Internet of Things: New rules should reassure users without hindering business

Roberto Viola on the challenges that lie ahead in the implementation of the Commission's digital single market strategy and why we shouldn't fear the Internet of Things.

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

20 Nov 2015

Roberto Viola, the freshly appointed head of the European Commission's DG for communication networks, content and technology (DG Connect), will have a crucial role to play in the implementation of the Commission's digital single market (DSM) strategy, something that the Italian official tells this magazine is his "top priority."

He continues, "without a complete, secure and trustworthy DSM, new digital services for consumers and businesses along with services underpinning them - the Internet of Things, big data and cloud computing - may come later, or to a lesser extent in Europe. This is something we must avoid."

A key area the DG Connect chief will be looking into is the Internet of Things (IoT), which he explains is, "despite its exciting potential, still too complex, too fragmented, too expensive to connect and too hard to scale."


"That is why", says Viola, "we have created a focus area on IoT under the 2016-17 work programme of Horizon 2020, which promotes cross-sectoral platforms, accelerates market uptake and achieves economies of scale. We aim to focus on different sectors, taking IoT out of its niche and supporting the 'de-siloing' of application development."

The Commission is currently working on, "a single market for IoT so that devices and services can connect seamlessly, anywhere in the EU, and scale up without being hindered by national borders; open, agile platforms that can be deployed across different sectors and are open to third party developers; a thriving IoT ecosystem with vibrant developers' communities across Europe; spearheading some advanced markets for experimentation and fast take up - connected cars, smart homes, smart agri-food, wearables, smart cities and smart manufacturing."

Unfortunately, explains Viola, "Europe has been slow in embracing the internet revolution because too many players have focused attention on protecting the past rather than looking positively at the future."

"The first and most important step for me is to build on Europe's industrial strength and the opportunities offered by a DSM. The IoT represents the next major economic and societal disruption the internet brings, with huge socio-economic impact on business and society."

The trick, says the Italian, is to, "have the right level of regulation: enough to provide sufficient comfort to users that there is a framework in place, but not too much to avoid excessive burdening of business initiatives. It is not an easy exercise, and this is why we need to test and experiment. But, most importantly, we need to avoid divergent legislative solutions in member states."

Viola and his team are committed to working with all relevant stakeholders; he explains that, "we need the right research impulse through our dedicated focus area on IoT under Horizon 2020. We are launching IoT large scale pilots starting in 2016 with a budget of €100m."

"These large projects will lead not only to technology validation, but also to business models and standards validation. Moreover, through the Alliance on Internet of Things Innovation, we hold a close dialogue with industry."

Yet as exciting as IoT sounds, it also entails huge amounts of data collection, raising privacy concerns. Viola highlights that, "there are plenty of benefits deriving from IoT, but companies must comply with key privacy principles, such as the need to justify processing of personal data and privacy by design, and they must also respect the rights of the data subjects."

And in order to encourage people to embrace IoT, "our aim is to develop a proper framework for IoT: for instance, a trusted IoT label that would guarantee users a clear level of safety, security and privacy. This is one of the objectives of our IoT focus area - a set of calls within Horizon 2020 that are dedicated to the IoT - that has just been published."

"My firm belief is that without putting users at the heart of the IoT, people will remain afraid of the technology. We need to develop the right interfaces, also for people who are not tech-savvy and who should not be left behind."

While many of the world's internet companies and online service providers are American - Facebook, Google, Uber, for example - Viola insists that, "we shouldn't underestimate the EU's strength in the field. Many leading businesses, start-ups and SMEs are European, offering great products and services, meeting real consumer demands and expectations."

"European businesses and research institutions are world leaders in biotechnology, nanoelectronics and phototonics, among other areas. Many of our researchers and research centres are among the world's very best."

"But there is certainly room for improvement in getting our research results in the market. That is what we are focusing on. The DSM strategy is our main instrument in achieving this goal. With the right regulatory environment, our businesses will be trading seamlessly across borders, so they grow and develop over time."

He anticipates a "constructive and fruitful collaboration with Parliament", whose role he says is "fundamental - its own-initiative reports on the DSM will provide very important guidance."


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