Claro’s IoT Strategy Creation Guide: important in own right & symbolically


Claro IoT Service Diagram Cards — collect the whole set!

Some IoT advances are as important symbolically (especially as key steps in the IoT’s maturation) as in their own right.

I consider Claro Partners‘s new “A Guide to Succeeding in the Internet of Things” in that vein, both showing that it’s not just enough to create a whizbang IoT device or app — you need a methodical strategy to maximize the benefits– and providing a very practical tool to create such a strategy. Written as the IoT reaches the top of the Gartner Hype Cycle, it aims at helping readers identify and meet real user needs and create viable business models. Based on several conversations at last night’s Boston IoT Meetup, it couldn’t be more timely, as (for example) smart home device sales slump, as reflected in Quirky’s bankruptcy.

Claro, in case you haven’t heard about them before, is headquartered in my favorite “smart city,” Barcelona, and is known for its Clayton Christensen-style emphasis on the opportunities presented by disruptive change (hmm: wonder if they have wei ji ideograms on the wall, LOL?), particularly with the IoT.

The Guide is a quick read, but can inspire you for a long time to come.

It’s divided into four portions, which I’m guessing codify the process that Claro uses internally to brainstorm strategies for its own clients:

  1. Define the challenge. “Identify a user-centric challenge to solve.”
  2. Ideate* the solution. “Create a solution that provides new value to the user.”
  3. Develop the offer. “Map out the ecosystem and interactions of your product and service.”
  4. Plan for production. “Identify resources needed and conduct gap analysis.”

They suggest you follow these steps sequentially, even if you already have a solution in mind, because “the exercises will help you to refine, develop or rethink it.”

Now for the details, which include very specific steps and some very helpful graphic aids.

First, Define the challenge. They stress you need to avoid being seduced by the lure of doing something just because it’s technologically possible. Make sure it meets a real
human need. The initial categories they suggest include:

    • Human Needs FrameworkAgeing population (sweeeeet! My “smart aging” paradigm shift!)
    • Work-life balance
    • Urban life
    • Health and wellbeing
    • Local Communities
    • Education
    • Sustainability/Shopping
    • Tourism, Family.

Then Claro suggests that your team go through a 30-minute process where it uses the four questions in this “human needs framework,” such as “what do people want to control?” and decide which challenge you’re going to design for (assume you could think big and try for one that meets multiple questions).

Second, Ideate the solution.  Similar to my “What can you do now that you couldn’t do before” question, this one asks you to not just use the IoT to refine a current approach to the issue you identified, but to “reimagine entirely new capabilities and value that an IoT service can deliver.”

This 40-min. process includes defining the person facing the challenge and aspects of their life, then brainstorming solutions to meet their real needs and how the IoT could be used to enable that solution.

Third, Develop the offer. They share my concern about proprietary IoT solutions, (which they label “intranet of things, LOL), and instead remind your team to, IFTTT-like,

IoT Service Diagram

IoT Service Diagram

“take advantage of the ecosystem enabled by the IoT to create interconnected services, experiences and business models.” In this process, which they estimate takes 40 minutes, you print out the IoT Service Diagram Cards (see above — I imagine “flipping” them and trading with the other kids on the playground, until our Moms throw out our collections…) and use them to map out how your idea will work, including drawing the data flow (don’t forget my dictum that data flow must be cyclical with the IoT!).  The important questions to ask — make sure to ask all of them! — include:

  • Will the device just provide information to the user or will it act on that information?
  • What are the specific inputs/outputs of the service? (eg. sight, sounds, touch, taste, smell, temperature)
  • Could the device learn through its use over time and adapt its behaviour accordingly?
  • Could the service use existing devices, data streams or interfaces?

Finally, in the fourth step, (30 minutes? Dream on!) the rubber hits the road, and you

IoT Canvas

IoT Canvas

Plan for Production!  Claro warns, “Don’t underestimate the complexity of bringing to life an offer that spans both the physical and digital, Do map out all the elements you’ll need to successfully develop and deliver your IoT offer.”

On the IoT Canvas, you bring together all the crucial considerations, such as manufacturing and logistics, revenues and costs, that must be nailed down to make the product affordable and profitable.  Specifically, Claro says you need to specifically state the offer’s value proposition to the end user, use the questions in each box on the form as prompts, fill out the rest of the canvas with details of the product and service idea, and write down “which resources, capabilities and processes you have, and which you’d need to acquire (gap analysis).”

I agree with Claro that these four steps, especially the last one, are iterative, and you need to revisit each of them throughout the entire conceptual and production process.

I have no doubt that, as IoT technology (especially miniscule, low-energy sensors) and experience continues to evolve, this process will be refined, but Claro has done the entire IoT industry, especially makers and entrepreneurs, a real service by codifying this approach and being willing to share it — after all, the IoT’s all about collaboration! 

*we’ll let them off with a warning from the Grammar Police this time. However, please, no more management babble in the future, OK?


IoT for Gamechangers: Talkin’ Smart Cities

Pope Francis wasn’t the only one speaking truth to power at 10 AM this morning: I was a guest again on SAP’s “Coffee Break With Game Changers” (you can catch a rebroadcast in a few hours), talking with hostess Bonnie Graham and SAP’s Ira Berk about smart cities.

Having just read the great bio of Elon Musk, I contrasted the top-down, I-gotta-sign-off-on-every-purchase-over-$10,000 style of Musk (and Steve Jobs, for that matter) with the out-of-control (in the best sense of the term!), bottoms-up approach needed in gigantic, complex, ever-changing cities (blogged on this earlier this week) to make them “smart.” IMHO, smart cities will evolve from a wide range of small, incremental changes, both public and private.

One of my favorite examples that I mentioned was announced today by Mayor Marty Walsh here in the Home of the Bean and the Cod.  The city has already been partnering with Waze for months: it informs Waze of any planned road work and detours, and, in return, Waze gives the city its real-time data to respond to traffic jams. Today the mayor announced that bike-riding Traffic Enforcement Officers will be able to swoop in on double-parking miscreants using Waze data.  Oh yeah, there’s another party to this collaboration: you and I, who make Waze work by reporting traffic and obstacles that we encounter while driving the city’s streets. Perfect example of my IoT “Essential Truth” that we must share data.

There was a lot more on the show: hope you can tune in!

BTW: when Bonnie asked at the end of the show if we’d dust off our crystal balls and predict how the IoT will make smart cities by 2020 — I stuck my neck out and said it would much quicker for the reasons I cited in the above-mentioned post on smart cities, especially the free citywide IoT data network movement spearheaded by Amsterdam.  If you’re in Greater Boston and would like to be in the vanguard of this movement, meet us next Wednesday night at the kewl new InTeahouse space in Cambridge, to plan our strategy to launch the free, citywide (including neighborhoods!) Boston IoT Data Network!


Free Citywide IoT Data Networks Will Catapult IoT Spread to Hyperspeed!

One of the truly exciting things about viral digital phenomena is how rapidly they can take hold, outstripping the slow, methodical spread of innovations in the pre-digital era.  I suspect we may be on the verge of that happening again, with an unlikely impetus: the crowdsourced global movement to create free citywide IoT data networks.

We’re been there before, with the movement to open real-time public access to city data bases, beginning when CTO (and later US CIO) Vivek Kundra did it in DC in 2008, then sponsored the Apps for Democracy competition to spark creation of open-source apps using the data (bear in mind this was at a time when you had to explain to many people what an “app” was, since they, and smart phones, were so new).  From the beginning, Kundra insisted that the apps be open source, so that hackers in other cities could copy and improve on them, as they have — worldwide.

I was doing consulting for him at the time, and remember how incredibly electric the early days of the open data movement were — it inspired my book Data Dynamite, and led to similar efforts in cities worldwide, which in turn set the stage for the “smart city” movement as the IoT emerged.

As detailed in my last post, we’re now launching a crowdsourced campaign to make Boston the first US city, and second worldwide (following Amsterdam) to have a free citywide IoT data network — and plan to up the ante by setting of goal to cover the neighborhoods too — not just the downtown.

The Things Network guys plan to build on their accomplishments, announcing this week that they will advise similar crowdfunded networks on five continents (including our Boston project). They place a major emphasis on grassroots development, to avoid subscription-based infrastructures that could be controlled from above and which would limit l0w-cost innovations, especially on the neighborhood scale.  According to founder Wienke Giezeman:

““If we leave this task up to big telcos, a subscription model will be enforced and we will exclude 99% of the cool use cases. Instead, let’s make it a publicly owned and free network so businesses and use cases will flourish on top of it.”

I’ve been a fan of mesh networks back to my days doing disaster and terrorism because they’re self-organizing and aren’t vulnerable because there isn’t a single point of failure. But it’s as much philosophical as technological, because you don’t have to wait for some massive central authority to install the entire system: it evolves through the decisions of individuals (we’re already finding that in Boston: it turns out that our system will be able to tap a number of LoRaWAN gateways that several companies had already installed for their own uses!) The Amsterdam guys share that perspective. Tech lead Johan Stokking says:

“We make sure the network is always controlled by its users and it cannot break at a single point. This is embedded in our network architecture and in our governance.”

Takes me back to my callow youth in the 6o’s: let a thousand apps bloom! (and, BTW, the great Kevin Kelly made this point in his wonderful Out of Control, back in the mid 90’s, especially with his New Rules for the New Economy (I’m going to take the liberty of posting all the rules here, because they are so important, especially now that we have technology such as LoRaWAN that foster them!):

1) Embrace the Swarm. As power flows away from the center, the competitive advantage belongs to those who learn how to embrace decentralized points of control.

2) Increasing Returns. As the number of connections between people and things add up, the consequences of those connections multiply out even faster, so that initial successes aren’t self-limiting, but self-feeding.

3) Plentitude, Not Scarcity. As manufacturing techniques perfect the art of making copies plentiful, value is carried by abundance, rather than scarcity, inverting traditional business propositions.

4) Follow the Free. As resource scarcity gives way to abundance, generosity begets wealth. Following the free rehearses the inevitable fall of prices, and takes advantage of the only true scarcity: human attention.

5) Feed the Web First. As networks entangle all commerce, a firm’s primary focus shifts from maximizing the firm’s value to maximizing the network’s value. Unless the net survives, the firm perishes.

6) Let Go at the Top. As innovation accelerates, abandoning the highly successful in order to escape from its eventual obsolescence becomes the most difficult and yet most essential task.

7) From Places to Spaces. As physical proximity (place) is replaced by multiple interactions with anything, anytime, anywhere (space), the opportunities for intermediaries, middlemen, and mid-size niches expand greatly.

8) No Harmony, All Flux. As turbulence and instability become the norm in business, the most effective survival stance is a constant but highly selective disruption that we call innovation.

9) Relationship Tech. As the soft trumps the hard, the most powerful technologies are those that enhance, amplify, extend, augment, distill, recall, expand, and develop soft relationships of all types.

10) Opportunities Before Efficiencies. As fortunes are made by training machines to be ever more efficient, there is yet far greater wealth to be had by unleashing the inefficient discovery and creation of new opportunities.”

If you really want to exploit the IoT’s full potential, you gotta read the whole book.

Equally important, the Obama Administration announced it will boost smart city app development with a new $160 million smart cities initiative:

“Among the initiative’s goals are helping local communities tackle key challenge such as reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of a changing climate, and improving the delivery of city services. As part of the initiative, the National Science Foundation will make more than $35 million in new grants and the National Institute of Standards and Technology will invest more than $10 million to help build a research infrastructure to develop applications and technology that ‘smart cities’ can use.”

The LoRaWan gateways used in the Amsterdam project are already low cost: only 10 of the $1,200 units covered the downtown area. However, The Things Network hopes to crowdsource an even cheaper, $200 version through a Kickstarter campaign.  If that happens, even small cities will be able to have their own free citywide IoT data networks, and when that happens, I’m confident the IoT will shift into hyperdrive worldwide!

Are you on board?


Oh yeah, did you say what about the risks of privacy and security violations with such a large and open system? The Amsterdam lads have thought of that as well, reaching out to Deloitte from the get-go to design in security:

“To make this initiative grow exponentially, we have to take cyber security and privacy into account from the start of the development. Therefore, we have partnered with Deloitte, who is not only contributing to the network with a Gateway, but will also be the advisor on the security and privacy of the network.

“’We translate technology developments in the field of Digital, Data and Cyber Security into opportunities and solutions for our clients. We are therefore happy to support the Things Network as Security & Privacy advisor’ Marko van Zwam, Head of Deloitte Cyber Risk Services.”

Boston Crowdsourced Campaign to Give City 1st Citywide Free IoT Data Network in US

You’ll remember I got quite excited while blogging the new citywide free IoT data network in Amsterdam, and decided on the spot to make Boston the first US city with such a network.  Here’s our release!

Crowdsourced Campaign to Create Free Citywide IoT-Data Network in Boston
would be first city in US to share Internet of Things’ benefits citywide

(Boston, September 21, 2018) — A crowdsourced campaign will make Boston the first US city with a free, citywide Internet of Things (IoT) data network, facilitating entrepreneurial, municipal, and neighborhood innovations in everything from traffic reduction to public health.

The Boston campaign is based on one in Amsterdam that built a similar network in a month (although not penetrating all neighborho0ds), and activists there are helping the Boston effort. While being built, the Amsterdam system already spawned uses such as a water detector to canal boat owner a text that a boat is filling with water and a system for the Port of Amsterdam using sensors to create real-time information to help manage boat traffic more efficiently. The campaign complements opening of the INEX IoT Impact Lab in New Bedford, President Obama’s $160 million fund for “smart cities” projects, and the Amsterdam group’s effort to spread the approach to 5 continents.

The network will use new LoRaWAN gateways, which  let things exchange data without 3G or Wi-Fi, and feature low battery usage and a range of up to 7 miles.  Several companies have already donated units to the Boston campaign before the launch.

According to IoT thought leader W. David Stephenson of Stephenson Strategies, who also founded the 1,500 member Boston IoT Meetup (which will form the core of the crowd-sourced campaign), “We hope to gain wide public and private support because this will not only spark profitable innovation, but also other efforts that will make Boston, especially the neighborhoods, a better place to live. Think of what your companies — and the city as a whole — could do if we had such a network: the entire city of Boston would become an IoT lab/sandbox, encouraging incredible innovation in use of IoT. But we must move quickly if we are to be the first US city with such a network.”

IoT entrepreneur Chris Rezendes of INEX Advisors, co-chair of the IoT Meetup and creator of the New Bedford IoT Impact Lab, said “the IoT will prove its real value when people and companies can see the tangible results improving their daily lives and corporate efficiency. From New Bedford to Boston, we’re a world leader in making the IoT a tangible reality for companies and cities alike.”

Wish us luck: if we’re successful, look forward to working with The Things Network to spread the concept worldwide — the sooner the better!

SmartHomeDB: Invaluable Resource to Keep on Top of New Smart Home Devices

You can’t tell the players without a program!

smarthomeDBAs the speed of introducing new and increasingly varied smart home devices picks up, SmartHomeDB is more and more valuable as a way to find what you’re looking for and to keep on top of new products from an objective source.

Whether you’re a homeowner, make a competing product or are looking for market niches to exploit, I guarantee you’ll find it helpful!

At last count, they have 84 — count ’em — different categories of devices, from egg trays to pet doors, and, best of all, it offers a variety of easy ways to search, including the product categories, price, reviews, and — all important for smart home devices — compatibilities.

One thing that jumped out — see the screen grab — there are already almost 25,000 reviews of Amazon’s Echo (hmm, I’d better do one soon!), despite the short time it’s been on the market!  Haven’t seen the sales figures yet, but I suspect Echo is quickly becoming the smart home killer device (see Stacey Higginbotham’s very positive review).

In addition to the search options, the site features a neat intro to IoT devices, the QuickGuide, with two options: the simple one consists of your existing router, plus 242 (as of 9/111/15) Wi-Fi enabled products to choose among, plus 377 stand-alone smart home products such as Roombas.  The other, more diverse but trickier to configure, adds in routers using Z-Wave, Zigbee, and other frequencies, with 443 products using those frequencies.

Now they’ve added a new category, “Playbooks,” highlighting users’ hoped for or actual combinations of devices, which may help guide your choices, especially if they describe actual systems that are already in use.

There’s also an area for iOS, Android and Windows apps,  a handy listing of the top 100 devices based on the site’s ratings (which can sorted by compatibility, ranking, price, name, or number of reviews).

All in all, this is not only an important tool in its own right to help you create your own smart home network, but also symbolically, because it demonstrates the rapid growth of smart home products. Nice job!



Deloitte provides process for nuanced IoT strategy decisions

So much of the Internet of Things is still in the gee-whiz stage that we haven’t seen much in terms of nuanced IoT strategies. By that I mean ones that carefully weigh tradeoffs between companies and consumers to try to find strategies that are mutually beneficial and recognize there are new factors at play in IoT strategies, such as privacy and data mining, that may have positive or negative consequences for the customer/company interplay.

Deloitte’s “University” has made an important step in that direction with its “Power Struggle: Customers, companies and the Internet of Things” paper, co-authored by Brenna Sniderman and Michael E. Raynor.

In it, they explore how to create sustainable strategies that will be mutually beneficial to the customer and company — which are not always immediately apparent, especially when you explore the subtleties of how these strategies might play out in the new reality of the Internet of Things.

The study’s goal was to understand the factors that can distort IoT’s benefits, and instead create win-win IoT strategies.

Sniderman and Raynor suggest there are four quadrants into which a given strategy might fall:

  1. (the sweet spot!) “All’s well: Sufficient value is created, and that value is shared between customers and companies sufficiently equitably such that both parties are better off and feel fairly treated.
  2. “Hobson’s choice: A Hobson’s choice exists when you’re free to decide but only one option exists; thus, it is really no choice at all…. Even when customers come out ahead compared with their former options, their implied powerlessness can lead to feelings of unfairness.
  3. “Gridlock: In their quest for value capture, both sides are pulled in opposite directions, with neither able to move toward an optimal outcome. Here, both parties recognize IoT enablement as something that should lead to success, but neither party is able to reach it, since their competing interests or different value drivers are working at cross purposes.
  4. “Customer is king: Although particular IoT deployments might make economic sense for companies, customers end up capturing a disproportionate share of the new value created, pulling this outcome more in the customers’ favor; Craigslist is an obvious example.”

According to the authors, a key to finding the win-win, “all’s well” solution is the Information Value Loop (which I first discussed last Spring) that creates value out of the vast increase in information made possible by the IoT.

As I mentioned then, “This fits nicely with one of my IoT ‘Essential Truths,’ that we need to turn linear information flows into cyclical ones to fully capitalize on the IoT.” When you do that, it’s possible to design continuous improvement processes that feed back data from actual users to fine tune products and processes.  GE has found it leads to much shorter iterative loops to design improved versions of its products.

Here’s the gussied-up version of the cool hand-drawn visualization from the Deloitte brainstorming session that led to the Information Value Loop (print it & place it on your wall next to the one on privacy and security that I wrote about a while ago):

Deloitte Information Value Loop

The information no longer flows in linear fashion: it’s created from using sensors to record how things act in the real world, then goes through the various stages of the loop, each of which is made possible by one of the new technologies enabling the IoT.  The goal is either enhanced M2M integration among things, or improved actions by humans, and, to be sustainable over time:

“A value loop is sustainable when both parties capture sufficient value, in ways that respect important non-financial sensibilities. For example, retailer-specific and independent shopping apps can use past browsing and purchasing history—along with other behaviors—to suggest targeted products to particular customers, rather than showing everyone the same generic products, as on a store shelf. Customers get what they want, and companies sell more.

…  “The amount of value created by information passing through the loop is a function of the value drivers identified in the middle. Falling into three generic categories—magnitude, risk, and time—the specific drivers listed are not exhaustive but only illustrative. Different applications will benefit from an emphasis on different drivers.”

OK, so how does this theory play out?

Sniderman and Raynor picked a range of IoT-informed strategies to illustrate the concept, some of which may include unintended consequences that would harm/turn off customers or companies. For example, “An ill-considered push for competitive advantage could well overreach and drive away skittish customers. Alternatively, building too dominant an advantage may leave customers feeling exploited or coerced, a position unlikely to prove viable in the long term.”

Understanding the underlying structure of each type of loop is critical, because they naturally pull an IoT strategy in a particular, divergent way.

The example they pick to illustrate the “all’s well” quadrant of results is the dramatic increase in built-in diagnostic technology in cars.  This is of great personal interest: genetic testing has revealed that I am one of the approximately 10% of men who are missing the male car gene: I can’t stand the things, and view them as a big block of metal and plastic just waiting to develop problems (or, ahem, get hit by deer …), so I need all the help I can get. Sniderman and Raynor zero in on maintenance as one area for win-win benefits for drivers and dealers through the IoT:

“Customers often have little understanding of which repairs are necessary, feel inconvenienced by having to go without their car during maintenance periods, and are frustrated by potential overcharges. In response, automakers are embedding sensors that can run a wide range of reliable diagnostics, allowing a car to “self-identify” service issues, rather than relying on customers (“Where’s that squeaking coming from?”) or mechanics (“You might want to replace those brake pads, since I’ve already got the wheels off”). This creates a level of objectivity of obvious customer value and enables automakers to differentiate their products. Interactive features that work with customers’ information can further add value by, for example, potentially syncing with an owner’s calendar to schedule a dealership appointment at a convenient time and reserving a loaner vehicle for the customer, pre-programmed with his preferences to minimize the frustration of driving an unfamiliar car.

In this scenario, both parties collaborate to provide and act on data, in a mutual exchange of value. The customer captures value in multiple ways: He enjoys increased convenience and decreased frustration, improved vehicle performance and longer operating life, reduced maintenance charges, and—since almost everything about this interaction is automated—fewer occasions for perceived exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous service providers.

Value capture extends to companies in the form of ongoing customer interaction. Linking maintenance programming to the dealership encourages customers to return for tune-ups rather than go elsewhere, ideally leading to continued purchases in the long term. OEMs can also access data regarding vehicle maintenance issues and may be able to identify systematic malfunctions worthy of greater attention. Dealers also have an opportunity to make inroads into an untapped market: Currently, just 30 percent of drivers use the dealer for routine maintenance…”

Kumbaya! But then there’s the opposite extreme, according to Sniderman and Raynor, represented by smart home devices, which would lead to the lose-lose, gridlock scenario.  I think they seriously underestimate the understanding already by manufacturers in the field that they need to embrace open standards in order to avoid a range of competing standards (Zigbee, Bluetooth, etc.) that will force consumers to invest in a variety of proprietary, incompatible hubs, and therefore discourage them from buying anything at all.  All you have to do is look at new hubs, such as Amazon’s Echo, which can control devices from WeMo, Hue, Quirky, Wink — you name ’em, to realize that sharing data is already the norm with smart home devices.

Because this missive is getting long, I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to investigate Sniderman & Raynor’s examples of the “customer is king” scenario, in which the customer grabs too much of the benefit (have to admit, a lot of the location-based IoT retail incentives still give me the creeps: I hate shopping under the best of circumstances, and having something pop up on my phone offering me an incentive based on my past purchases makes a bad experience even worse. How about you?); and the “Hobson’s choice” one, in which usage-based car insurance runs amok and insurers begin to charge unsafe drivers a surcharge — as documented by the devices such as Progressive’s “Snapshot” (I was dismayed to read in the article that Progressive is in fact doing that in Missouri, although I guess it’s a logical consequence of having objective evidence that someone consistently drives unsafely).

I can’t help thinking that the 800-pound gorilla in the room in many of these situations are the Scylla and Charybdis of the IoT, threats to privacy and security, and that makes it even more important that your IoT strategies are well thought out.

They conclude that, from my perspective, data isn’t just enough, you also need the decidedly non-technical tools of judgment and wisdom (aided by tools such as their Information Value Loop) to come up with a sustainable, mutually advantageous IoT strategy:

“Identifying where the bottlenecks lie (using the Information Value Loop), how each party is motivated to respond, and seeking to shape both incentives and the value loop itself puts companies more in control of their destinies.

“Second, taking a hard look at who benefits most from each IoT-enabled transaction, understanding when a lopsided value-capture outcome tips too far and becomes unsustainable, and taking steps to correct it may also lead to long-term success.

“Lastly, an honest assessment of where IoT investments may not have an appreciable benefit—or may decrease one’s potential for value capture—is just as crucial to a company’s IoT strategy as knowing the right places to invest.”

I may quibble with some of their findings, such as those about smart homes, but bravo to Sniderman and Raynor for beginning what I hope is a spirited and sustained dialogue about how to create sustainable, mutually-advantageous IoT strategies!  I’ve weighed in with my Essential Truths, but what are you thinking about this critical issue, often overlooked in our concentration on IoT technologies? 

Share It (Data) and They Will Come: Crowdsourced Citywide IoT Network

I haven’t been as excited about anything for a long time as I am about a global revolution that began last week in Amsterdam!

Cities are rapidly becoming the very visible and innovative laboratories for IoT innovation, which is logical, because they’ve been in the forefront of open data — as I saw first-hand when I was consulting for Vivek Kundra when he opened up vast amounts of real-time data as CTO for the District of Columbia as part of its Apps for Democracy initiative in 2008 that was part of the larger democratizing data movement.

Now there’s an exciting new development in Amsterdam, that really is bringing power to the people: The Things Network, the first crowdsourced free citywide IoT district. Astonishingly, volunteers brought the whole system to launch in only four weeks!

So far, the creators are visualizing a wide range of uses, but I particularly liked a particularly local one for a city synonymous with canals:

“A pilot project to demonstrate the Things Network’s potential will see boat owners in the city (there are many, thanks to its network of canals) able to place a small bowl in the base of their vessel. If the boat develops a leak and starts taking on water, the bowl will use the network to send an SMS alert to a boat maintenance company that will come along and fix the problem.”

How cool is that?  It also illustrates what I think is one of the key intangibles about the IoT: when you empower everyone (and I mean that literally!) by opening up data, people will find more and more innovative IoT devices and services, stimulated by their own particular needs, desires — and sometimes, even pain (that’s why I think even the most optimistic views of the IoT’s impact will be dwarfed as it becomes ubiquitous!).

Even more exciting, the group’s goal is to bring the technology to every city in the world! That, my friends, will be an incredible global game-changer. Think of it: EVERY city will become an open laboratory for change.

The Things Network uses low-power, low-bandwidth LoRaWAN technology to create the network: ten $1,200 hubs covered the whole city!  Having been hiding under a rock, I must admit I’d never heard of LoRaWan. Here are the benefits:

  • don’t need 3G or WiFi to connect with the Internet — no WiFi passwords, mobile subscriptions
  • no setup costs
  • low battery usage
  • long range
  • low bandwidth.

The whole scheme reminds me of the old Andy-Hardy-it’s-crazy-enough-it-might-work thinking:

“Dutch entrepreneur Wienke Giezeman came up with the idea for the Things Network just six weeks ago when he came across a €1,000 ($1,100) LoRaWAN gateway device and realized that with 10 such devices, the whole of Amsterdam could be covered. He pitched his idea at an Internet of Things meetup in the city and received a positive response.

“Work then began to create a community-owned data network that developers could build on top of without any proprietary restrictions. Companies including The Next Web and accountancy giant KPMG have agreed to host gateway devices at their premises, and the City of Amsterdam local authority is enthusiastic about the idea.”

How’s this for a vision?

“Because the costs are very low, we do not have to rely on large telco corporations to build such a network. Instead, we can crowdsource the network and make it public without any form of subscription. Our mission is to enable a network by the users for the users.” (my emphasis)

Most important from a democratizing data standpoint, it will all be open source:

“Our goal is to make the network architecture as decentralized as possible. And avoid any points of failure or control. We already have a community of 10 developers writing network software and equipment firmware.”

Giezeman wants to cut the cost before launching his plan of making the concept worldwide. He will soon launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund production of a smaller, €200 ($220) LoRaWan (vs. the $1,200 current ones). He may offer consulting services to capitalize on the idea, but that’s not the current priority.

That kind of openness and lack of strings attached, IMHO, is going to really lead to incredible innovation!  We’re holding a Boston IoT MeetUp hackathon next month to try to bring similar innovation to The Hub, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if cities everywhere launched a virtuous competition to speed smart cities’ adoption (and, don’t forget: this has huge implications for companies as well: there’s nothing to stop smart companies from creating new products and services to capitalize on the shared data!).

I note Amsterdam is 84 square miles, and The Hub of the Universe is 89 sq. miles, so I suspect the costs would be similar here.  I’m throwing down the gauntlet: let’s make Boston the second IoT city!

Let a thousand neighborhoods bloom!


The IoT Will Reinvent Replacement Parts Industry

Of all the Internet of Things’ revolutionary impacts on industry, perhaps none will be as dramatic as on replacement parts, where it will team with 3-D printing to reduce service time, inventory and costs.

I came to that realization circuitously, upon noticing Warren Buffett’s blockbuster purchase of Precision Castparts, the major precision parts supplier to the aeronautics industry.  Having read last year about yet another breakthrough innovation by Elon Musk, i.e., the first totally 3-D printed rocket engines, I was curious to see what Precision was doing in that area.  Unless my search of their website was flawed, the answer is zip, and that suggests to me that Buffett, who famously once said he doesn’t invest in technology because he doesn’t understand it, may have just bought …. a rather large dinosaur.

I noticed that one of Precision’s biggest customers is GE, which not only is using 3-D jet fuel nozzles on its engines but also ran a high-profile contest to design a 3-D printed engine mount that was open to you, me and the kids trying out the new 3-D printer at our little town’s library (note to Mr. Buffett: might be good to schedule a sit-down with Jeff Immelt before one of your biggest customers takes things in-house). As I’ve written before, not only is GE a world leader in the IoT and 3-D printing, but also in my third magic bullet, nanotech: put all three together, and you’re really talking revolution!

OK, I know 3-D printing is sloow (in its current state), so it’s unlikely to replace traditional assembly lines at places such as Precision Castparts for large volumes of parts, but that doesn’t mean it won’t rapidly replace them in the replacement parts area.  I talked to a friend several years ago whose biz consists of being a broker between power plants that need replacement parts yesterday and others with an excess on hand, and couldn’t help thinking his days were numbered, because it was predicated on obsolete technology — and thinking.

Think of how the combined strengths of the IoT and 3-D printing can help a wide range of industries get replacement parts when and where they need them, and at potentially lower cost:

  • sensors in IoT-enabled devices will give advance notice of issues such as metal fatigue, so that repairs can be done sooner (“predictive maintenance“), with less disruption to normal routine, cheaper and reducing the chance of catastrophic failure.
  • because data can be shared on a real-time by not only your entire workforce, but also your supply chain, you can automate ordering of replacement parts.
  • perhaps most important, instead of a supplier having to maintain a huge inventory of replacement parts on the possibility they may be needed, they can instead be produced only when needed, or at least with a limited inventory (such as replacing a part in inventory as one is ordered). This may lead to “re-shoring” of jobs, because you will no longer have to deal with a supplier on the other side of the globe: it might be in the next town, and the part could be delivered as soon as printed, saving both delay and money.
  • your company may have your own printer, and you will simply pay the OEM for the digital file to print a part in-house, rather than having to deal with shipping, etc.

And, as I mentioned in the  earlier post about GE’s leadership in this area, there are other benefits as well:

  • “We’ll no longer do subtractive processes, where a rough item is progressively refined until it is usable.  Instead, products will be built atom-by-atom, in additive processes where they will emerge exactly in the form they’re sold.
  • “Products will increasingly be customized to the customer’s exact specifications. The products will be further fine-tuned based on a constant flow of data from the field about how customers actually use them.”

Sooo, Mr. Buffett, it’s time that you come to terms with 21-st century technology or Berkshire Hathaway’s financial slide may continue.


The IoT Can Revolutionize Every Aspect of Small Farming

When the New York Times weighs in on an Internet of Things phenomenon, you know it’s about to achieve mainstream consciousness, and that’s now the case with what I like to call “precision agriculture,” enabled by a combination of IoT sensors in the fields and big data analysis tools.

The combination is potent and vital because an adequate supply of safe food is so central to our lives, and meeting that need worldwide depends increasingly on small farms, which face a variety of obstacles that big agribusinesses don’t encounter.

Chris Rezendes, a partner in INEX Advisors, who’s been particularly active with IoT-based ag startups, pointed out to me in a private communication that the problem is world-wide, and particularly matched to the IoT’s capabilities, because food security is such a ubiquitous problem and because (surprisingly to me) the agricultural industry is dominated more by small farms, not agri-biz:

“… most people do not have an understanding of the dimensions of food security beyond calories. Feeding the world demands more than just calories. It demands higher nutritional quotient, safety, affordability and accessibility.

“And all that translates in many models into a need for a more productive, profitable and sustainable small ag industry.

“Most folks do not realize that that there are nearly 700 million farmers on the planet. In the US alone, we have 2.3 million ag operations (and, BTW, the number of millennials entering the field is nearly doubling each year) — and that is not counting processing, packaging, distribution, or anything related to fisheries. Most of those farms are pretty small … less than 500 acres on average, and when you strip out the conglomerates and the hobbyist farmers, you are left with hundreds of thousands of small businesses averaging nearly $4 million per year in revenue.”

As reported by The Times‘ Steve Lohr, Lance Donny, founder of ag technology start-up, OnFarm Systems, said the IoT’s benefits can be even greater outside the US:

“.. the most intriguing use of the technology may well be outside the United States. By 2050, the global population is projected to reach nine billion, up from 7.3 billion today. Large numbers of people entering the middle class, especially in China and India, and adopting middle-class eating habits — like consuming more meat, which requires more grain — only adds to the burden.

“To close the food gap, worldwide farm productivity will have to increase from 1.5 tons of grain per acre to 2.5 tons by 2050, according to Mr. Donny. American farm productivity is already above that level, at 2.75 tons of grain per acre.

“’But you can’t take the U.S. model and transport it to the world,’ Mr. Donny said, noting that American farming is both highly capital-intensive and large scale. The average farm size in the United States is 450 acres. In Africa, the average is about two acres.

“’The rest of the world has to get the productivity gains with data,’ he said.”

The marketplace and entrepreneurs are responding to the challenge. The Times piece also reported that IoT-enabled ag is now big business, with a recent study by AgFunder (equity crowdfunding for ag tech!) reporting start-ups have snared $2.06 billion in 228 deals so far this year (compared to $2.36 billion in all of 2014, which was itself a record).  When you add in the big funding that companies such as Deere have done in IoT over the last few years (in case you didn’t know it, this 178-year old company has revolutionized its operations with the IoT, creating new revenue streams and services in the process) and the cool stuff that’s even being produced here in Boston, and you’ve got a definite revolution in the most ancient of industries.

Rezendes zeros in on the small farmers’ need for data in order to improve every aspect of their operations, not just yields, and their desire to control their data themselves, rather than having it owned by some large, remote conglomerates. Most of all, he says, they desperately needed to improve their profitability, which is difficult with smaller farms:

“Those 2.3 million farmers will deploy IoT in their operations when they know that the data is relevant, actionable, profitable, secure and theirs.

“They are not going to deploy third-party solutions that capture farmers’ operational intelligence, claim ownership of it, and leverage the farmers’ livelihood for the solution vendors’ strategic goals.

“For example, we went into a series of explorations with one ag co-op in the East this spring, after going into the exploration thinking that we might be able to source a number of productivity enhancement solutions for vegetable growers and small protein program managers. We were wrong.

“These farmers in this one part of a New England state had been enjoying years of strong, if uneven growth in their output. That was not their challenge: their challenge was with profitability.”

Think of small farms near you, which must be incredibly nimble to market their products (after toiling in the fields!) relying heavily on a mix of CSAs, local restaurants that feature locally-sourced foods, and on farmers’ markets. Rezendes says the small farmers face a variety of obstacles because of their need (given their higher costs) to attract customers who would pay prevailing or (hopefully) premium prices, while they face perceptual problems because small farmers must be jacks-of-all-trades:

“They have only one ‘route.’ They market, sell, and deliver in the same ‘call,’ so their stops are often longer than your typical wholesale food routes. They also have only one marketing, sales and delivery team – and that is often the same team that is tilling, planting, watering, weeding, harvesting and repairing, so they often show up on accounts wearing clothes, driving vehicles, and carrying their inventory in containers that aren’t in any manual for slick brand development manual!

“To complicate things, many of their potential customers could not accept the shipment for insurance purposes, because the farmers didn’t have labels that change with exposure to extreme temperature, sunlight or moisture, or digital temperature recorders.”

Who would think that the IoT might provide a work-around for the perceptual barriers and underscore local farms’ great advantage, the quality of the product?  The farmers suggested to the INEX team once they understood the basics of IoT technology that:

“if we could source a low-cost traceability solution that they could attach to their reusable transport items, they thought they could use that data for branding within the co-op and the regional market. This would reduce the time needed to market and sell, document and file.  The farmers also told us that if the solution was done right, it might serve their regulatory, permitting and licensing requirements, even across state lines.”

Bottom line: not only can sensors in the field improve yields and cut costs for fertilizing and water use through precision, but other sensors can also work after the food is harvested, providing intelligence that lets producers prove their safety, enhance their sales productivity, and drive profit that enables re-investment.

What a great example of the IoT at work, and how, when you start to think in terms of the IoT’s “Essential Truths,” it can revolutionize every aspect of your company, whether a 50-acre farm or a global manufacturer!  

Give It Up, People: Government Regulation of IoT Is Vital

Could this be the incident that finally gets everyone in the IoT industry to — as I’ve said repeatedly in the past — make privacy and security Job 1 — and to drop the lobbying groups’ argument that government regulation isn’t needed? 

I hope so, because the IoT’s future is at stake, and, frankly, not enough companies get it.

I’m referring to the Chrysler recall last week of 1.4 million Jeeps for a security patch after WIRED reported on an experiment in which two white-hat hackers remotely disabled a Jeep on an Interstate from miles away, exploiting a vulnerable link between its entertainment and control systems.  Put yourself in the place of reporter Andy Greenberg, then tell me with a straight face that you wouldn’t be out of your mind if this happened to you:

“As the two hackers remotely toyed with the air-conditioning, radio, and windshield wipers, I mentally congratulated myself on my courage under pressure. That’s when they cut the transmission.

Immediately my accelerator stopped working. As I frantically pressed the pedal and watched the RPMs climb, the Jeep lost half its speed, then slowed to a crawl. This occurred just as I reached a long overpass, with no shoulder to offer an escape. The experiment had ceased to be fun.

At that point, the interstate began to slope upward, so the Jeep lost more momentum and barely crept forward. Cars lined up behind my bumper before passing me, honking. I could see an 18-wheeler approaching in my rearview mirror. I hoped its driver saw me, too, and could tell I was paralyzed on the highway.

“You’re doomed!” Valasek [one of the hackers] shouted, but I couldn’t make out his heckling over the blast of the radio, now pumping Kanye West. The semi loomed in the mirror, bearing down on my immobilized Jeep.”

OK: calm down, get a cool drink, and, when your Apple Watch says your heart beat has returned to normal, read on….

But, dear reader, our industry’s leaders, assumedly knowing the well-publicized specifics of the Chrysler attack, had the hubris to still speak at a hearing of the Internet Subcommittee of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee last week and claim (according to CIO) that that government regulation of the IoT industry wasn’t needed.

CEA CEO Gary Shapiro said in calling for government “restraint”:

“It’s up to manufacturers and service providers to make good decisions about privacy and security, or they will fail in the marketplace….. Industry-driven solutions are best to promote innovation while protecting consumers.”

Sorry, Gary: if someone dies because their Jeep got spoofed, the survivors’ attorneys won’t be content with the company’s failure in the marketplace.

There are some important collaborative efforts to create privacy and security standards for the IoT, such as the AllSeen Alliance. However, as I’ve written before, there are also too many startups who defer building in privacy and security protections until they’ve solved their technology needs, and others, most famously TRENDnet, who don’t do anything at all, resulting in a big FTC fine.  There are simply too many examples of hackers using the Shodan site to hack into devices, not to mention academics and others who’ve showed security flaws that might even kill you if exploited.

One local IoT leader, Paddy Srinivasan of LoMein, gets it, as reported today by the Boston Globe‘s Hiawatha Bray:

“‘I think it is a seminal moment…. These new devices need a fresh approach and a new way of thinking about security, and that is the missing piece.'”

But it’s too late to just talk about self-policing.

Massachusetts’ own Ed Markey and his Connecticut counterpart, Richard Blumenthal, have called the associations’ bluff, and filed legislation, The Security and Privacy in Your Car Act (AKA SPY Car, LOL)  that would require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to establish federal standards to secure cars and protect drivers’ privacy. It would also create a rating system — or “cyber dashboard”— telling drivers about how well the vehicle protects drivers’ security and privacy beyond those minimum standards. This comes in the wake of the Markey study I reported on last Winter documenting car companies’ failure to build in adequate cyber-hacking protections.

Guess what, folks?  This is only the beginning.  Probably the only thing I’ve ever agreed with Dick Cheney on (ok, we agree it’s cool to have been born in Wyoming and that Lynne Cheney is a great writer), is that it wouldn’t be cool for the Veep to have his pacemaker hacked, so you can bet there will be legislation and regulations soon governing privacy and security for wearables as well.

As I’ve said before, I come at this issue differently from a lot of engineers, having earned my keep for many years doing crisis management for Fortune 100 companies that bet the farm by doing dumb things that could destroy public trust in them overnight. Once lost, that trust is difficult, if not impossible, to regain.  Even worse, in this case, cavalier attitudes by even one IoT company, if the shock value of the results is great enough, could make everyone in the industry suffer.

So, if you’re arguing for no regulation of the IoT industry, I have just one suggestion: shut up,clean up your act and take a positive role in shaping regulations that would be performance-based, not prescriptive: the horse has already left the barn.

Now I have to check my Apple Watch to see when my heart rate will get back to normal.