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As the smart building industry begins to settle into 2019 it should be cautious not to fall back into bad habits. Year after year, the industry faces three key issues that hold back growth and make it vulnerable. If the sector continues to neglect these three important factors it puts itself in danger of slow progress and even failure in many forms. Early signs suggest, however, that 2019 could be the year we take our resolutions more seriously.

Standardization

“Standardization is one of the biggest challenges facing growth of IoT. It’s a battle among industry leaders who would like to dominate the market at an early stage,” states Ahmed Banafa, IoT expert and author of the book: Secure and Smart IoT Using Blockchain and AI. “In 2019, we are likely to see a limited number of IoT vendors dominating the market, allowing customers to select one and stick to it for any additional connected devices, similar to the case of operating systems we have now have with Windows, Mac, and Linux for example, where there are no cross-platform standards.”

Without standards, the IoT could end up like computer operating systems landscape, a few major players and a few niche options for the consumer to choose from. It is then fair to assume that the biggest players in the market will not be a driving force for standardization, which should be lead by associations and the public sector. “There is no way to solve the problem of fragmentation without a strong push by organizations like IEEE or government regulations to have common standards for IoT devices,” Banafa added.

Skills Shortage

The IoT Skills Shortage did not sneak up on the smart building and IoT sectors. It has been slowly building for years, placing a handicap on growth across the board. 68% of businesses still struggle to hire IoT experts, according to a survey by Canonical. While the latest Tech Cities Job Watch report from Experis recorded a 35% increase in the demand for technology skills since this time last year and a 24% increase (year-on-year) in the demand for IT Security contractors. The skills shortage will continue to represent an obstacle as more and more businesses look to harness the power of IoT.

“The need for more IoT skilled staff is rising, including a growing need for those with AI, big data analytics and blockchain skills,” says Banafa. “Universities cannot keep up with the demand, so to deal with such shortage, companies have established internal training programs to build their own teams, upgrading the skills of their own engineering teams and training new talents. This trend will continue, representing an opportunity for new engineers and a challenge for companies.”

Cyber Security Issue Persists

In a world of connectivity, the one with the most powerful artificial intelligence (AI) will rule. Cybersecurity firms have begun to utilize AI to identify and stifle attacks, AI systems can check millions of endpoints continuously and learn from all threats to improve its defense. On the other hand, criminals are also developing AI systems but to identify and exploit weaknesses in their target’s cybersecurity defenses. We are entering a new era, one where the strongest AI determines the strongest organization.

“Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia but for all humankind,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin, via live video beamed to 16,000 selected schools across the nation. “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world,” he continued.

In 2019, we can expect more targeted attacks against vulnerable components of smart building and city implementations. These attacks will cause disruptions to all kinds of services and will force organizations and cities to invest in cyber security defenses to minimize the risk of further attacks. To counteract these threats we will need a cultural shift in the way we protect our systems at every stage.

Our defense must start with the hardware manufacturers, who need to develop infrastructure that will be data loss resistant, more reliable and secure. The security dealers can then begin to provide security to nodes to ensure their services whitelisted. Building operators must develop their understanding of cybersecurity to be able to keep their facilities maintained and secure. Finally, the end users themselves will have to be more aware of threats such as malware attacks to prevent them access to the system through human error and negligence.

“The culture needs to change and they need to think would I open my front door to this person or company and ask the same online,” David Emm, Principal Security Researcher with Kaspersky Labs’ Global Research & Analysis Team told Memoori in an interview. “If we can develop a security mindset, it should cut across this or that technology. It was floppy disks once, then CDs, now USBs, people just need to think, this is a removable drive and that’s dangerous.”

Slow Growth & Vulnerability

According to a National Association of Business Economists (NABE) survey, two-thirds of economists queried expect the onset of recession by the end of 2020. In that scenario, it is likely that many enterprise companies will rein in plans for ambitious digital transformation efforts and shift their focus on projects with a short-term ROI. The reduced flow of funds could be disastrous for an emerging smart building industry selling on long-term benefits.

Since the 2008 global crisis, the smart building sector has enjoyed a decade of relative stability in which to find its feet and stand up tall but the issues above, among others, make the industry vulnerable. Poor standardization narrows the market too early, the skills shortage sparks poor practice at every level, while the persistent risk of cyber security threatens to undermine the entire movement. The smart building sector must use this year to overcome persistent obstacles and lay the foundations necessary to weather future storms.