2014 Global Cleantech 100 – CEO Insights on the Internet of Things, Big Data, and Cybersecurity

GCT100_2014_Networking_photoQBotixUbitricity, Space-Time Insight – What do they all have in common? Yes, they are all Global Cleantech 100 companies, but there is more that ties them together than winning a prestigious annual award. Cleantech companies are increasingly integrating their product into the Internet of Things theme – and this was one of the biggest takeaways from the Global Cleantech 100 summit and roundtables in both Washington, D.C. and London.

Below, we share key (anonymized) insights from company CEOs and our own analysis of the concerns about what big data means for cleantech businesses:

How has big data and Internet of Things (IOT) impacted your business? Several companies mentioned that without data and statistics from customers feeding into decision-support systems, they wouldn’t have a business (or would not be able to compete with incumbents and big corporations)! IOT has created new opportunities for them, given the service layer that sensors and connectivity allows, especially for 1) the optimization of customer’s activities and 2) for making projections of what the future might look like.

How did customers react when you moved their data to the cloud? One CEO said he was expecting pushback, but it didn’t happen! Customers don’t seem to ask about data security (although liability is written into agreements generally). “Nobody so far has problems shifting photos to the cloud for example,” said another CEO.   

Do you have concerns over IP theft? On the one hand, some companies felt they should use the Internet conservatively due to concerns about hacking. The cloud generates multiple tier communication which has opened up risk of duplication. Many concluded that it is wise not to reveal to anyone anything that has not been patented. “IP is critical and IT protection is critical.”

On the other hand, the counter-argument that was offered  asserts that there is no privacy; companies need to innovate quickly and create value for customers quickly. “The best defense is offense,” said one CEO. His suggestion was to run fast.

Do you have concerns when growing into international markets? Several CEOs mentioned that they were under pressure to expand their operations into different countries, but that national boundaries present challenges. Different servers, ecosystems, and regulatory environments in various countries make it expensive for businesses to duplicate existing business blueprints abroad. At the same time, it is also a risk to be too slow to get into relevant markets.

How will the role of Utilities change? According to one CEO: “The grid can never be smart – it was designed as a huge, high voltage thing which does not match with low voltage devices to connect to. Eventually, consumers will be in charge, and will be bypassing the Utilities. Utilities are going to be the next Telco, while everything else around it will be done by different people.”

What are the security issues for Utilities? The general consensus was that data privacy worries are largely irrational, given the amount of security in place. Plus, if someone steals energy consumption data, there is not much damage they can do with it. However, it was pointed out that Utilities are the ones that deliver the services of the data startups, therefore ‘the buck stops with them,’ so to speak.  They have to be responsible for their vendors’ security practices.