Ellen Boehm Sr. Director, Product Management – Keyfactor Control talks to Pramod Dhakal in a very open conversation regarding the evolution of IOT sector.
In this conversation
1) Evolution of IOT sector
2) Innovation is great but how about the job market. What kind of impact we can see in the job market specially post pandemic ?
3) 50 billion devices will be connected to internet by 2020. As we connect more things to internet it requires power source to be be operational. Since we have finite source of power how would that impact the global warming.
Pramod Dhakal: Hey! How are you?
Ellen Boehm: Hey! Good, how are you today?
Pramod Dhakal: Very good.
Ellen Boehm: It’s been a great summer for us so far so, enjoying some good weather these days.
Pramod Dhakal: Yeah well, we’re not that lucky yet. Things have started to improve a little bit this weeks but still it’s not the pick of the season yet. We are looking forward to the big hopefully in a few days to come, yeah.
Ellen Boehm: Great, good.
Pramod Dhakal: So, how is everything else you know given the situation we are in, how is the business doing and so forth?
Ellen Boehm: You know, it’s interesting I feel like I remember the day when we all you know we’re in the office last and then it was okay we’re going to bring you know our laptops and everything kind of home and then we just never went back. But instantly we just shifted to working remotely. I think customer wise everyone kind of had to figure out what was the new you know, the impact on their business and how they were going to continue operating and then from a security standpoint because that’s what we do we really didn’t see a I mean it depends on the industry. But we definitely saw some acceleration of projects that we had already had in the works because you have a huge work you know, workforce of people that needs to have secure VPN connections and they need to access their databases and they need to do remote development and remote working.
So, when it comes to how secure are all your connections and you know how you keep your business running. It’s we definitely saw like one example was with a company that did fitness you know home fitness videos and things like that and they instantly saw an uptick in people who wanted to continue to stay fit but couldn’t go to their gyms. And so, these guys were becoming overloaded on and needed to needed some help with being able to manage all these new connections and users that they had so anyway, I’d say yeah it depends but definitely been we’ve definitely been busy in having lots of good conversations which is great to see and great to hear.
Pramod Dhakal: And how do you see within the context of working remote you know, how do you see the productivity you know, has that dropped or even you know, have been better now?
Ellen Boehm: Yeah, I would say a couple things so we’ve actually shifted a lot of our messaging and marketing towards virtual as has everybody and I think there’s certain webinars and content that we deliver where we’re teaching and we’re engaging in educating and people now have more time to do that. Because they are they’re less you know driving to an office they’re not on an airplane. They are thinking more about the future maybe and you know this is a pause to say what our strategic initiative around security is and IOT and how do I kind of take a step back and rather rush you know rushing from the day-to-day. Let’s figure out what’s most important so, I feel like we’ve seen I’ve seen people kind of take a step back and do that and I feel like you know people have also adjusted because it seems like it was a good distraction too to be able to work and not kind of think about some of the some of the uncertainties and other things happening in the world. But it was one thing that a lot of people could control. You know and feel lucky to be having good work to do and things like that. So, that’s kind of our experience so far.
Pramod Dhakal: A lot of June meetings at this end as well you know, we’re meeting a lot of team members remotely and which otherwise used to be a coffee conversation you know, we have to now sort of you know find a time to talk to some of our colleagues. I don’t know the feeling out there.
Ellen Boehm: Yeah, I would, that would be the one thing I would say you know how you would be either going into a meeting or coming out of a meeting and you’d have those little hallway conversations that is just that’s totally gone. So, but a key factor we’ve done a lot of cultural things you know we have weekly we kind of happy hour cultural things where we have different, we play different games and it kind of keeps that culture going on we have a Monday morning coffee meeting where people join and talk about their weekends and it definitely takes more extra effort and we try to do video at the start of meetings when we can to keep that personal connection and then we go off video and just kind of get right into the meeting. So, that is the one thing that I would I totally agree with you. Those little one-to-ones are hard but you have to make a little bit extra effort to not just go right into business from the beginning.
Pramod Dhakal: Especially in this particular time when everything is so challenging. You know, to get things done. I guess it’s important to have those smaller sessions. Now you mentioned the security one of those aspects of IOT devices connected to the internet how do you see this challenge overall?
[05:24 – 10:18]
Ellen Boehm: Yes, this is a big topic. So,
Pramod Dhakal: I’ll have fun.
Ellen Boehm: Great, yeah so, I’ve been in IOT for a while and I kind of, one of the first projects I was working on was smart connected lighting. Where we were we were adding radios and creating a mesh network of these devices that would detect you know, the light level and the energy used on these light poles. And I remember going through these this project launch and thinking how are we going to make sure that these devices that we would place inside a city you know are controlled only by a gateway and then a server that is allowed to talk to these devices. And you know, this this was maybe 10 years ago now and so, we knew a little bit about using keys and using unique keys and that was kind of my start into IOT security and how to how to uniquely identify devices so that you couldn’t have a neighboring city be able to control the lights and turn them on and off right.
So, it’s things have really ex exploded and accelerated since then and we hear numbers from Gartner talking about 25 billion devices in next year that are going to be connected. And that rate has just been has been going up and up. So, when I hear numbers like that I instantly think okay each one of those devices which has a network stack on it and has connectivity is an entry point into somebody’s network. Right, some customer network or an energy grid or you know you name it some piece of critical infrastructure perhaps transportation. So, how do we make sure that each of those little connections are secure and only can be accessed by authenticated users?
So, what we like to talk about and understand is when you’re designing an IOT project and you have to think about everything from your actual end device that is functioning and collecting data and turning things on and off. To then what other application that that IOT device is talking to and you know what other data it might be aggregating and then you know the connection to the back end server or central management system. And how do you make sure that that data that travels from the end point all the way up to the cloud is secure across all those potentially insecure communication channels. Whether it’s a, you know some sort of Wi-Fi Bluetooth cellular connection. How do you ensure that everything within the system secures the data where it needs to and those are the kind of things that we start to think about how to design security into the whole IOT system from the beginning?
Pramod Dhakal: And you mentioned about user authentication and also data moving to the cloud. What kind of encryption are you using to ensure that you know, that the data is intact and it’s not going to be tampered?
Ellen Boehm: Yeah so, there’s a couple ways to think about that and typically what we are discussing is how to use client certificates to be able to do authentication back to a server. And when it comes to IOT devices what we do is we would embed a unique digital identity which is essentially a certificate into a device and we create that when the device is produced. And so, part of what creates that that certificate is that it’s, there’s a private key that is generated and a crypto library which there’s you know different algorithms that you can use that that are available today. But be able to you know select a crypto algorithm that can create a very random hard to crack key.
[10:19 – 15:53]
And then from that key to be able to create a certificate that is then tagged to that end IOT device. And by doing that you have a unique identity that again has been created for that device that private key never leaves that device and what you do is then you generate a corresponding public key. Which is mathematically related and that is then what is used for exchange with other devices to servers, things like that. And we go through this process of what we call mutual authentication to make sure that you know you only communicate with devices that you are allowed to communicate with and exchange data with.
So, that that connection that you create between the two is a TLS connection. So, then you can send data across so it’s something that we’ve done in the web right and we’ve done for you know online banking and you know marketplaces and things like that very well established we’re starting to see that trend moving towards IOT devices and being adopted there. Because it’s very robust it’s very scalable. So, when we talk about these 20 billion devices it’s something that we you know we can handle that volume when it comes to creating unique things that identify each of your end devices.
Pramod Dhakal: Which particular sector do you think is benefiting more versus the other from IOT just to give you example maybe transportations or maybe health care or if you think about all those different sectors.
Ellen Boehm: Definitely, okay, I’ve got it, let’s talk about two things. So, first industry that I see benefiting from you know connectivity is in the medical space and if you think about the, there’s lots of studies that show about how diabetes is on the rise and so we have more patients that are in need of you know detection of you know, glucose levels. And then correspondingly being able to administer insulin in a system that is connected to patient you know constantly. Right so, that is something that we’re trying to improve the quality of life and achieve this idea of an artificial pancreas right so someone can have a constant monitoring of what is in their body and what they need to stay balanced. And so, that that is a case where we need to make sure that you know the levels that are measured and then are interpreted and that are maybe sent via the cloud or via a mobile app to a cloud to the clinician and the doctor is trusted and is not tampered with. So, that any adjustment that the doctor would want to make to that medication is not going to harm the patient. So, that’s a use case that is I think it’s really helping people and improving their quality of life and their quality of service when it comes to you know how their well-being is.
So, that’s where IOT and connected information is really is really helping out so again but tying it to security making sure that you know that is not being intercepted. Another one on healthcare is the pacemakers. Same thing if you have a connection to a person to understand how their pacemaker is operating, you don’t want that at all to be modified because that could have some pretty drastic effects. So, those types of things I think are benefiting and we have to take them with special care. The other industry I’d say that that we’ve really seen a ramp up in terms of IOT usage is in this utility, energy and smart grid type of space.
Where you have monitor asset monitoring devices that are detecting how large machinery turbines equipment is running and that can tell you when you might have a potential issue with one of these pieces of equipment starting to malfunction. Whether that’s by detecting a certain type of vibration or sensing a you know, a level of a current or some other you know, alarm that’s telling you that something is off. So, those types of pieces of equipment that can be added onto the front end of an overall system gives visibility, remote visibility into what could happen with that piece of equipment which then could cause an outage again in our infrastructure. Which would impact a lot of people, you know, whether it is loss of power or loss of water those types of things.
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So, I think that is another example of how pulling data from these big assets that help kind of keep us all moving keep our, you know economy moving is important to understand and secure those connections as well.
Pramod Dhakal: As we are connecting, a lot of devices or even things anything that we’re connecting to the internet you know you also mentioned about the information from earlier like 50 billion devices would be connected. How do you see the impact of that in the energy sector you know as far as the consumption of energy?
Ellen Boehm: Yes so, thoughts on that would be I think the more data you collect, the more models we can build to determine how much of a resource we’re using. Whether that be electricity, whether that be water, whether that be you know a meter that that’s connected to your house and I think being able to collect that kind of information and optimize when that energy is used or how that that resource is accessed can help when it comes to, you know using it at the right time. So, for example I mentioned the street lighting we the system we were working on had sensors to detect occupancy you know of vehicles moving around a certain part of the city as well as people. So, for example you know it’s night time you want to have the lights on but do you need to have the lights on at 100 of the light level or can you adjust it in at certain times can you adjust it as the sun is coming up you know if you detect the light level then you can keep a constant light level.
But you’re reducing the energy that’s being used on your light poles so; those types of things I think are helping cities are helping communities to be able to optimize their resources. And you can kind of see parallels to that also when it comes to the home and consumers in terms of also being able to use their energy when it’s not a peak hours. So, maybe running the dishwasher or the laundry machine and things like that if they have visibility into you know how their energy is being used and can make their smart devices run at different times then overall they’re kind of conserving and saving. So, I think there’s a lot of potential to kind of think about those use cases possibilities.
Pramod Dhakal: Yeah, because I’m thinking as we are connecting pretty much everything even my water bottle. So, I’m thinking there must be a tremendous amount of stress in our energy grid, right? So, that’s where the question is coming from I was just thinking it would be too much of energy of this, right?
Ellen Boehm: Yeah, I’m with you on that. The connected, everything is becoming connected. I remember last year I was in a hotel you know I haven’t traveled in a long time obviously many of us haven’t. But I was in a hotel and I was getting ready to go to an event to speak and I was kind of wondering what the weather was and in my home I have Alexa you know the speakers virtual assistants kind of in the in the house in different places in my office in the kitchen and I did you know if I’m kind of getting ready to leave I would say hey what’s the weather today and I and I in this hotel room I just said it out loud Alexa, what’s the weather.
And then for a second I’m like wait I’m not at home I’m in a hotel and then it answered because whatever hotel I was in. I forget which, you know one of the normal chains had an Alexa in the room and it actually did say, ‘yes it’s you know it’s going to be 72 degrees today’ or whatever it was and I it was just it had become so ingrained in my behavior that I just kind of thought that way. So, I things like that also too make me think that there as those types of technologies become more ubiquitous then. I think people behavior will change as well and that’s you know, there’s certain things that sometimes it does feel a little bit scary. We are kind of being tracked and but it also, I mean I think there’s advantages that come from analyzing behavior and making things easier for people. So, it’s definitely interesting.
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Pramod Dhakal: Interesting thing that you just shared because I was thinking along the same line but a little bit more extreme I would say. I was thinking okay you know you’ve connected pretty much everything to the internet now and my ability to think is you know, used less and less now. I’m not thinking much because I’m only asking questions and maybe you know it has some kind of effect to my emotional intelligence and so forth because we are pretty much connecting everything to the internet and robots and everything. So, when do I actually think? So, that’s my that’s my a little bit of worry what do you think about those things you know when you when you are you know exposed to those kind of environment every single day do you think those things will disappear?
Ellen Boehm: That is a great question you know, it’s interesting because so, I have children they’re in elementary school and they’re kind of growing up in this world of you know they had to do online learning and you know, we were just kind of thrown into this where everything’s on zoom and that’s just the way that the world worked. Although they had been in a face-to-face learning environment and I think there’s a certain balance of you know, you need you need to still have that personal connection and creativity and thinking and learning.
But then also we do have to learn how to interact with these tools because they’re not going away and it’s kind of like when we, when the washing machine was invented and people were you know going away from those washboards that you kind of ring your clothes and scrub. You know there was probably some sort of well okay is this going to spin too fast and explode or you know how much water, am I using and how much energy am I using and I but it’s a shift that had to happen. And think about all the improvements that we have now that maybe at that time when that was happening we didn’t think about.
So, that’s kind of how I think about it as I’m as I’m going through and again my children are growing up it is learning and seeing how they use some of these tools and these advancements and technology that we have you know, maybe are a little bit hesitant to completely adopt but I think in the future we will look back and say how do we live without that before because it has made things so much easier.
So, I think it’s kind of it will be a slow evolution but just thinking about how we then use these new technology tools to make us be able to spend our precious time free time on the things that we want to be doing and that really create joy in life and help you know, help improve the state of things and so, just kind of embrace, being able to embrace that these improvements are trying to help to continue on that path of technological evolution. And not be too big brother-ish but just enough to make us you know, make us feel like it’s really that it’s gonna be good in the end. That’s kind of my just candid thoughts on that one.
Pramod Dhakal: No, it’s something I happen to ask to all the leaders you know some stupid question that comes to my mind and I just throw in and I do that very often and then you know, it’s I’ve even I know that you know this it’s a difficult thing to actually predict now moving forward like how it looked like but having said that how do you see the future you know using IOT devices you know, as we have continued to use it and how do you see the evolution even further now let’s say beyond five years?
Ellen Boehm: Again, beyond five years it’s, I definitely see more of you know this the sensor enabled technology being used in especially in factories and environments where having a human involved could have ‘mistakes. Being able to use a piece of equipment to measure and monitor and then have a way to track that data and then tell a maintenance person to then go and take action on that. I think we’re going to see that be you know more and more readily adopted because there’s business benefits around you know, optimizing your factory operations and keeping costs down keeping mistakes down and also keeping down warranty issues. So, I think when you have when you have some something that’s kind of driving the bottom line of how you run your business thinking about how you can use these latest asset monitoring technologies or IOT you know, sensors to be able to give you those insights.
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We’ve been talking about this you know and that the industrial internet of things and that kind of more and more people are actually implementing technologies to do this. So, I that is kind of where I see a lot of changes occurring past five years is more factories adopting that. The other thing that I think we’re going to see is maybe a bit more approach towards some standardizations I think that IOT still really is a wild west in terms of you know protocols and platforms and I think we’re going to start to see more alignment between players to help guide. It’s really just to give us some guidance about how to design and develop and maintain these things. So, I think that’s probably something we’re going to see more emerging it’s likely going to be industry by industry, right. So, I think we have you know the kind of industrial space and we have the medical healthcare space like we talked about. So, standards bodies are helping to drive those and so that’s kind of where I where I see things just continuing to evolve but also help to give some more guidance around how to do this.
Pramod Dhakal: We spoke about a few different things as far as the evolution then also we spoke about overall the uses of IOT and so forth. What I’m curious about now is like due to this pandemic a lot of people have lost jobs, right? And you know for businesses perhaps adding some of these devices to their arsenal means that they are adding efficiency and perhaps it also means that you know a lot of people that are you know, out of the job will remain out of the job, right? And how do you see the impact of IOT you know being implemented in the industrial space as far as the job is concerned?
Ellen Boehm: Yeah so, what my opinion on this is that if we’re automating tasks and capabilities that can be done by a machine, then what we’re doing is we’re freeing up our intelligent brains and our talent and our employees that we’ve invested in to be able to work on that next level of thing. And so, it’s overall taking those tasks that you know, you’re probably not adding a ton of extra value in and taking your people and being able to have them develop the next generation product or do more of a an overall system analytic and a dashboard to kind of understand the overall project.
And it’s continuing to take those things and then move up the ladder and make your overall organization more efficient and that’s kind of how I see that one. So, I agree that you know certain jobs will go away because they’re being automated but it’s then shifting your people to be something that to work on something that is much more impactful for your organization takes that that level of strategic thinking that it you know we don’t right now get from a computer just crunching numbers. And that’s like I think where and how we’re going to shift our organizations in the future.
Pramod Dhakal: This is something that I saw with the over the television this morning while watching the news that you know, a lot of companies are letting their employees go you know, and then it was a subject of airlines you know letting a huge chunk of people you know, let go from the companies and it’s kind of a difficult time and also it it’s similar in the hotel industry right you mentioned about one of the hotel industry case you know. And I’m sure those companies can benefit you know, largely using some of these devices connected to internet, right? So, it’s sad at the same time it’s interesting for investors, for people who are running the business, right. And I’m just curious like what would really happen to these people like who used to be happy doing the manual work you know?
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Ellen Boehm: Yeah, I know I think this is definitely kind of an unprecedented time when it comes to the overall economy and how jobs are shifting and everything going remote for certain businesses, right. And other industries being impacted thinking even concerts or other musical events where people are close together there’s I think industries that are going to come out of this that are going to change that are going to decline. But other things will take their place because people will still want to be entertained or people will still want to travel places it’s just going to look different. And it’s again so, I think you know investor wise it’s we’ve learned a lot from this whole thing again and this is my little perspective of how this went down for me and my company but instantly working remotely having to do white boarding and customer meetings and discussions online keep that personal connection like. So, those types of industries I think that’ll help businesses continue to operate when something like this happens again in terms of kind of pandemic planning and preparing for the future that’s something interesting to kind of think about and ponder on. Because again I think yeah not everything is going to survive but new things are then going to emerge and so it’ll be interesting to see.
Pramod Dhakal: Yeah and Ellen what kind of role that you play in key factor what do you do there?
Ellen Boehm: Yeah, sure and sorry we just kind of jumped right into it I must it was well you had such great questions we just went right in so yes, I’m a senior director of product management focused specifically on IOT and so I’m responsible for product roadmap and strategy and alignment of our solution and the value prop that we deliver to the end customers. And so have a lot of conversations about what’s the ideal security architecture state of your business and how you want your RT’s devices to connect but then how to secure those connections and how to have the right cryptography at the right place and encrypt your data in the right way. So, that’s kind of what I do and I really appreciate the time talking with you today.
Pramod Dhakal: Thank you for your time as well. It was definitely an interesting conversation in fact you know I was looking to talk to you for a long time. But that’s all right you know you have your time, thank you for this time.
Ellen Boehm: It was great talking to you, I really enjoyed it thank you so much.