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Juggling Your “Agency” During COVID

Paul Napper, co-author, “The Power of Agency: The 7 Principles to Conquer Obstacles, Make Effective Decisions, & Create a Life on Your Own Terms,” talks with Peggy and defines agency. He explains why it matters and how it is different. They also explore how having a higher agency will make you a better leader, how one increases their personal agency, and how agency is declining in the U.S.

Below is an excerpt from the interview. To hear the entire interview on The Peggy Smedley Show, visit, and select 4/29/2020 from the archives.

Peggy Smedley:

Paul, just before the show, you and I were talking about so many things. And I’m really delighted to have you on here. And one of the most important is getting us back into gear I think, emotionally, and prepared with just so much in life right now. I mean, not only do we have to think about what’s been going on around us with COVID-19 and everything else… but while we’ve got this time to be alone, we have time to read….And I guess my question to you is, when you were sitting and thinking about writing a book, did you sit down and think, maybe this is the time I can sit down and write a book, or is this time I want to read a book? What gets people right now? Should they be thinking about all these things that are overwhelming them? Or maybe just think about writing thoughts or reading a book. What do people want to think about right now? Their minds are filled with all kinds of things.

Paul Napper:

Yeah, it’s a great question. I think a lot of people right now are feeling overwhelmed at the scope of the current crisis. And this comes on the heels of a lot of folks feeling overwhelmed just by the increased pace of life, of American life. One of the things that got us to, my writing coauthor and I, to write this book was what we were observing in the people we work with. He works with children and families, as a psychologist. And I work with business leaders, as a psychologist. And we were both noticing that in our respective populations, people feeling a lot more overwhelmed by life. And that has a lot to do with the fact that things have sped up so much over the last 20 to 30 years. Now you add in the current crisis and it’s literally like out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The old cliché, but what does it entail, requires us to adapt. And so as human beings, we’re pretty adaptable beings, right? We have good brains and we’re always trying to find ways to adapt successfully to the environment that we’re in. Whatever environments we put ourselves in or find ourselves in. And what happened again over the last 20, 30 years, is because the environment has changed so quickly and so much that it’s produced a bit of a crisis in people’s ability, their capacity to adapt. Some people have been obviously adapting a bit better than others, but today, with the COVID crisis, we see more people, because of the acute nature of this crisis, struggling to adapt. How do I adapt? How do I learn what to do? How do I?

And so, this is an important area of interest for me and my coauthor. As psychologists, we think a lot about how humans adapt. And to your question on writing, what should people be doing? Ideally, right now people should be slowing down as much as they can, trying to keep their thoughts more in the present moment. Try not to project too far out into the future and worry about next month or the month after. Let’s think about this week, let’s think about today. It’s a good time to be reading and reflecting and just being quiet with yourself and whoever else in your life you’re hunkered down with. It’s a good time to kind of engage in more quiet animal analog type activities. Getting outdoors, moving around, walking, running, any of those kinds of things. Really restorative things that help us to adapt, to help kind of recharge our batteries so that we’re better able to learn and make adaptive changes to our behaviors.

And a lot of writers, back to your question again is, they keep journals. And I’m not a journal keeper personally, but many if not most people who want to write something, they keep journals. They don’t necessarily write in them every day, but they write some of their thoughts, some of their musings, some of their ideas. And that’s a nice thing for people to be doing right now, also. Just some way of capturing their thoughts because in the midst of a crisis, there’s always a bit of an opportunity. And that opportunity is to learn new skills, develop some new creative ways to live your life, creative ways to solve problems. There can be a silver lining in this, also. But I do think it requires people to try and not get so overwhelmed by it, by exposing themselves to just way too much stimulation. Get quiet with yourself, read, think, talk with people about it. And so that, that’s really what I would recommend people try to do right now.


You describe an agency, is that the personal side of things that people are? You’re describing what is an agency and why does it matter. Help us understand that because I think you want people to get better in what they do in both their own work, their work life, and in their home life?


Yeah, absolutely. Agency, I like to say to people is probably the most important thing you’ve never heard of, because most people don’t really know specifically what the word agency, meaning human agency, what it actually refers to. Most people when they hear the word agency think advertising agency or government agency. Agency has to do with our capacity as people to make choices, our capacity to use our faculties, our mental faculties, to make choices in our lives, and take our lives in a desired direction. It does have a lot to do with decision making, our capacity to make decisions and sure enough, one of the things we talk about in our book is for all of us, we really are, in many ways, the sum total of all the decisions we make over the course of our lifetimes.

Big decisions, small decisions. Obviously, bigger decisions are much more crucial. But one of the consequences of this sort of sped up lifestyle that I talked about a few minutes ago is that people are carrying around more anxiety and worry. And they’re experiencing more episodes of what they describe as is overwhelm. And this gets in the way of people being effective decision makers in their own lives. And so we wanted to write this book about what is it that’s within your own power to become better at handling your life, managing your life, making decisions for yourself, and trying to keep some of this overwhelm and anxiety at bay. A lot of people don’t realize that we actually have a silent epidemic of anxiety in the United States. 20% of Americans actually are diagnosed with a clinical anxiety disorder, at this point. It’s 20%.


I would bet you right now with COVID, it’s much higher right now. I’m just saying.


And yeah, you would probably be right. And so we are a very anxious nation. In fact, the World Health Organization, a couple of years back, did a ranking and ranked the United States as the most anxious nation on earth. This is a surprise to a lot of people, but we do have some issues here in our country that require us to focus on them, to find solutions. And we wanted to write this book for people to give them the power to have more agency, more personal agency that is, to help them build the capacity to make good choices for themselves, to create the lives they want to create for themselves.


So increasing, not to interrupt, I apologize, but to increasing that personal agency that you described is really important. If we think about what’s happening in the world around us today, that’s important to be able to calm down, in some ways. And yet, to be able to do what you need to do. …We’d say a high agency, what does that look like? Or where are we kind of in that scheme of things that you need to be, to be able to overcome this anxiety that you’re describing?


Yeah. Well, one way to think about it that can help is to think about anxiety and confidence as being in a seesaw relationship. If you have a higher level of agency in your life, meaning that you’re better, you feel a sense of confidence that you’re equipped to kind of handle what comes your way and to make good choices in your life. If you have that confidence, that in and of itself keeps the anxiety at bay. It’s impossible to be confident and anxious at the same time. There is a seesaw relationship between the two. When you start becoming much more anxious, your confidence level declines. We wrote this book and we decided to frame it, not as in clinical terms, as in we’ve got a big problem with worry and anxiety and it’s a clinical problem.

We decided to frame it in agency terms, which is that we have a crisis in agency, in human agency. People are feeling stuck, they’re feeling adrift, they’re feeling that something’s getting in their way from, from living the life they most want to live. And that’s agency. And when people do that, when they feel more confident in their ability to make these choices and take their lives in the desired direction, the anxiety is kept at bay. So, we thought rather than be another symptom management book about how do you manage anxiety symptoms, let’s get underneath this thing and talk about what’s really going on. And if people again, have more confidence to express themselves, to do what, in their lives, what matters most to them, and learn how to make better quality decisions, that’s what inoculates them from all this anxiety and overwhelm.

And so instead of, as you know, as you would expect, many people are simply go to the doctor, get medication. They manage the symptoms of anxiety and it works. Antianxiety medications actually lower anxiety. But in our view, for most people, it is not really addressing the core of the problems. That’s really kind of how we’re looking at it. And what we’re trying to give people is sort of teach them, how to develop more agency in their own lives. And your question about people with high levels of agency, what do they look like? Well, they have more confidence in general. They’re learners. They seek to learn. They work on their emotional and social awareness, and so they tend to work on having more emotional intelligence.

They also, interestingly enough, they control stimuli in their lives. They’re not followers of technology. They use technology, they don’t let technology use them. So that’s to say they don’t spend six hours a day on social media as a rule. They tend to be know more judicious consumers of digital information. And again, they use it rather than allowing it to use them. These high agency people, we studied them and we wrote the book, you know, but a lot of examples about how these people actually demonstrate and real life exhibit agency.

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Olivier Bloch – Simplifying the Complexities of IoT

Olivier Bloch, principal program manager, Azure IoT developer ecosystem, Microsoft, is back to talk with Peggy about the complexities with IoT (internet of Things) adoption and the biggest changes companies are facing with many vertical markets. They look into how Azure IoT is helping companies simplify IoT with IoT Plug and Play and the best things to do when adopting an IoT plan and establishing initiatives.

Below is an excerpt from the interview. To hear the entire interview on The Peggy Smedley Show, visit, and select 1/21/2020 from the archives.

Peggy Smedley:
You and I have had many a conversation about the benefits of IoT (Internet of Things), but during the past few months, there’s been a lot of discussion about how there’s some complexity in adopting IoT. What are we doing? Are we doing it right? Are we doing it wrong? What are the biggest challenges for IoT adoption day?

Olivier Bloch:
Yeah, you’re right, Peggy. And I think we’ve done a good job at convincing people that there’s value in adopting IoT in people’s digital transformation, right? And while the companies, the bigger and smaller companies, are looking at IoT as really something they’re going to extract value from and grow their business and transform the business, they’re realizing when they start working with IoT technology that there are several challenges that they have to face. And some of them are things which have security end-to-end. We have new types of threats, new types of devices, connectivity, and so on. The data, as well, has to be gathered somewhere, stored and you need to comply with regulations. You need to make sure your customer’s privacy is guaranteed and so on.

There’s another aspect of these challenges which is the skills gap. We see the technology evolving super fast. IoT, AI…they gather to drive the digital transformation, but engineers might not be ready or enterprises might not have the right skillsets. They might be developing solutions in the manufacturing world and now they’re told, “You need to be experts in software and data analytics.” But that’s something that they need to catch up with, which is not straight forward.

But one of the biggest challenges that these enterprises or customers are seeing is the complexity of their projects in the implementation of IoT solutions. We recently published a report called, “The IoT Signal” that revealed 30% of companies say that complexity and technical challenges are the biggest barrier to the adoption of IoT and to their digital transformation. 38%, that’s a huge amount of companies that start their IoT project with a clear idea of what they want to achieve and they end up very often failing at proof of concept, not even going to production because they have to face these kinds of complexity that we’re going to talk about today.

Olivier, that’s an interesting point because when I was looking at your “IoT Signal” report, that 38%, that’s the largest number. When you chip away at staff, knowledge, engineers, skills gaps, and security, the highest one was complexity. And you would think that companies would understand that IoT is not easy. Is it because they don’t understand IT/OT? Do they not understand the things that are associated with it? Because there’s a lot of things, a lot of moving parts in the Internet of Things, do companies not understand why IoT is so complex?

I think you’re definitely pointing at something that’s very interesting to look into deeper. So, I think companies have been, in the last few decades, very much focused on adding value in their vertical, in their industries, right? So, the company building medical devices is trying to build the best medical devices that are out there, complying with regulations and so on. People in oil and gas are trying to build the best solutions for extracting oil and be the most efficient as they could. But IoT is the technology that’s going to glue several worlds together. I like to really talk about IoT as the glue, the IT and the OT world. How do you put together the IT world, the traditional IT website, data analytics and so on with the OT world, especially in manufacturing where you have to operate at a different pace, at a different reason with different tools?

There’s also the collision between the cloud development and the embedded devices development. Two worlds that have been living aside or side-by-side, I would say, but has never really overlapped very much. Development cycles are also not the same in the various world or are not colliding. So, this is something that everyone has to adapt. When you have a team building some PCB, some hardware for a specific project, the cycles will be longer than the team working on the software. They will gather the data, extract insights, and eventually send reports to all the teams. The scale of these deployment is also one of the big complexities arising.

The standards are pretty much nonexistent. These worlds are gathering in that new era of digital transformation, but they are not talking the same language. They’re not using the same APIs to interact. The market is super fragmented. Think about all the hardware manufacturers, the ones building sensors, the ones building PCBs and microcontrollers, the ones building the PC-class type of hardware. The connectivity providers, devices have to be connected wireless, wire different protocols. This is also a huge fragmentation issue that we’re facing in the IoT world. Line of business software providers, they are very diverse and when you want to extract value from IoT, you want to take action, you want to indicate to your crew that there’s maintenance required. You want to change the schedules of your workforce.

So, you need to interact with loTs of different light of business applications. Cloud platforms are diverse as well and you need to interact with various of them for implementing an end-to-end solution that includes IoT. All of these fragment the IoT landscape in a way that makes it super complex for companies to really find their way, implement their solution the way they want, and they need.

It’s interesting to hear what you were saying Olivier, because something else that came to mind is you were talking about standards, so I was thinking about inter-operability. I was thinking about things that meant cloud development versus embedded development. Some of these things that the line of business just with software developers and who you work with, and you were talking about sensors and microcontrollers, the same pair of shoes doesn’t fit for every vertical market. So, there’s got to be a lot of challenges then whether you’re in healthcare, whether you’re in manufacturing or transportation, it’s different. And even within those verticals, every IoT application is very unique. I think that’s also making it more complex in some ways when you drill down within the vertical or when you go horizontally amongst those verticals, am I correct?

You’re perfectly right and we’re seeing that these challenges related to the complexity of IoT projects is not specific to a single industry. You would think, “Hey, maybe manufacturing is where there’s the most complexity happening.” Actually, we see the same kind of problems and issues our customers are facing in retail, in transportation, public sector, or healthcare. Pretty much every single vertical that is going through digital transformation sees companies failing at implementing their IoT project because they are facing that complexity, an IoT application an IoT project end-to-end represents.

And so they need to find the right set of tools, the right set of platforms, but then not to have to reinvent the world, but also to be able to implement a solution they need and to basically have the complexity removed for them by a platform provider, by not really having to reinvent the wheel. There’s tons of things that many companies out there already have done, that you can use and reuse. And this is exactly the approach we’re having at Microsoft. We’re trying to simplify that complexity to offer our customers tools, platform, services that will really empower them to transform digitally to realize what their potential is and to really implement the solutions to go where they want to go, transform their business, grow their business. And we really want to be their partner in that journey.

And that’s really important. I think when companies hear that they think it’s a sales pitch, but there is a lot of truth to that, simplifying the complexity and changing the future with IoT. And Microsoft is really trying to do that. Can you walk us through a little bit about what you’re trying to do there? Because I think when people think about edge computing and they think about the cloud, they get overwhelmed. When we think about manufacturing specifically because they’ve been late to the game, so to speak, to really embrace IoT, but now all of a sudden they’re realizing they can actually be more competitive. I think healthcare jumped on a little bit sooner and things like that, but I think what’s happening now is those manufacturers are discovering we have to do this and when we do it they see really positive results, but at the same time they don’t know how to do it and they have to partner with companies like you in order to make IoT successful.

I totally agree and we’ve seen that over and over again. So manufacturing, it’s definitely an area where we can use a lot of samples because people understand that especially in our world, right? Healthcare is a more particular area, retail as well, but manufacturing is a great example that can allow us to really look at the various places where there are complexities, there are issues that we can help solve. A good example is the various types of protocols that exist in manufacturing for devices to communicate. You might have heard about OPC in OPC UA (unified architecture), you might have heard about BACnet and CAN Bus or other protocols that allow devices to exchange information in between each other or with another broader system. The promise of digital transformation is really to harness data that you gather from sensors to optimize your processes to extract the insights that you can extract from that data and then take action.

And one of the aspects that was mentioned is connectivity. These devices don’t all talk the same language. They don’t also all declare their capabilities to a broader system. So you’re really today or in the past, because we’re changing that hopefully, you have to know what a device is doing and how it’s talking before you can interact with it. You have to have custom-made solutions for each of these categories of devices that are out there in your factory floor or other facilities that you do manufacturing in. And one of the technologies we are developing with the industry is called IoT Plug and Play. Plug and Play is based on an open source description language. We called it The Digital Twin Description Language. And we work with the industry and we aim at standardizing that. It allows hardware manufacturers to declare their device’s capabilities and to offer cloud developers and solution developers a very easy way to import that device’s capabilities to then understand what a device is sharing as data as information, but also what a device supports as commands, as settings, as properties.

IoT Plug and Play aims at becoming a way for our partners, hardware vendors, and solution builders to work better together. Having a platform that allows the hardware manufacturers to declare device capabilities on one side and a solution builder to just use that model, and, even better, a catalog of devices available online to enhance the solution, to enrich the solution with more data come from all devices and then being able to really deliver on that promise that IoT offers.

IoT Plug and Play is one of these examples. The work we’re doing to simplify the connectivity and the device capabilities description that is out there. There’s no standard out there for that. Everyone is doing its own way based on the verticals they’ve been evolving in, because verticals were silos in the past and now, because of that digital transformation we’re talking about, they have to work with other industries. They have to start mix and matching.

Think about retail. Retail’s been changing all the time. I would imagine you’re having to do a lot as software as a service on the retail end, correct? I mean I can’t imagine because that’s an industry that I can’t even keep up with its changes so quickly to be competitive.

Totally. Retail is another great example where there’s is a need for advanced platforms that will accelerate developments. So in retail, there’s many things you want to do in order to optimize your stocks or deliver a better service to the consumers. There’s various aspects to it. There’s security as well, there’s privacy for the customers. And if you spend all your time when you’re building a solution, starting from scratch and redeveloping everything: “I’m going to build the piece that connects the device and then I’m going to build the piece that stores the data securely and then the piece is going to do some analytics on that data and then the piece is going to be…” and on and on and on, all the way up to delivering dashboards that allow both the store manager and the person in charge of delivering and eventually the company that is shipping the goods to the various stores.

If you are building the solution end-to-end that can take years if you start from scratch, we have an approach to that which is called Azure IoT Central, which is a platform solution. It allows you to very rapidly get storied with a Wiziwig experience, creating not just dashboard in a website, but also managing access control for different types of users. Also, connecting devices, leveraging the Plug and Play infrastructure I was mentioning before, allowing you to say, “I’m going to add a new type of device. Let me pick from the catalog. Oh, that camera actually has a model.” I can just import a camera in my solution and without even developing a single line of code I’m now able to integrate a new type of device into a solution and really focus on adding value and like in the retail space, it could very much be about, “Let me think about the algorithm that will enhance the flow in my store so that my customers are actually exposed to more goods.” Or, “Let me also optimize on making sure that all my shelves are always full.” And so if I have my cameras that do analytics, they’re able to detect that I’m missing this kind of product or this kind of goods and I can’t actually restock without having to send someone inefficiently through the aisles to see what’s not there anymore. Retail definitely is another great example of a need for platforms that have a lot already developed, already provided for you. So you don’t have to deal with that complexity. You just have to deal with adding value on top for your vertical, for your industry with what you really know and are experts for.

When you talk about IoT Plug and Play, IoT Sensor, Azure IoT is doing a lot in a lot of different markets. Are there specific customers that you say, “Look, here’s some customers who are having great success right now, whether it’s in transportation, manufacturing, or whatever market and we can list those customers and say they’re making really great profits from using our stuff?”

Definitely. We have many customers who are already using our solutions. Azure IoT has been built in the last five years, adding new services. We started with just connecting devices, right? We started simple. I think there’s one philosophy that we want our customers to really embraces is the idea of: start simple. Start with something that is a building block for the rest. We started with connecting devices securely and then we went on to providing more features to control and manage these devices, provision these devices at scale and then added analytics on top, added IoT Central for the UI part of things and so forth. And so a customer I’d like to talk about is called Buhler and they’re doing something that we don’t realize is critical for many industries. It’s called die-casting. And die-casting is a process that is basically about molding metal. They have these huge machines that will inject the very high pressure melted metal into these molds in order to create this metallic object that you need for appliances, that you need for automotive, that you need for electronics devices as well. And the process has been 150-years-old, but it’s not changed a lot in the last 150 years and technology is not been able to really optimize it. There’s lots of waste going on. There’s lots of things that actually fail in the process.

And in order to optimize this process, to make it more efficient, to save a lot of money, Buhler adopted our technologies to gather tons of metrics from various sensors into the molds and extract as much insights as possible in terms of, “Here, is the process going well? Do I need to use that kind of temperature everywhere or adapt the temperature?” And optimize the very old and very important process of die-casting, thanks to little sensors and analytics happening in the cloud. And insights that have been extracted to then take action during the process, adapt the temperature, the pressures and other factors to become one of the leaders in that space, thanks to IoT. This is one of the manufacturing examples.

Another interesting one is Maersk. That’s a company that you might have heard about that works in transportation, electronic equipment, geolocation and others and you see them in lots of public transportation, like metros, buses, and so on. And there’s one thing that IoT offers is the ability to gather the data from millions of devices. However, you want to trust that data, so you want to make sure that all these devices that have been what we’ll call “provisioned” securely, there’s been given and authentication mechanism that allows them to come to a system and say, “Hey, I am so and so and I’m going to share my data.” And for the system to really trust that this device is what it says it is.

So, it’s something that is like fairly simple to do when you have around 10 devices. Now, when you have millions of moving devices from different manufacturers deployed at different customers, it can very rapidly become a nightmare to have to manage all of that. So leveraging a platform like Azure IoT Device Provisioning Service that simplifies the provisioning of these devices is key for a company like Maersk to evolve, to grow and to embrace that digital transformation.

Now isn’t that why you guys have made a $5 billion commitment to IoT, so companies that you’re talking about can have success?

Totally. I think it totally goes in the mantra that we have at Microsoft, which is about empowering people. Empowering people doesn’t mean empowering consumers only. It also says empowering enterprise customers. Empowering them because they know their business and what they need is help in creating more business for themselves in a very sustainable way. And so our investment is really in order to develop these platforms that will help these enterprises thrive by not having to deal with the complexity, by not having to reinvent the wheel, but by having them leverage existing bits and pieces that can aggregate the way they want to need to create solutions. That’s definitely what this $5 billion investment is about. Microsoft heavily invested, these years, in IoT because of that reasons. We want to be with our customers and partners, empowering them realize their potential.

Are there other customers that stand out to you that you say, “Look, this is important. This is why I’m telling this story because as we have these complexity issues as we have maybe the skill gap issue…” These are customers that are finding a way to do what they need to do to be successful, to be competitive, to stand out in their vertical markets.

Totally. There’s another aspect, was not discussed a lot that relates to complexity, which is security. And we’ll get to that at some point. But I wanted to name Starbucks as one of our customers. Starbucks is leveraging Azure Sphere, which is our microcontroller security solution in order to securely connect their existing infrastructure. Starbucks, as you know, is that coffee chain that we like and that has these very specific recipes. And recipes are not just about, “Hey, how much coffee from where…” It’s more about the processes making the coffee itself, so that when you go from one store to another one, it has the same taste and it has the same quality.

Starbucks is very protective of their recipes and they had not connected their coffee machines to the internet because they don’t want these recipes to be stolen. That’s something which is critical to that business. They decided to adopt the Azure Sphere guardian module, which is a way to connect an existing infrastructure to what we’ll call a “Brownfield solution” to the cloud in order to be able to not just gather information, but also gather information from lots of different locations, lots of different devices and being able to extract from that data that insight that is necessary to make that process even better.

The coffee brewing process is very much related to the temperature, the pressure in your location and tons of factors. When you look at data coming from one single coffee machine, you can vaguely optimize that coffee machine. But then if you start mixing and matching that data was data from hundreds of other locations, now you can start visualizing or detecting trends or patterns and make that process of yours even better.

That requirement for connecting these devices really fed into delivering an even better coffee to the customers, but without that risk of losing their IP. And so Starbucks really came onboard with Azure feed that delivered a turnkey solutions for very simply connecting the existing infrastructure without having to reinvent the wheel and very simply make a non-connected store a connected store that would share all its data almost overnight. Starbucks is another great example of a company that wanted to rely on something that was actually developed for them, but it would be totally adapted in working with an existing infrastructure and solution and not having, once again, to reinvent the wheel. They would use something that exists and pair it up with their own solution.

Talk a little bit about security central for IoT, because I think that’s important, but I think it’s critical because when it comes to the IoT. There’s a lot of people concerned about that and I know that’s a top priority for you guys as well.

Definitely. I think security is a top concern and it adds up to the complexity. Security, for the IoT realm, is something that brings new types of challenges. When you have any infrastructure that is totally enclosed in your building with your own servers, it’s all okay. You can put a big lock on the door, you can put a guard at the entrance and your machines would not be touched, right? But suddenly you start connecting things. Now you have the internet. So you’re going to put a big firewall to protect from the internet some threats from outside, right? Now think about IoT devices. IoT devices compliments your solution. They’re going to be gathering data at the edge where the data is generated. And then these devices will have to report through a gateway or directly to the Cloud. But these tiny devices, because they are optimized to run on battery, to be placed in very small spaces, they usually run on what we call a realtime OS (operating system) or sometimes no OS at all. It’s just electronics and a tiny bit of software running on the silicon. And these are not especially equipped for doing the very heavy lifting that encryption and antivirus things and so on are actually requiring. And so these devices, the microcontrollers that are out there, there are roughly billions that are produced every year.

Today, they’re not very much connected because of that security concern, right? If the data generated by the devices start being corrupted, you can get into very big trouble. We have some examples out there, but example that is very simple is that if you cannot trust that a sensor, a temperature sensor… they’re measuring what’s going on into, let’s say, a very expensive wine cave is telling you, then you might ruin millions of dollars of wine because that one sensor’s data is not to trusted.

So you need to be able to make sure that these devices that are physically accessible to people that might want to corrupt, steal or come into your system, that these devices are securely connected and Azure Sphere is a great example of how we thought about, “What are the seven principles of a secure device?” and then implemented them into a solution that is not just about silicon. Azure Sphere is silicon architecture that we license to silicon vendors, a secure OS that is running on this specific silicon, and then a security service Microsoft provides for free for 10 years. Azure Sphere is really a solution that brings all of that together to securely connect devices.

Another thing that we’ve been developing with our decades of experience in managing PCs and deploying services and applications is called Azure Security Service. Azure Security Service is something that allows monitoring and a cloud application end-to-end, so monitoring diverse services that compose an application to see if they’re doing well. We’re talking about the clients and the servers in terms of the physical machines, but also the software services that are running, allowing through active directory people to access these resources and these services.

So Security Center is a tool that has been developed for existing solutions and that has been extended to monitor and track security issues and potential problems for IoT solutions. It comes all the way down to devices with a tiny agent you would add to your configuration on your device and would allow tracking everything that’s going on. Then you’re going to get reports about what’s happening from the device to the computing, to the storage, to the backend, end-to-end for your IoT solution, making you way safer when leveraging this kind of solution. You deploy an application, you’re onboard to Azure Security Center and instantly you have the solution that will monitor end-to-end without having to reinvent the wheel. And benefiting from the decades of experience that we, Microsoft, have in securing IT.

You just described skillsets as it relates to security, you’ve got to go with the people who know it best. Everybody’s been talking about 5G and the hype around it, but now we get to edge computing. This is something that’s really important because we have all these important scenarios now where customers don’t have 24/7 internet connectivity. Walk me through this important thing and how much of a role is it going to play in IoT adoption in 2020 and 2021. Where does Microsoft play IoT edge and how you see that? Because I think that’s important for customers who need to go to the edge, who need to go to the Cloud and where Microsoft sits in all of that.

Totally. I think the edge computing story, something that rose when people realized the complexity of IoT scenarios, right? You first wanted to get the data from that sensor and get something out of it. So the first reflex has been to say, “I’m going to connect that device, put all the data in the cloud from these sensors and do my very challenging analytics with my infinite resources that have in the cloud.” But then suddenly you’re saying, “Wait a minute, this device is connected through a wireless connection. It’s on the moving object and I’m going to lose connection. I need to locally store that data and then eventually delay the upload to a cloud.” And then came a second level, which was, “Okay, this system is critical. Now that I know I have a way to extract insights and take action.” For example, detecting an anomaly is going to happen on my, let’s say, conveyor belt and because I have a vibration pattern that is starting to show up.

When you’re all connected with a very good data connection to the internet, you can send the data, have something analyzing that data, detecting this anomaly that has been detected and then indicate down on the field at the edge that something is going to fail in about a minute, an hour, a day and take action. But this infrastructure might not be that well connected, but the gravity of the problem is still there. And so the idea is to say, “How about we distribute that intelligence across the IoT solution?” It’s no longer about having dumb sensors and a very smart cloud, it becomes about, “How do I make a solution that distributes the intelligence?” Robotics is a good example of that. You want to distribute some of that intelligence so that if something fails, there’s still the rest that still works, right? You cut an arm on robots, all the rest still works, it still walks, and so on.

So you definitely want to have that distribution. That means you need to run analytics at the edge on these devices that you remember are optimized for a specific environment, that are optimized for running on battery sometimes and consume less. You need to be smart in the way you’re going to deploy, manage, update, and train that intelligence you’re putting on that edge. Edge computing is developing as a result of all the road bumps that IoT presents because you are not always connected and you want to distribute for many different reasons beyond connectivity, security, privacy. You want to distribute that intelligence.

Azure IoT Edge has been developed with that in mind. Once again, it’s a platform. It’s something that lets customers build their edge intelligence. IoT Edge allows to monitor and host a set of workloads. They’re going to develop and train in the cloud onto these gateways or, what we call now, edge devices. Bringing for the example of the conveyor belt, that intelligence that allows to detect the anomalies as close as possible to that object, to that sensor, generating that data so that you can stop it immediately or eventually interact with the operator locally without the need to be connected, without the need for your data to be stolen, without the latency you can have for a back and forth to the cloud.

In your report I noted that one in three projects apparently failed during this proof of concept stage and some of the typical reasons I noted that were these failures include implementation costs, a lack of defined expected benefits to the bottom line. When you look at all of these, the skills gap and you say all that, is the best advice you would give to somebody is to really have a good strategy in place for proof of concept? Is it to have the right money involved in here? What do you want to give?

I think people are now getting what they want to extract from IoT. They really want to transform their businesses. They want to harness and leverage that data that can be gathered. The first thing I would recommend, and a good friend of mine, Rob Tiffany, I think he came to your show a couple of times already, he has been in the IT space for a long time; likes to advocate for simplicity, explaining that IoT should be something simple. Get the data, extract the insight, and take action. Start with something that is basic. If you have a sensor, you gather the data, you detect a threshold, and you do something when that’s threshold is reached. That’s the very basic and most common scenario you can see in IoT.

The recommendation is to start simple. You know what you want to achieve and the example of the temperature sensor applies to many different similar examples. You want to detect systematically that something is going wrong or that you need to take an action to change the process or whatever. Make sure that this has value for you. Is automating that process something that you really need? If that’s the case, if the answer is clearly yes because it’s going to reduce my cost, it’s going to enhance the quality of my product, it’s going to allow me to have more customers. These questions that are easily answered by a simple solution to start with are the ones to aim at first. Start simple, start with the basic scenario that leverages the IoT devices and the analytics that are provided in these, out of the box services and solutions and build from there.

Build your skills as you go. Grow and don’t try and solve it all from the get go. Don’t try and develop everything yourself either. You’re not an expert in developing cloud platforms if you’re developing hardware in the consumer space, for example. So rely on existing platforms from proven companies that have been working at delivering that complexity in something that is easy to use. It is simple to implement it that integrates into your existing infrastructure. I think that’s the main advice: start simple, leverage what exists, make sure that it brings value, don’t do technology for the sake of technology. And one more thing that is dear to my heart: use the opportunity to that transformation to inject sustainability and resource suitability into what are you doing. IoT implementation is a great opportunity to do these things right in terms of saving energy, in terms of you’re not making things worse when it comes to the environment. So, I really recommend that you take that opportunity to start simple and have that sustainability in mind.

Source: Connected World

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Stacy Schwartz – FirstNet: Safety And First Responders

Peggy and Stacy Schwartz, vice president, public safety and FirstNet sales, AT&T, discuss the importance of FirstNet, and how it is designed to improve communications across the U.S. public safety community and the milestones it has already achieved. They examine the importance of having a dedicated, highly secure communications platform for first responder traffic, and what’s to come in 2020.

Below is an excerpt from the interview. To hear the entire interview on The Peggy Smedley Show, log onto, and select 12/19/19 from the archives.

Peggy Smedley:
So Stacy, I have to start the show off by congratulating you and the FirstNet team for reaching more than a million connections. Pretty impressive.

Stacy Schwartz:
Thank you.

There are some people who might not know what FirstNet is, tell us all about that.

Sure. Let’s start with the basics. FirstNet came out of a communications need that was discovered after 9/11. First it is the nation’s only wireless communications platform that’s dedicated to America’s first responders and all of those that support our first responders.

It’s a dedicated network and it is purposely built exclusively for public safety. The genesis of the network and how it came to fruition was really by eliciting what the requirements and the needs were of first responders around the country.

So the network is specifically designed with public safety in mind, what public safety asked for, and it continues to provide new capabilities pretty much every day, which is how we have evolved to get to the milestone you mentioned earlier.

When we think about public safety, for most of us, that’s the most important thing. We just want to know that the first responders are always there, right? That there’s something that sends a message and they’re there when we need them, right?

Yes, absolutely. So when you think about our police, fire, emergency medical services, so the ambulances that come to get folks when they’re in distress, as well as our 911 services are our public safety access points, all of the individuals that support those mission critical services that support us and the community, just like you mentioned, would avail themselves of this network. Those are the first responders that FirstNet was really dedicated to.

Speed is one of the clear advantages here. Can you talk more about that, why that’s so important?

Yes, so we look at FirstNet at AT&T as a completely different network, right? And it’s not just a very fast or the fastest network. It is a distinct, unique network. It is a separate network. We have a dedicated, I’ll call it a brain, if you will, or a core to that network, which distinguishes it from our other commercial network.

It uses all of the LTE bands that we have access to on AT&T as well as a unique bit of spectrum that the federal government is enabling us to use for FirstNet, called Band 14 and it’s almost like it’s a dedicated highway for first responders.

It’s high quality spectrum that’s specifically for FirstNet. So it would provide public safety for the folks we just mentioned, a dedicated lane, if you will, of connectivity when they need it.

And that Band 14 that I just referenced is being deployed. In fact, it’s in over 675 markets or communities across the country today. Everywhere from rural and tribal communities to some of our nation’s biggest cities.

There’s got to be lots of other benefits behind having that Band 14, that highway that you just described.

Right. So I think, just to start at the basics, so it’s the fact that we have this unique highway that’s dedicated for public safety and all of the community that supports it. But the other aspect of it is the fact that it’s always on, right?

So you don’t have to do anything when you’re on FirstNet to activate that capability, which prioritizes your traffic. It’s always on. There’s an identifier in the service that says “It’s Stacy, is a first responder.” I have that capability, unlike other services where you might be asked to actually do something and initiate a code, etc.

I mentioned to you earlier that it is a separate network and it’s dedicated entirely to the first responders. That in and of itself is unique, but there are other aspects, as you mentioned, that are benefits to the first responders.

So by virtue of the fact that we’ve created a unique brain, as I call it, or a core, we’ve created a highly secure environment for that traffic. So all the traffic going and traversing that core is encrypted, which, for our first responders, is something that we feel is absolutely critical. As did that community, they asked for highly secure, more prioritized secure traffic.

First, FirstNet always has a security operation center to support all the users, 24/7, so a dedicated security operation center that is there to support our customers.

Same thing with our customer service. There’s a dedicated group of individuals that understand the mission of first responders, 24/7 as well. And then in addition again, still staying on the theme of always on and always present, we know that there are certain unique instances, whether it’s after a disaster or if critical infrastructure based on a disaster or some unique incident occurs. We know we have to keep that connectivity up.

So part of what we’re doing is, as a part of our FirstNet program, is we have added additional what we’ll call “deployable assets” that allow for connectivity even in remote locations where, whether it’s devastated by fire or hurricane, we have portable cell sites, if you will, that are FirstNet dedicated that we will bring to an area that has been struck by disaster.

These assets are available 24/7. There is a unique system by which we deploy them across the country, making sure that they get to their intended destinations as quickly as possible. And these assets would provide the same capabilities or connectivity as a cell tower. So again, something that’s above and beyond our normal network capabilities, these are dedicated to the FirstNet network.

And then if you go beyond just the basic foundation of network, we have the entire device manufacturing industry that has created devices that are FirstNet ready. Based on the spectrum and the capability of the devices, there are over a hundred devices today that are what we call “FirstNet ready.” Whether It’s a ruggedized device or a wearable device, these are all capable of taking advantage of the unique networking capabilities of FirstNet.

And then if you leap one step above that, the whole point beyond connectivity is creating situational awareness for the community of interest we’ve been discussing. We’ve created unique applications with the oversight of the federal government or the FirstNet authority that reside on the FirstNet platform that will enhance the ability of first responders to do their job both for their own safety and for the community safety.

So, you asked just to sum up what other benefits are there beyond the networking infrastructure and the uniqueness of the network and speed? We believe all of the attributes I just mentioned make this a very unique, discreet platform for our nation’s first responders.

And I think when you talk about that and some of these benefits, you’re working with many people. So you have to have routers and lots of things that are working simultaneously, right? All these mobile solutions that you’re describing that being able to get to first responders to be able to do that and it’s not an easy task.

And one of the reasons I say that is because when you have a natural disaster, there’s lots of things happening, so you have to know this thing is up all the time. In an earthquake, things are happening that you have to know that this is up all the time to be able to respond. Correct?

Yes. Yes. So a couple of things I would say to you is, in addition to, and this is something that we are very proud of, the fact that the network prides itself on always being there, always on for first responders and we know things will happen.

You mentioned an earthquake. Whether it’s a fire, an earthquake, a hurricane, floods, it could be a law enforcement incident. We need to make sure that the network is working as it is positioned to be.

The thing that I would tell you about that as well as I mentioned those deployables, those are available for our first responders. But one other thing I did not mention to you is the people that support this network.

These are folks that have come from a career, potentially in this business, supporting public safety, maybe an industry. Quite a few of them have come actually from public safety, so they understand the challenges in responding to an emergency and part of what we do when we deploy these assets is, with the collaboration and participation of the local response teams, we embed some of our staff into the emergency operation centers and these are folks that really understand what the dynamics to your point, lots of stuff is going on.

We want to make sure we have the right people who understand all that and are used to and adaptive to an environment where there is lots of stuff going on and things need to be triaged and safety is first. So beyond just the basic communication capabilities that FirstNet has distinguished itself with, we have people that understand the uniqueness of that situation you just referenced.

One of the things I found really interesting that you all recently did and I was looking at the pictures, was the blimp FirstNet, FirstNet One, and I found that so intriguing because we have so many. I don’t know if now we are aware of them because of social media, or it just seems like we just know so much is happening in the world around us when natural disasters occur and where all can see it first up close and personal.

But it just seemed that you made that announcement and you’re able to look at what’s happening in cases of a natural disaster. Talk about that., because I think it, in some ways it’s really interesting what you’re doing there.

Oh, thank you. I appreciate that. Yeah, we’re really proud of the FirstNet One capability, one of its kind, public safety solution. We’re always looking to innovate. We continue to work with the public safety community and you know, our own innovators within AT&T to see what could we do better. How can we continue to improve upon the capabilities we bring in an emergency?

You know, both from our own operational efficiency, but also creating greater capabilities given. We’ve just had some really extensive disaster, so FirstNet One, as you call it, more commonly the blimp, is a 55 foot aerostat.

So obviously, it goes up in the air like a blimp and we believe it’s the next addition to our deployable network, just like those trucks, those cell on wheels. But this is obviously in the air.

It can fly up to a thousand feet and provide a much broader coverage area, at two times the coverage area of some of the other solutions I referenced as part of the deployables, like cell on wheels and the flying cell on wheels.

In addition, we know we may be entering inclement weather areas. It can remain operational with wind speeds up to 50 miles an hour and withstand winds even up to 70 miles per hour. So while that’s not ideal conditions, we know we’re deploying in areas that may have just had bad weather or maybe in a rough area where there are spires and there’s high winds.

The other really cool thing or unique thing about FirstNet One is it can stay up in the air for about two weeks before needing any additional helium. So that provides connectivity over an extended period.

So it’s not just right after the disaster or during, it could be over an extended period of time. As we know, we’ve had recovery situations that go at least that long and it’s tethered to a trailer to provide satellite or wire line connectivity.

And it also keeps the aerostat in place over the area we’re looking to connect. And it gives all the benefits of FirstNet that I previously mentioned. So we’re really excited about it and we just launched it and we always make sure that before we bring something forward, it’s tested and we believe it merits and is capable of being deployed to support our first responders. So certainly, I’m happy to talk about it. We think it’s one of the coolest innovations to add our FirstNet fleet.

Talk a little bit about other examples of what you guys have done so far. Because I know that you do this and you’re out there every day. You’re in the trenches with this and you’ve given us some great examples of the benefits, but talk about what you’ve seen so far that you’ve said, “Look, this is really done an amazing thing and this is why we’re so proud of it.”

Sure. I think I’ve been a little stuck on natural disasters, right? So we’ve seen devastating fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, all just broad devastation.

But FirstNet has been used in search and rescue missions, whether it’s a training exercise to prepare for search and rescue or we did have a couple of incidents over the past year, both in Colorado and several other places where based on the fact that those individuals looking for the lost person, were using FirstNet in remote areas.

They were able to remain connected where they otherwise would not have been able to. And in both situations we were able to locate the individual that was lost. So that’s, certainly an instance that I would mention to you as well. And, we have supported during earthquakes. You mentioned earthquakes earlier. We had an earthquake in Anchorage that was a seven on the Richter scale.

The police chief in Anchorage actually noted that others around him had trouble connecting on their devices, when they were trying to connect to first responders. FirstNet gave an uninterrupted connectivity during that earthquake time period that the other networks couldn’t.

So there’s examples like those that I think are just truly, from my standpoint, so rewarding to hear about that the platform you’re creating is certainly for communications, but the real life benefit to individuals, human beings out in the community, and what that communication capability was able to do for our community is just unequaled.

Talk a little bit about some of the other industries beyond public safety and first responders. I’m sure there’s a whole lot more.

Sure. I’ve referenced it as the communities that support first responders, we call them extended primary users or they could be the second line of responders. But in some instances, that community of interest may even be on the front line.

So if you think about storms we referenced, think about a tree removal service., that you certainly can’t pass an impassable road to get to a community that might have been devastated if the road is impassable.

So a tree removal service is not something that I would have thought of initially, but all of these emergency platforms. Certainly utility companies, when utility lines are down and we’re trying to make sure people can remain safe and healthy after a disaster, we need the utility companies to be able to communicate with that same priority that our first responders do as well.

And then transportation would be another community. Certainly that needs to remain viable and able to communicate at all times, especially when there is a disaster of any kind.

So those are just some examples that work and coordinate. But one of the bigger ones that I think is maybe a little bit more intuitive and obvious is healthcare. So when the emergency medical service is in operation and an ambulance is taking a patient to a hospital, we need the hospital personnel to be able to communicate as well.

So we’ve seen a great deal of interest within the healthcare community in FirstNet as well. I can give you an interesting example. We are working with a company that provides renal support for those folks that are on dialysis that need support for their kidneys.

If that company cannot operate in a disaster, if you think about the life connection to kidney patients and how they need to make sure that they are on dialysis, we need to make sure they’re connected as well. So there’s lots of unique aspects within the healthcare universe as well that absolutely need communication as their lifeblood and FirstNet is there to provide that.

It’s interesting hearing you talk about this. I know the government’s going to announce some more open spectrum and I wonder if all of this will be able to allow more of this.

I imagine that you could do all kinds of things going in the future if you’re allowed to do that. It just sounds like there’s such great opportunities to really cater to such vertical industries with all this great opportunity that we never thought of before.

Yeah, I think it happens, I’m sure in your world you see this as well, but as soon as the opportunity and the platform is created, it’s been amazing to see through our reach of our team, how this help person that’s being applied to help serve the mission of safety and security in the community.

So everything from wearable devices that may provide that capability,we just mentioned the blimp, we’re innovating around that, and then industries that have just some very unique aspects of the protection that they provide, like I mentioned to you, have come forward to say “we’ve heard about FirstNet” and they really would like to be able to take advantage of FirstNet. They obviously would have to qualify to be on the network.

But that capability is endless when you think about all of the things that are being done in our community to protect citizens and protect first responders. So, I think you referenced, there’s endless capabilities that we’re excited to continue to grow.

That’s where the safety and security of all of this comes in. People have to qualify. And that’s where the IoT and the things that you’ve done with FirstNet offerings and solutions. That’s a key point to this, right?

Yes. So another aspect of what is unique about FirstNet is there is no other network or capability like FirstNet in the United States. And that is the FirstNet authority is part of the federal government.

So while we are a commercial company that has been tasked with, and awarded the contract to build FirstNet and to operate FirstNet, we are closely accountable to the federal government.

So we can’t just put anyone on the network, we have guidelines and that’s what makes this network so unique and special. And then there are all the attributes of the network. We work very close in collaboration with FirstNet authority to make sure that the service and the applications that we’re putting forward, we’re all feeling the accountability to FirstNet authorities.

So we do have an objective third party that we are contractually accountable to and we must comply with the contract to make sure we’re supporting the right users all the time. So another unique attribute of FirstNet that makes it that much better, if you will.

Your guys are developing push-to-talk and that’s coming up now here.

Yes. So you know, yet again we are looking at this, making public safety’s mission the first priority. So push-to-talk. So for those folks that don’t really understand what that is, that’s the capability to really use your device to push-to-talk much like you would with a radio.

And so public safety has long relied on land, mobile radio, but our LTE devices, FirstNet devices, can actually inter operate with those radios. And to take it to what we consider public safety’s mission critical service, we have been working on the requirements, the standards testing to launch mission critical push-to-talk, which we will do in the beginning of the year.

And we believe this, again, is an unequal differentiated service that will allow public safety to be able to use communication tools differently than they ever have before. And so we’re really proud for that to be entering into our service catalog early in the early part of 2020.

What’s coming for FirstNet in 2020, beyond push-to-talk?

So in addition, we’ll continue to grow our coverage and then more interesting devices that will be able to do things like connect infrastructure with lighting, other critical infrastructure as well.

So from an IOT perspective, more certification there, and then new devices that you’ll see that are actually bridging the divide between more of an everyday device and ruggedized devices and then more applications as well. So, all of that in 2020.

Source: Connected World