Weather Company CIO on the staggering potential of IoT in forecasting and beyond

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Internet of Things mobile phone wifi

The Internet of Things is of huge value to us at The Weather Company. If you look at weather specifically, creating a better forecast comes from a number of factors, but one of them is having the right data elements to start your modeling. When you kick off a weather model, the better your inputs are, the more accurate your outcome will be. And the reason that we’re the world’s most accurate weather forecaster today is because we have the best data coming in to start our forecast.  

How did we get there? We initialize our forecasts with the richest set of current condition information, a lot of which comes from our network of 140,000-plus personal weather stations. This is very much an early Internet of Things network that we’ve been using for many years. The result is that we get a richer understanding of the current state of Earth’s atmosphere, and when we initialize our model runs we actually have better data. Naturally, that gives us better outputs.

As we continue to make weather forecasts ever more accurate, a large portion of our accuracy increases over the coming years is going to come from an increase of sensor data from IoT-connected devices.  And that sensor data will come from a myriad of different cars, trucks, trains, planes, refrigerators, phones, doors, and whatever else we can’t even predict today. All of these devices are moving around the globe and are at different places, and all of that sensor data helps us get a better understanding of the current state of the atmosphere.

Why is this important? When you move beyond weather forecasts and think about what we can do with them, our mission expands to helping businesses and people prepare and protect themselves for tomorrow. That’s true whether they are preparing for a change in their inventory levels, in their staffing levels, or their advertising campaign. A few additional examples:

  • We can help an airline plan a flight.
  • We can help an energy company maintain a turbine.
  • We can help an energy trader place a trade.
  • We can help an insurance company evaluate a risk.
  • We can help any industry that needs actionable insights from trigger-based events that come into their world.
  • We can help billions of people around the world know what to do with their weekend or how to stay safe ahead of an impending storm.

The potential is staggering; however, until we figure out IoT's security problem, we may never see it fully come to fruition.

The IoT agenda: Understand. Educate. Secure.

When it comes to security, the good news with IoT is that in the vast majority of these sensors are machine IDs that have no connected tissue to a person. This makes the privacy side easier to handle because there’s nothing that we need to abstract from someone. In short, it’s already abstracted and anonymized when we get it.

That being said, if your refrigerator is sending information back to the manufacturer about the fact that its compressor fan is dirty and needs to have a repair technician come out, you should get an email that says, “Hey, your refrigerator needs to have its air coil cleaned.” Somebody might get freaked out about that if they weren’t aware it was occurring. No question, general education has to occur as we move into this machine-to-machine world that helps people recognize and realize that these events are both helpful and good.

That’s why I think if we can educate people, generally speaking as an industry, there will be fewer concerns. We all owe it to ourselves — because I’m a consumer, too — to be transparent and to be thoughtful about how we use and protect the data, and never use it in the wrong ways. People need to be educated and allowed to opt in or out if they don’t want to partake.

We always have to be diligent around people who are trying to take advantage of a situation. And obviously, technology and IoT are no different. We have to continue to find ways to fight against that and protect the world in which we live. But just because it might be theoretically possible to hack into a plane in-flight and mess with its navigation system over the Wi-Fi, I don’t think that should keep us from putting Wi-Fi on a plane. 

Bryson Koehler is leading the technology transformation of Equifax, a global data, analytics and technology company. As a vision-driven, no-nonsense leader, he inspires his global technology teams to build products and services that create data insights – empowering customers and partners to make more informed decisions.

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