Internet of Things and How it Can Help Your Business

Air Date: 03/03/2020

Internet of Things and How it Can Help Your Business


How Can the Internet of Things Benefit Businesses?


Dan: Yes. We're here with, let's see, Bit-Wizards, the tip of the wand. We have Vince and we have Sam in here. Welcome, guys.

Vince: Hello.

Dan: Hi. And well, I guess everybody survives, so today is big Super Tuesday, who do you think is going to be the survivor on Super Tuesday? You must have an opinion.

Vince: I don't think I should talk politics.

Dan: You can just say who you think is going to win. That's all.

Vince: I hope they elect Bernie Sanders.

Dan: You think he might be the winner, the victor?

Vince: I don't know, it's a toss up. The Democrats, they'll mess it up one way or another.

Dan: Well, a lot of them that got out of it are endorsing Joe Biden.

Vince: Well, that's the whole party trying to come together because they don't want Bernie because I don't think they think he's electable. So we'll see what happens.

Dan: Then there's Joe, he thinks it's Super Thursday and he's running for the U. S. Senate. So I guess we'll just find out how that all shakes out. Okay. You guys ready?

Vince: Absolutely.

Sam: Let's do this.

Announcer: Bit-Wizards, bits and bytes.

Vince: All right. IOT makes Houston school safer. So educators in Houston are using the internet of things technology to improve school safety. And the project includes several companies led by integrator, Insight Enterprises, based in Tempe, Arizona. This includes hardware and software from 5, 500 companies, plus consulting services and custom software. And so what we're going to talk about today a little bit is help people understand what the internet of things is.

Dan: Okay.

Vince: And so the internet of things is simply a network of connected objects able to connect and exchange data. It's commonly abbreviated as IOT, one of those acronyms. In tech, we love to come up with acronyms, like the military and-

Dan: Yeah, we do that a lot.

Vince: ... The Navy, **inaudible** led fleet.

Dan: Okay. It's not a boat, it's a ship, I know.

Vince: In a simple way to put it, you have things, or these are like sensors or machines or little connected computers that are connected. They use low power, they're all over, and what they do is they collect data and relay information back to a central location.

Sam: And this is definitely a result of the miniature-ization of technology. There's the Moore's law about how fast computers get every couple of years, we can predict that it's going to double in speed and it's going to shrink in size. And for the most part that's been great because computers used to be entire buildings and name frames and punch cards. And so while it is fantastic that the technology has gotten so small, now we can carry it around in our pocket or wear it on our wrist, it's really birth this new technology called internet of things. And it's because it is so cheap and so small now that you can create a little chip that has a microprocessor that can do some basic thinking through of things, even run a basic operating system, and have it also connect to the internet so it can get its instructions from home. And so where IOT comes in is it's ... Think of it as just thousands of tiny little computers all over in an environment and each one has just really one job to do, it might be to tell the temperature or to listen for a loud noise or to detect light when it turns off an on. And while the senses have existed for a long time, now they're becoming smart sensors in that they can relay that information constantly back to a central hub somewhere in the cloud. And so they can constantly be relaying all of these different pieces of information from all over an entire area, and then the cloud, or the application that a software developer would write, can do something with that information in terms of saying, okay, when these sensors detect a sound, I'm going to go do this, or when these sensors detect a certain temperature, I'm going to push a setting to go do something else. So they're constantly feeding back and then constantly coming back down to the devices. That really would not have been possible even just a few years ago because of the way technology has shrunk and the ubiquity of internet connections now-

Dan: Will this be something on a real simplistic form as like the ring?

Vince: Yeah, that's a good example, ring doorbell, smart locks, things like that that are connected together. And the beauty of it is, is as it collects all of this data, they can use artificial intelligence models in the cloud to basically crunch that data and look for trends, look for things that are unique, and help you analyze that information so that it can make smarter or better decisions. So for example, like maybe understanding when people finally leave your building, and then turning all of the lights off, or lowering down the setting of the thermostat. Those are types of things that you might want to do. On broader scale implementations, it could be things like tracking your inventory in real time so you have little RFID tags and all of your inventory inside of your warehouse. And as you go through and then somebody ... You check out with it or maybe you load it on a truck, it knows all those little IDs are connected back to a little central location and knows that all of this particular inventory has now been put on a truck. And when that truck pulls away and know it's no longer within the perimeter of the building and now it decrements your inventory and lets you know specifically what items have gone out the door. Then suppose now you have somebody that may be sends back a half a pallet or something gets broken in transit, they bring it back, it now adds that back into the inventory. And then maybe you say that that stuff is shrinkage or something that maybe is a return or something of that nature. So it automates a lot of these processes and makes it better. And the great thing about it is, again, is that now you can go back and you can look at trends and see what's going on in order to make smarter and better business decisions, like, do I need to automatically order more inventory? That's a good example where you might use it in a business situation.

Dan: So you could make this so that, like you're talking about, when your inventory leaves, you could probably set up like, " Okay, this is leaving so now we automatically are ordering replacements."

Sam: That's correct.

Vince: Yeah, Absolutely.

Dan: And then we just automate everything.

Vince: Yeah, and another great example that we did at Bit-Wizards, we work with a company called Rex Lumber that's out in Graceville, Florida, and erects lumber, one of the things they were trying to do is process more trucks as they come in. And so what we did was, we did a number of things, we tied cameras together, we used RFID tags, and then we tied in with their Mettler Toledo scales that they had that the trucks come in. So when a truck rolls in on top of the scale, it picks up the weight automatically into a system that we connected. And then they go out and they tag this, the logs with an RFID tag, and then it has a camera that looks on the back and counts the number of logs that are on the back of the truck-

Dan: So this is raw lumber?

Vince: Yeah, raw lumber that comes in. And so now I don't have to have a guy get out of the truck anymore, everything can be done right there. An instant picture can be taken, we can count the logs, we can record the weight, and then all we have is a yard worker that tacks two or three RFID tags on the back of it, and then we can track that raw lumber as it goes through. So it's sort of an automated way of doing it. And then it allows you not only to process more trucks, but it also lets you know where your raw materials, it turns out into final inventory, how it's gone through the process, where is it at as it goes through?

Dan: Probably more accurate too, because there's always that factor of human error when you're counting logs or something of that nature as well.

Vince: Well, that is correct. That was the big problem that Rex was trying to solve is when the truck drivers would come in, that they weren't getting an accurate read off of the scale or they were saying, " Well, I brought in more logs than that ". And so now with a picture and a picture of the license plate, the picture of the back of the truck, they know exactly and they can process them quicker. So if I remember correctly, they're processing about 60 trucks a day, they were able to increase it to over 160 trucks a day.

Dan: [ inaudible 00:07:56]. I bet they loved you guys after that.

Vince: Well, they did. That's one of the things that we do is custom software, but we also help them with their IT infrastructure as well and help them streamline that. We've helped them move to the cloud, and so this is part of that sort of-

Dan: Those are the sensors you're taking about, that goes through the clouds so that everybody, no matter where you're at, you could log into the cloud and find out what's going on.

Sam: And one of the great things about IOT is, and it's hard to see this when you're looking at the devices, but the fact that those devices aren't talking to each other on a network, and so they are all independently talking to the internet or to the cloud and independently receiving instructions back from the internet. So an example, this is at home, when I tell my Amazon Echo device, I can't say the wake word, otherwise everyone's will go off in the houses right now, " So Smamexsha, turn down the AC ", it isn't talking to my nest AC unit. In fact, it's talking to the internet. The internet is then sending a message over to Nest, their website, and Nest is saying, " Oh, he requested to turn the AC down to 71 degrees," and so then it sends a message down to the Nest device on my wall that says, " Hey, you need to turn the AC down to 71 ", then it does it and then it sends a signal back to confirm, which then sends it back over to Amazon. Amazon says, " I got a thumbs up ", and it sends it back down to my Echo. And then my Echo respondents say the AC is set to 71 degrees.

Dan: And that all happens how fast?

Sam: Almost instantaneously. And the amazing part of this is, especially for an instance like Rex Lumber where all of these devices, we don't have to worry so much about how much storage we're going to keep on premises and setting up sequel servers and all kinds of the old business applications we used to would have to have done, instead now it's a lot of different devices all over the property that are checking RFID tags. And each one of those is independently talking to the cloud to relay information up there and to then get information back, know what to do with that. So because of the ubiquitous nature of the internet, now that we have it, all around us with 4G and LTE signals and wifi from every which way and every direction. All of these devices have to do is find a way to talk to home and then they can talk back again and get their instructions back.

Dan: Oh my gosh, sounds like Skynet.

Vince: And for a small business, somebody would ask, " Well, why does this make a difference to me?" Well, if you're a small business and you're trying to do certain things like maintain security around your office or your location, cameras that you might have that you might want to put up that analyze different things that are going on around the local area there, what are people coming through? Things like smart lights, making sure that you keep your electrical bill low because it turns your lights down. There's a little LED switch and a little sensor up there that it can go in and it transmits that back and it knows when to turn your lights off or when to dim things or thermostats, HVAC, that type of stuff. Those are all areas where small businesses can utilize this, but it comes with additional problems. All these little devices that are connected together, that this presents a security issue, and so these are what we want to try to secure at the edge, or what we call the edge node, and make sure that each one of these items are virus free, that they're protected and that nobody can gain access to them because they are a weak point in your network.

Dan: Okay, so you set up the security for this as well? After you set all this up, you guys, security, I don't know what you call it, some stuff like a firewall or something, it's the word they can't get through, so many can't hack in and cause all kinds of confusion in a person's business.

Sam: That's absolutely correct, because the truth of it is, when you buy a PC, if you buy it from Dell or from Microsoft or if you buy a Mac from Apple or you buy your phone from the phones or whatever, you know it has an operating system running on it and you know that there's a company that you see in the news all the time, that they wrote the software for that. So you can reasonably assume, as long as I put some antivirus on here and a few different things, I can lock these things down. But how do you protect and secure a device that they're shipping by the truck load out of some factory in China with a bunch of chips just soldered onto a board and there's nothing you can plug a monitor and a keyboard and a mouse into and run an antivirus? It has nothing on there that you can do to check to make sure that it's not also being a little bit malicious and maybe sniffing the network in your environment or allowing a point of entrance even unintentionally. What if this little IOT device has some sort of firmer on it that says you're going to do this, this, and this? And whoever made that never thought, " Well, if someone tries to communicate into it and pretends to be that cloud that it talks home to, how does it verify that it really is coming from the right cloud?" And so if someone, hacker or a security expert, could figure out a way to spoof that and then send erroneous signals back to it. So securing these devices is actually a lot more challenging and a lot easier to overlook than many people would give it credit for.

Vince: But I would say that the benefits outweigh the problems, right? I mean, it's just a new technology. We've got to look at it. I mean, you could save on a ton of money on your heating and cooling bills, your lighting bills, keeping control of your inventory, things that you don't necessarily have to have a human being do all of the time. And businesses that are the top adopters of IOT solutions in the next few years are going to gain tremendous benefits, benefits that are going to improve their bottom line. And there's three ways to do this. One, increasing productivity, and two, reducing their operating costs, and then lastly, giving them an opportunity to expand it to new markets or develop new product offerings. And we've talked about some of the easy low hanging fruit here, we've talked about HVAC and lights and things like that, and we've talked about inventory, but a business that can truly take advantage of that. For example, a security monitoring company like our customer advanced fire protection services, they go and they start putting in internet-connected devices that can now come back and report in real time about security threats, physical security threats, and things like that. That and they create a great business model around that that can help them enter into a new market and offer a new service that people would like to have, simplifying things, making it easier for them, and also making sure that they're protected from fire and burglary and theft and things like that.

Dan: So that could detect things that are going on well before a human would be able to detect them?

Vince: Exactly.

Sam: Yeah. So let's say you have a vacation rental business or you just own a vacation rental, using IOT just right out the gate, with stuff you can buy at the store without even having to custom build or custom design this stuff, you can already make life a lot easier. So instead of having to show up and give your guests a key to get into the front door, you can just program it so that they can use their phone to unlock the front door because you can program it remotely because the lock on the front door is an IOT device. And then you can also put sensors on the doors so you can see if these tourists came in and then cranked the AC down to 60 degrees and left all of the doors open because they don't care, they're on vacation, and so you can make sure and set up alert to let you know that or to make sure they don't leave the AC set to six degrees so that it freezes over. There are flood sensors that are very easy to buy, very cheap to buy, that you could put near the AC unit or near the washing machine and that kind of stuff, so that if they let it overflow and run, then it'll alert you and take the appropriate actions. So there's flood sensors, there's a AC, there's locks, there's all kinds of different ways you could do this.

Dan: That is so much stuff. That's awesome. And you guys take care of all of this? You are way too smart-

Sam: We do.

Dan: You are big brains.

Announcer: Bit-Wizards. What's up our sleeve?

Vince: So we're going to continue on the IOT theme here and we're going to talk a little bit about what it takes to monitor and take care of these things. Again, I don't want, excuse me, I don't want people to be afraid of this because everybody's like, " Oh my gosh, this is crazy and it's more complexity ", but it's really not. It's about figuring out, like I said, how to adopt these new trends, embrace them and bring them into your business so that you can reap the benefits from it. And we talked about some areas, we talked about remote monitoring, we talked about asset tracking, and we talked a little bit about smart facility type management, but at Bit-Wizards, what we do is we try to take a proactive approach when it comes to IOT security. And so the first thing we do is adopt a risk driven-approach and understanding what the risk is for each one of the individual devices and then we apply the appropriate security controls that are needed for the level of risk that's involved in those items.

Dan: So a lot of them have different risks, sounds like.

Sam: Absolutely. In fact, a lot of times we think of " I need a firewall at my business because there's people from the outside trying to get into my business ", but once you start putting IOT devices in, then that firewall serves double duty in monitoring the traffic that's going out of your business. And so when we use Enterprise grade for our clients **inaudible** Enterprise-grade firewalls, one of the things we're doing is monitoring to see not just what's coming from the internet into the business, but also what's going back out again so that it would raise some flags, whether there's a lot of data all coming out all at once that shouldn't be coming out or if there's data going a certain place that we think is not appropriate for some server out in North Korea or something that we would think, " Ah, that's kind of sketchy behavior ". In fact, one of our clients, we're working with them this week, they have a smart door lock system for some of their guests. What we did, Ben and I on our team went out there and we got into the devices as best we could, see what we could do, but then after that we go into the firewall and see where are these devices, specifically these individual IOT devices on their work, where are they trying to call home to? And we discovered it's a server up in Virginia, an alarm system company that maintains these servers. So what we then do is we lock it down so that device can only talk to that server in Virginia. And at no point can they just shoot off a quick text message to Moscow or anything like that, but it always stays in that one place. So we work hard to think from both directions on the security of these devices.

Dan: Would that be something like a VPN in a sense?

Sam: Yes, it is creating its own personal connection to the internet. Now, it's not quite a VPN but it's very close, but it is an SSL encrypted the same way VPN tunnels are. It's an encrypted connection through a secure socket layer back to home and back again. And that's one of the things we do is make sure that it can only send encrypted traffic, that if it attempts to send traffic, what we call in plain text, that anybody else on there will be able to pick up and stiff out, then we block that kind of traffic-

Dan: Oh, interesting.

Vince: And back to the point that Sam made is that ... We talked about you've got Microsoft and you've got Apple and you've got Linux and you've got these space things, and we know that with regular computers. But with IOT devices, there are tons of different manufacturers of these things and they use different approaches, which is why we have to sort of assess each device's security characteristics, what types of things do we need to do in the case of this lock system? We had to go and take a look at that, see how it actually worked and then make sure we implemented the proper security measures there. And then also, we got to look a little bit beyond what the IOT device security, Sam said we brought it back up to the firewall level and we look at the implications, we'll look at things like compliance, we'll look at things like if you have like HIPAA compliance or something like that, because I understand we're using medical devices. You might be a doctor's office who's using medical devices that may be reporting data or aggregating it-

Dan: Yeah, and you can't do that in the medical community with HIPAA. That's a big deal.

Vince: You can't do it. [crosstalk 00:19:40]. You have to secure it and you have to do things the right way, which goes back to that whole assessment. And then looking at the bigger thing beyond just that devices ' security, you have to take a look at the network, you got to look at the other items that are connected and then sort of what type of compliance things you might have.

Dan: So that's a secure amount of ... That information only goes to where you want it to go and they can't hack in and-

Vince: Exactly.

Dan: It doesn't go to the public, in other words?

Vince: Exactly.

Dan: That's a big deal with HIPAA and other different businesses like that. It's a big deal with the medical community, so if you can keep that secure and have access to those only that need to have access, then the hospitals stay within their bounds and you guys are helping them do that. There's probably a lot of hospitals that love you for that one, because they can pass their inspections.

Sam: We think of the technology as, " Oh, I've got to buy some servers maybe or a couple of computers and some laptops for the technicians who are wandering around ", and we don't think about all of the devices that we buy for our specific industry. I'm working with a machining company and their [ inaudible 00:20:45] CNC mills have a network connection in them or are working with a medical fireman so they get this new x-ray machine and it wirelessly beams back the images from the x-rays back to the central software they're using. We've got to make sure that when it's beaming that stuff back, we're not just thinking about the workstations and servers, but also any of these devices that are connected to the network. And in every single industry, whether you're a locksmith or a vacation rental or in the medical industry or title association or real estate, you're coming up with more and more of these devices that all they need is a quick internet connection and we just ... It's easy to overlook that they are now part of the IT environment and it's important to now secure and make sure that they are also compliant with whatever rules that our ... Our specific market industry has certain government compliance regulations, especially if you need to be any kind of SOC compliant or HIPAA compliant or DAFARs if you're working with any kind of government. All of this. And so you've got to think of all of these things that when you just plug in this new device, because it's the new hotness in the industry, to make sure, well, if it's getting some kind of a network connection now it needs to be part of our IT environment and have thought of-

Dan: You guys got to be up to speed on all this stuff when you're implementing these devices.

Vince: We do, and it's a daunting task. I mean, because you got to look at each one and really figure out, how does it operate? What does it use? Are there liabilities? Who's the vendor who made it? What systems does it tie into or integrate with? And one of the things that we try to do is automate some portions of the security. We find ways to go tie it in so that we can monitor it in real time and know exactly what's going on, so if all of a sudden it switches over to a South Korean server or a North Korean server or Russia or someplace else, we can take a look at that and figure out why. When did it happen? We get an alert, we know that it happened, we know that it should only talk to the places that it's supposed to talk to.

Dan: That is very interesting. That sounds very fascinating, but it sounds like a whole lot of work to me. You guys have a lot of stamina over there.

Announcer: Bit-Wizards from the spell book.

Sam: So from the spell book, we demystify some of our geek speak, so we usually take a technical term and define it. And actually today's one ties in with the IOT because both IOT and this term block chain are both the new hotness in the technology world. It's what everybody's talking about now.

Vince: New hotness.

Sam: The new hotness.

Dan: We talk about hotness a lot.

Sam: And they are even somewhat related to the-

Vince: It's that sexy bald head-

Dan: That's what it is. **inaudible** likely the challenge the man across the hall, gotcha.

Sam: They're somewhat related because they both use the power of the cloud, of the internet. So we use a Microsoft product, we use the Azure platform for this, and Azure has a very strong push on their own IOT hub product. They also have a strong push in the blockchain world. And you may have heard of blockchain, you may not, but you've probably heard of Bitcoin, which is a crypto currency, and it is built entirely on the technology that is made possible because of blockchain. Now, blockchain was invented by someone called Satoshi Nakamoto, but we don't know who that is. It's a huge mystery. It might be a person, it might be a group of people, it may be somebody who wishes to remain anonymous because they belong to some three-letter organization.

Dan: Serious? You really don't know who it is?

Sam: Nobody knows who Satoshi Nakamoto is. It's one of the greatest enigmas-

Vince: It's a pseudonym.

Sam: Yes, in the technological world.

Dan: Okay, I'm Satoshi.

Sam: They just discovered blockchain ... And I would like to announce that's who I am. So the purpose of the blockchain is to give us digital scarcity. So we have a problem on the internet, if I buy you a loaf of bread and I hand you that loaf of bread, I no longer have that loaf of bread. You own that loaf of bread. That's why we have the phrase you can't have your loaf of bread and eat it.

Dan: That's it.

Sam: However, in the internet, if I download an MP3 from iTunes and I want to give you that MP3, I can give you the MP3 and I still keep the MP3 and you have a copy of the MP3. And so we have a problem in technology of a concept of digital scarcity that once I have it, only I have it and that nobody else has it. And then once I transfer it to someone else that now everybody knows that they have it and I don't have a copy of it anymore, and that's where the blockchain comes in. That's why cryptocurrency is even possible blockchain, because if I own one Bitcoin and I sell that Bitcoin to Vince, what's to stop me from saying, " Actually, I still have it. I've still got the code right here and Vince has it too, and now we've got two Bitcoins that just magicked out of nowhere ". So we need a system. And the way that blockchain works is a decentralized, transparent, and immutable ledger on the internet that keeps track of who has what. It keeps track of every single transaction, and it does it through the magic of cryptographic principles. The same we were able to encrypt our files and our networks to make sure that nobody can hack into them, that same technology is used in blockchain. And what it basically is, is this ongoing long ledger, think of it as like an Excel spreadsheet that says Sam owns this Bitcoin for right now, and then when I sell that Bitcoin to Vince now that ledger in the new line in that spreadsheet says, Vince owns this one now. And what that spreadsheet is though is the blockchain. It is something that we collectively, over the entire internet, we all own it together and so nobody can go in there and tweak it. Nobody can go in there and mess with it and change it and say, " When I said I transferred one blockchain into Bitcoin into my account, actually I meant 1000 Bitcoin ", and you can't just go back in and add those extra zeros in because we all share the blockchain together. And so every single entry into that ledger is shared across the internet and it would actually take more computing power to modify the record than it would to just continue to produce your own.

Dan: Is this visible? I mean, could you log into this thing and look and see where the Bitcoins, like you're talking about, where they go?

Sam: Of sorts. So there is a sort of way we can do and we can see these public websites right now where you can see the current price of Bitcoin and how it's being transferred and everything, but it's hidden behind that layer of the mathematical computation that's happening. So it uses extremely large prime numbers on the back end that is multiplying by other extremely large prime numbers that would be virtually impossible to figure out the two factors that made this one number because they're two very large prime numbers. And so because of that, it secures it and each one of those then gets encrypted into the same blockchain that we all have. So if you have Bitcoin on your computer, you are a part of that blockchain yourself.

Dan: Wow, that's pretty interesting. Now, how but maybe talking about one of your clients.

Sam: Yes, I would love to do that. So a big Bit-Wizards thank you and a shout out to our customer, Emerald Coast Marine up in Niceville, Florida and over in Orange Beach with a showroom on highway 98 in Destin and their yacht club. So Emerald coast Marine is locally owned, operated by boating enthusiasts who are dedicated to delivering the ultimate all-inclusive Marine experience. They've got five-star customer ratings. They're a fantastic company. We love working with Emerald Coast Marine. They are embracing technology, so we get to be a big part of that. We have networked all these different locations together that they use, they have the Marina, they have a boat rental club, they are just great people to work with. They're really nice and very, very friendly people over there.

Vince: Forward thinking is the key. As they've been growing, one of the things that I thought was neat about Emerald Coast Marine was that they're really thinking about, how do they digitally embrace their business? How do they make it connected? How do they create a unique experience for their customers?

Sam: Absolutely. And so Emerald Coast Marine **inaudible** managed IT services perform a comprehensive network assessment and remediation plan to assist with their digital transformation, and this is part of their continuous enhancement for their guests, improving operations, running the best in class guest services. So thank you to Emerald Coast Marine for choosing Bit-Wizards.

Dan: How long have they been a client of yours?

Sam: They are one of our older clients, I would say so-

Vince: That's four years.

Sam: Yeah, four or five years. We've been doing all of that ... And they have grown so much in that time, physically, their property that they have and the amount of employees, and we've grown with them. We've been able to be a part of this, upgrading their firewall to match the amount of traffic that they have.

Dan: And they give great boat rides. Okay-

Sam: Yes.

Dan: Thanks guys for coming in. Vince and Sam from Bit-Wizards, the tip of the wand.