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August 31, 2020

5G and IOT will transform emergency management

Emergency response is critical and in many cases the speed and quality of response leads to life or death situation. Such is the nature of emergency services that even small improvements in efficiencies in the life cycle would lead to significant outcomes and save lives. Technology in general has been a game changer in the field of emergency services. IOT technologies further enhances the ability of first responders since there is access to real time information through sensors and video streaming, 5G catalyzes the information availability by providing highly reliable, low latency and on demand connectivity. While sensing technologies have been an integral part of emergency response, 5G provides certain unique capabilities that accentuates the impact. Here are a few examples of how 5G and IOT will transform emergency services in the future

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May 10, 2020

5 technology trends which will see faster adoption in a post COVID world

These are unprecedented times, and impact of COVID-19 is clearly seen around the globe. The situation is forcing governments, communities, industries, citizens to change their lifestyle and the way they work. We can clearly see technology, and process innovation being embraced by everyone in responding to the circumstances. Globally, there will be changes across the political, social and economic fabric in the post pandemic world. Industries will respond and define their new normal which will be influenced by a bunch of external factors. I strongly believe technology will be a great leveler and will act as a catalyst as enterprises navigate through post-pandemic journey. Here are my top 5 technology predictions that will transform industries and firms, these technologies are not new however their adoption rate will significantly increase

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April 29, 2020

Future of Operational Technology (OT) security - A Cognitive Approach

We are on the cusp of the fourth Industrial revolution where machines talk to each other, robotic process automation is at the forefront of repetitive processes, machine learning & artificial intelligence are opening new avenues to how things can be done more efficiently, reliably and in a cost effective manner.  
In the era of digital transformation, it has become exceedingly cumbersome to separate industrial control system networks from corporate networks. While industries started appreciating the importance of the OT security, there is immense scope to address the underlying technology challenges. 
At present, industries are making attempts to bring together experts from IT and OT, merge OT with IT, and redefine security policies which will cater to OT. However, these will not reap benefits if efforts are not put in place for continuous improvement of security systems.

Understanding IT security vs OT security 

Eventually IT & OT security would overlap as both deal with fundamentals of data encryption, authentication, reliability & quality.  As per a Gartner study, 80% of the security issues faced by OT are almost identical to IT, while 20% are unique, not to be ignored, and critical. Let's understand the key differences between IT & OT. 
OT (Operational Technology) or commonly known as Industrial Control Systems (ICS) is a general term that encompasses several types of control systems including: 
Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems / Human Machine Interfaces (HMI)
Distributed Control Systems (DCS) / Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) / Safety systems
Embedded or any legacy controllers and related firmware / OS and application software
Telematics 
Robotics  
Facility management and building automation services

The below figure highlights the differences from a business requirements point of view

Figure 1: OT CIAC

Control System1.jpg

Figure 2: IT CIA

IT1.jpg

IT

OT

Dynamic but not Real Time Critical: There may be loss of data at times

Real Time Critical Systems: There is possibility to loss of production time which is more serious compared to IT system

Recovery / Reboot: It is comparatively easy and system can be rebooted with little precaution and planning

Recovery / Reboot: This is not easy considering safety and production loss. Lot of planning and testing is required before such decisions are implemented. Fault tolerance is essential.

High delay and jitter is acceptable

High delay and/or jitter is a serious concern

Reliability: Most of the time this is a scheduled operation

Reliability: This is always a continuous operation

Beta testing on field is sometimes acceptable

Thorough, foolproof and multi-level testing is expected before the system can be put in production.

Connectivity: IP base corporate networks.

Connectivity: Multiple plant specific networks are possible with legacy protocols or even IP base protocols.

Most of times Interfaces are

Web Browser, PC, Mobile or any other computing device or application. This is limited to server or workstation base applications and OS.

In OT systems, there are different interfaces. It can range from embedded systems or direct sensors to any MES system or to any other IT applications


Present situation:

Cotemporary standard practice regarding OT security among mainstream companies are typical IT centric steps to protect the OT systems. Followings are few examples. 

  • Network Segmentation: Network segmentation is the practice of splitting a computer network into subnetworks, each being a network segment.
  • User privileges Policy: Effective user management policy and policy to limit the number of users with specific access level.
  • Application remediation: Keep applications updated with secure versions and latest patches
  • Incident management: Establish an incident management system including disaster recovery, root cause on certain incidence along with long term solutions, etc.
  • Monitoring: Log checks, unusual behavior monitoring and alarms, event trigger and checks, etc. 

Nevertheless, these all are good steps to start with OT security, but this is certainly not the end. Specific approach and thoughts in this landscape is key to define appropriate security policy which are OT explicit. Accordingly, it should be implemented.

Challenges in Legacy OT Systems

Many enterprises still rely on legacy OT infrastructure that are beyond the scope of compliance regulations. Do not assume that these older systems are safe and risk free. Rather these systems become more risky, as with time changes happen and systems get exposed to external world, sometimes without knowledge of the stakeholders. These systems are now in the open, unprotected by the data center, and vulnerable. Legacy systems can range from simple single node terminal systems, to client-server systems to the modern internet-ready systems. Below are some of the common reasons why security weakness got injected in Legacy systems while doing any system or program level changes to make this IOT compatible. Knowledge: There are very niche programing skills required to understand and do changes in legacy systems. These skills are challenging to find in market. This  results in improper handling of the system. 

  • Access to other networks:  Business are trying to make systems IOT ready. This is challenge as most of these systems have limited ports available with OEM specific protocols. Most of stakeholders offers this protocol development work to companies without detail analysis of security threats. Incorrect way of writing protocols to get data from the legacy system is major threat for security
  • Poor patch management: Most of these systems run in smooth way handling specific intended operations in plant. OEM comes with new patches and system updates. Due to regular production pressure often these patches get ignored and system is not updated to new patches . This is concern a for security.   

There are few others challenges like lack of sufficient protection while opening legacy system data over IOT, cross site scripting, improper access control etc. 

Future of OT Security - Cognitive (Feedforward) Approach

Before explaining the cognitive approach to OT security, I would like to give an analogy of "Feedback" and "Feedforward" controls. A feedback controller responds only after it detects a deviation in the value of the controlled output from its desired set point. On the other hand, a feedforward controller predicts the disturbance directly and takes an appropriate control action in order to eliminate its effect on the process output.

Along similar lines, today's OT security is more like feedback controls. The action happens only if a threat is detected and the focus is on remediation. This limits scalability with the evolving threat landscape, changing trends for overall data flow and resources. A cognitive security approach can be the solution to some of these challenges.   

What is Cognitive approach

Imagine a real life scenario where we are travelling away from our homes. As a safety precaution, we lock the doors, secure the windows, enable electronic security surveillance systems, inform key stakeholders and ensure adequate security measures. We do this intuitively without any formal training and even when there is no imminent threat. 

Can we build such intelligent, responsive and experience based capabilities in security systems? This is nothing but the approach towards defining cognitive security. By definition, Cognitive systems are self-learning systems that use AI, Machine learning and human machine interactions (By Control SCADA commands / trends / history). It is more of intelligent data driven security systems 

How this will help

  • Reduce human intervention: Consider a classical scenario where an incident is reported in production. Enterprises assign analysts to diagnose the issue based on its severity and criticality. Analysts would make an assessment based on their prior knowledge, access to automated tools and their understanding of the situation. The delays caused by this approach can further aggravate the problem. An AI based system can diagnose the issue, provide insights on possible root cause and suggest remedies based on AI driven analysis
  •  Increase accuracy: A cognitive approach can improve accuracy in multiple ways, some of which include:
      • Eliminate human errors
      • Reduce dependency on knowledgeable workers
      •  Analyze more sources of data, , validate with historical data much faster and provide timely information. These multipoint analytics results in better accuracy.  
  • Increase system up-time: The threat landscape is expanding at an unprecedented pace. People with malicious intent are investing on new technologies. In order to safeguard our systems and win the race we need to have cognitive security system in place.. This is still in early stages of enterprise adoption and will improve over time. This will help to increase the overall up-time by predicting well advance, make quicker diagnosis and help human to take quicker remediation thus reduce the down time.  

To conclude, in this blog, we trust a systemic and cognitive approach for OT security which can be represented by a technological ecosystem in combination of OT centric process will be useful. This will be the need of IOT 4.0 and digital systems design. 




August 5, 2019

SAFETY - Is it really our TOP Priority ?

SAFETY - Is it really our TOP Priority

If not, let's do it


It was yet another shocking and distressing incident happened that caused a number of fatal casualties and countless injured persons. Referring to the recent accident occurred due to landslide in a Coal mine in Odisha, India on 23rd July 2019. Many mining personnel's and equipment's buried under the thousands of metric tonnes of rock. And this is not for the first time, a number of such incidents/accidents were witnessed by the industry in the past all over the world and still we are not able to provide a safe working environment for the community.

mine accident-21.jpg


Although there are no accurate figures, but estimates and statistics suggest that almost 12,000 to 15,000 people loses their life in a year in such accidents worldwide.

While industry experts say the number of fatalities has decreased considerably since the early 20th Century, there has been no shortage of tragic mining accidents in recent years. ( ref: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-11533349 )

The news flashes for a couple of hours on news channels, papers, followed by rescue operations, few suspensions and putting some inquiry commission for further investigation. But do we really need another investigation? Or some strong steps to follow the safety norms and recommendations which may have been provided during prior such investigations.

On one side we are making proud moments for ourselves and country by establishing milestone in the technological advancement in all the sectors including space technologies, which is also being recognized throughout the world, but at the same time on another side, we are not even able to leverage the existing technologies to provide a better and safe working environment for workers and the society. That too for the industry like mining, which is the back bone for the growth and up-liftment of all other industries as well as for human beings.

Being a mining professional and serving the industry for almost last 13 years across various countries, and more specifically working on technology side since last more than one year with Infosys, I couldn't stop myself to bring and highlight this point again that we have to take some strong decisions and necessary steps to eliminate such un-wanted incidents, and it is possible by adopting proper technologies which can ensure the safety measures, which is doable and need not require any rocket science to implement.

"We have to inherent the safe working practice among ourselves as a practice & culture and not by force for doing so just for the sake of records".

Considering the volume of material handled by mining projects and cost associated with it, loss of a single shift without operation/production is significant in nature. The occurrence of such accidents plays significant role in loss of production and revenue. If we take the example of the above incident, where we lost the life of few workers, injured many others which off-course can't be measured and re-covered against any cost, but as a fact the project was shut down for a couple of days after the accident, and it cost millions of dollars. Both such losses could be saved by just adopting some technologies to ensure safety measures. And the cost associated with this may be a very negligible fraction comparing the overall loss. And this is applicable to more or less in all such incidents.

How Technology Can Help?

The technologies which are readily available for us can play very crucial role for improvising the safety standards in such working conditions like mining and construction sites, plant operations etc.

In most of such cases, incidents can be avoided if the key parameters associated with operational processes and/or working plans/designs are being monitored properly. Capturing the data in real time or near real time, analyzing the current and historical data for any specific trends, etc. can  help in predicting any  failure or unsafe working conditions well in advance. The technologies like AR/VR, AI, ML, Automation, Image processing, etc. can  help in providing early predictions of such unsafe conditions which can save not only the money, but more importantly the lives of individuals. It is very unfortunate and hard to believe fact, that people are using technologies for fun and entertainment like in gaming, film industries, and other such sectors, which not bad at all, but at the same time unable to leverage the benefits of such technologies for essential areas where there is a risk to life.

While working with Infosys, we got the opportunity to work closely with various technologies and the good work the team has done across all the industry segments like Medical, Automobile, Agriculture, Aerospace & Defense, Industrial manufacturing, utilities, etc. Developing platform and solutions for Digital Twin, Smart Factory, Autonomous vehicle, Development of next generation self-learning AI platform like KRTI 4.0 for operational excellence, various projects on Environmental Monitoring for a number of processing plants, Autonomous haulage, Next generation Autonomous Drilling, Collision Avoidance system, Proximity Detection, Drone based real time monitoring and many such projects for world's leading companies are just a few examples from the vast projects list. 

This gives an opportunity to use the existing matured technologies from one industry segment and leveraging it for the industries like mining, construction, etc. which are still struggling to get the benefits out of it. Using the same thought process, it was observed that Drone based real time or near real time monitoring can play a crucial role in capturing the required data and predicting the failure and unsafe conditions well in advance and we can avoid such accidents as mentioned earlier. The good part is Infosys is already using this technology in other segments. For example, in the Agriculture industry Infosys developed a solution for monitoring the Crop health using Drone, soil sensors & IoT devices, and not only specific clients but the whole industry started getting benefits out of it. The same concept can be applied for monitoring such mine sites where it is very difficult to get the required data using manual method which is more time consuming, unsafe and sometime the area of interest are not even reachable. The Drone can be used for capturing the required data efficiently and quickly. Which can be transferred to concern department in real time for further processing and monitoring.

Drone Monitoring.jpg

The image captured by Drone, along with other data generated by sensors and devices like displacement, stress, pressure, etc. can be used all together for measuring and monitoring any displacement of rock or structure, development of cracks, fractures, and any unstable features like wedges, cohesion, pore pressure, toppling, etc. and predicting unsafe working conditions well in advance so that necessary measures can be taken, which greatly enhances safety and peace of mind on-site.

This is one of such example where we may need not to re-invent the wheel to solve the problem, but to use the existing technologies and learning from the good work done in the past despite of any industry segment, and leveraging the same to solve the issues. Infosys, which focuses on these aspects and committed to its clients for providing the best of the breed technology solutions to make a safer, healthier and efficient working environment. Structuring ENCAS (Engineering Consulting and Architecture Services) group at Infosys, and enabling a fortnightly connect with industry and domain specific SME's is such a great step taken by ENCAS leadership and senior management. Where all such critical resources and like-minded people come together and shares their good experience and work done in their respective domain. This enables and provides a mechanism for a smooth transition of technological use cases from one industry to another.

 

The same idea and concept can be further explored to have a consortium of various industries like railway, road, construction, mining, oil and gas, etc.on a regional or national level where people can discuss and share their industry or work specific issues, their possible solution and how the best practices, technological solution, etc. can be adopted from one industry segment to another for the overall benefit of the industry, society and ultimately the peoples working there.

 

By providing a safe and healthy working environment, we are not only avoiding such accidents, but also increasing the efficiency of individuals and the overall process. As quoted earlier, safety should be in our practice and culture and not to be adopted by force.

The life of each individual is a gift & valuable, let's allow technology to make it more safe and beautiful.

"Tomorrow: your reward for working safely today."- Robert Pelton

May 25, 2019

Evolution of connected services organization

The connected services organization structure is an important structural element as enterprises embrace IOT and deliver solutions to its customers. There are many questions that enterprises need to answer as they design a structure that scales, sustains and importantly delivers. Executive sponsorship that is driven by strong governance is crucial since the new organization will be a change from the traditional structures

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April 22, 2019

The importance of engineering cloud-native and service based architecture layers for 5G Core Network Functions

Author: Balaji Thangavelu, Principal Consultant, Engineering Services

Service Oriented Architecture is a paradigm that has been around for a long time in the IT industry. Its success through deployments across vertical-industries has proven benefits  such as an extensible architecture, loosely coupled services, parallel development, higher availability and scalability. I am glad to see it crossing the boundary and coming into Network Engineering with the advent of Network Function Virtualization(NFV). Especially, its adoption into the 5G world in the form of 'Service Based Architecture(SBA)' is going to benefit the entire network ecosystem.

cloud-native approach to deploying the 5G Core VNFs(Virtual Network Functions) that follow the service based architecture model unlocks new stream of benefits for mobile operators. These benefits would be closely associated with scale and resilience of network functions. In simplistic terms, cloud-native is an approach to building and running applications that exploits the advantages of cloud computing delivery model. The cloud-native landscape is very vast and is constantly evolving.  Let us narrow down our focus and look at it in the context of 5G Core network VNFs.

In this blog post, I have shared my thoughts on how service-based architecture(SBA) and cloud-native implementation are an integral part to the overall design of the 5G core network. I have also highlighted key reasons as to why it is important to engineer these layers carefully to achieve the right balance between scale and service availability. Let us first understand a little bit about Service Based Architecture and cloud-native in context with 5G.

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March 25, 2019

IOT Edge of Tomorrow

The Edge of Tomorrow is a 2014 sci-fi movie starring Tom Cruise that's based on a time-loop and you can read reviews here. However, this blog is about the IOT edge of tomorrow which is as exciting about edge capabilities that are ever expanding. Before getting into a prediction mode, let us recap about what drives the edge in the IOT world - some of the factors are low latency, local computing and real time decision making, lack of reliable connectivity and proprietary protocol protection. I have elaborated on these aspects in my previous blog here. Industry experts, analysts, and my own experience the edge is here to stay and if anything will continue expand. 

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January 30, 2019

AR-VR at the intersection of SDN-NFV, 5G and Mobile Edge Computing - a practitioner's perspective

Author: Balaji Thangavelu, Principal Consultant, Engineering Services


In this blog post, I have shared my thoughts on how 5G, Software-Defined Networking & Network Functions Virtualization (SDN-NFV) and Mobile Edge computing (MEC) are an integral part of AR-VR(Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality) use cases, by taking a closer look at one of the interesting AR-VR use cases. I have also highlighted key factors that make it imperative for eco system players to engineer these technology areas with due considerations on some of the critical parameters.

Continue reading "AR-VR at the intersection of SDN-NFV, 5G and Mobile Edge Computing - a practitioner's perspective" »

January 9, 2019

5G - Small Cells 'Steal the Thunder' in 5G Era

Author: Balaji Thangavelu, Principal Consultant, Engineering Services


In this blog post, I have shared my thoughts on the significance of small cells in 5G, and how we need to gear up our innovation capabilities to address some unique challenges associated with small cell infrastructure deployment and RF planning.


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November 12, 2018

IIoT - Industrial Internetization - Impact on Organizational Structures

From Internetization of people, we have gradually moved towards Internetization of industry. For an industry, organization itself and its competition, both are in a state of flux, and getting reshaped dramatically with the evolution of IIoT Ecosystem. As an outcome of converting non-living products into intelligent, connected and communicating smart devices, a not so envisaged scenario of transformation of organizational and operational structure has automatically started. Organizational structures built over previous three industrial revolutions, have started crumbling with the dawn of 4th Industrial revolution. 

While change has been a norm across all organizations, manufacturing industry has received most lethal hit till date. As Jeff Immelt (GE CEO) pointed out way back that every industrial company must become a software company, and rightly so, massive transformation across manufacturing companies have already begun. Without focusing on external implications (Strategy, Competition, Industry structure and Industry Boundary) which the world of IIoT is bringing in the world of Industry, an observation of internal implications for an Industrial organizations bring following pattern very visible - 


 1. Classical model of manufacturing company being divided into departments like R&D, manufacturing, sales, marketing, finance & IT would give into new models where practice of periodic hands-off across departments would be replaced by continuous co-ordination across functions.

2. As a result of products becoming intelligent, relationship between organization with its products and its customers is becoming continuous and open ended now.

3. Data would drive decisions in place of whims and fancies of individuals.

4. Traditional centralized model of command & control of management would be challenged by rich data and real time feedback. 

       

       There are number of below mentioned noteworthy shifts providing enough indications on how the industrial companies would evolve and how their organizational structure would go through massive changes -

  1. IIoT driving pervasiveness of IT - IT has already started assuming more central role in R&D or Engineering activities which has been the work of core R&D department till now. With the need to embed IT hardware and software in the product itself to make it smart, IT has become pivotal to R&D activities. Only time will tell if we shall continue to have R&D and IT as two separate departments or one would be made responsible for other or vice versa. Truth is, need to create smart and communicating product has ensured that there will hardly be any R&D without IT anymore.
  2.  Industrial Dev-Ops - With product becoming intelligent and connected, there is a continuous feedback loop which has come into existence with products relaying all the key information to its creators. In order to understand, manage and drive value out of this communication loop, similar to Dev-Ops model of IT, Industrial companies are exploring collaboration mechanism between teams responsible for product development and product support/operations. Aim is to reduce product release cycle, to provide better customer services and to get and understand the actual on ground feedback on products through IIoT ecosystem. Concept of Digital Thread is a step in this direction only.
  3.  Data Organization - Data is the new oil of the economy and same holds true for and industrial company as well. With millions of sensors, IIoT ecosystem generating data at enormous speed and scale, getting strategic value out of the data would remain a big challenge. In view of this, there would be an effort towards creation of data specific entity responsible for collection, consolidation, analysis and bringing in the insight aspects of right data. Appointment of Chief Data Officer across organizations is a baby step in that direction itself.
  4.  Consumer Management - Smart connected products through IIoT ecosystem has the capability to drive and deliver the value in PAAS (Product as a Service) model. It would be imperative to monitor product usage and performance data to understand the value being provided to consumer and mechanism to improve this further. Traditional sales & service teams are not equipped to cater to this changing scenario. Would there be a separate group responsible for managing consumer relationship in the world of IIoT? Only time shall answer this question.

 

For an Industrial organization, it is a journey from 'here' to 'there'. Organizational structures efficiently catering to the world of IIoT are yet to come. Changes are huge, while skills are very limited. Whether the structure would involve setting up separate business units, or to answer the change through amalgamated cross functional mechanism, or through COE routes, organizational structures will change for sure.

In this new world of IIoT, things have started speaking between themselves, and, with us as well. Very often, things speak softly, but at times, so loudly that it is not only organizational structure which will be shaken to the core, it is possibly our societal structure itself which may start reshaping someday, because, IIoT is not an evolution, but a revolution. 

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