloumi explains that market education is a very important aspect in protecting data. With proper guidelines consistently applied a lot of privacy and security threats can be avoided.

An interesting proposal pointed out by Elloumi relates to using technology to protect technology: this is accomplished through the use of artificial intelligence (AI). Using machine learning and AI can allow systems to detect attacks quickly and efficiently and isolate faulty equipment using device management. Elloumi highlights that combating cybercrime is still and will remain a moving target; and that research and innovation in eradicating cybercrime must therefore continue.

Despite this, it is clear that action is being taken and he applauds the European Commission’s role in de-risking deployments during experimentation phases, through pilot projects and research and innovation actions. Elloumi continues: “We have reached a maturity level where we understand sustainable deployment models, we have what it takes for connecting pretty much everything, especially as we deploy 5G and virtualisation, and we have the political support to move to mainstream deployments.”

The future of smart cities and IoT technology

The AIOTI believes that the future is bright for the development and implementation of IoT, smart technologies and horizontal collaboration in Europe. Both Elloumi and van der Klauw agree that continuing this research into IoT will make cities healthier and more liveable.

Many issues in terms of connectivity, data sharing, reusability and privacy have already been addressed. However, some of the major topics mentioned for the future are industrial IoT – ensuring that we leverage the network, particularly 5G, as this market segment has very specific requirements in terms of latency, reliability and bandwidth; and ways to get the most out of IoT data – there are several start-ups striving for quality data to train their machine learning algorithms and provide insights.

As more people start to understand and trust how these things work, the cities will thrive. There are still things that need to be re-evaluated, such as power consumption, security and interoperability; however, once the barriers have been broken down and scaling up of IoT becomes market reality, horizontal collaboration in Europe is destined for positive outlook.

Kees van der Klauw

Management Board Chair

Omar Elloumi

WG Smart Cities Chair



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