Essential Truth of the IoT: empowering individuals!

I am still euphoric after last night’s IoT Meetup in Providence (such a meeting of the minds!) and it inspired me to write another of my posts about what I see as “Essential Truths” of the IoT!

In fact, I dare say this is the most profound — and perhaps least understood — way in which the IoT will bring about fundamental transformation of our lives.

When we talk about IoT components such as automated Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication, it tends to obscure the human aspect of the IoT.

I think that’s going to be a HUGE component of the change, and one that we won’t be able to fully appreciate or exploit until the IoT is an omni-present part of our daily lives.

That’s because we have labored under such fundamental restrictions on communicating about data in the past that we can’t really visualize what things will be like when those restrictions are removed and data flows freely.

Here’s where something truly magical comes in!

It is no knock on even the most creative organization or its staff to say that it doesn’t have a strangle-hold on the truth: there’s simply no way that any organization or any individual can think of all the ways that certain data could create value. But when you make that information readily available, someone who has a particular interest (OK, maybe we’re talking about obsession!) or feels particular pain about that thing can come forward with a creative new product or service to capitalize on that information. I can visualize mutually beneficial partnerships that we can’t conceive of today between major corporations and tiny startups (i.e., GE/Quirky/Electric Imp  — or perhaps even individuals  (that’s the kind of thing that Innocentive has successfully pioneered with its challenges, where many of the profitable solutions have come from rank amateurs who may have no professional credentials but personal zeal and insights).

I realize that senior managers may be uncomfortable talking about the role “magic” can play in development of profitable new goods and services, but I humbly suggest that with the birth of the IoT it’s something they should add to their vocabulary.

What a future!


My presentation tonight on human communication and the IoT

I just uploaded my presentation to tonight’s Boston/New England IoT Meetup, which will be held in Providence beginning at 5:30.

I’ll be speaking about what’s often overlooked in the introduction of exciting new technologies — and the IoT is no exception: the human communication possibilities and challenges that it introduces.

In the case of the IoT, all of the attention on automatic, non-human mediated  machine-to-machine communication obscures the fact that the IoT will have profound implications for human communications as well.

More than anything, it’s the fact that, for the first time, we’ll be able to share critical data on a real-time basis among co-workers, our supply chains, our distribution networks, and our customers. IMHO, that changes everything: workers will be able to do their jobs better because they’ll know exactly what’s happening at the time, and we’ll be able to make better decisions because everyone with a valuable perspective will be able to chime in at the same time: reducing the chance that some critical aspect of the issue will go ignored. That’s going to be amazing!

I’ll also talk about Chris Rezendes’ concept of “ground truth,” i.e., that one of the things we’ll be able to share in making those better decisions is “device intelligence,” real-time data from “smart things.” Hopefully this will lead to fact-based decision making (OK, maybe I’m a Pollyanna!) .

I conclude with my argument that, to fully take advantage of this real-time data flow, we need new management styles, including a “Buckyball Management” organizational chart in which every member of the organization is an important, value-creating “node” and every member can communicate with every other member when its relevant.

Hope you can make it tonight!

Essential Truth: Gathering “Ground Truth” through IoT

This is the second in my occasional series of “Essential Truths” — key principles and questions about the Internet of Things.

On Tuesday, when I speak to our next Boston/New England IoT Meetup on the issue of “human communications and the IoT” one of the concepts I’ll be focusing on is what Chris Rezendes of INEX Advisors calls “ground truth,” a concept he was exposed to through his work with clients in the defense industry.

This is the idea that when devices become “smart,” they give off “digital exhaust” (in the same way as our searches do, which Google analyzes, allowing improvement in search results) which creates “device intelligence” that we can analyze and act upon. That is ground truth: accurate data about real-world conditions that we can share in real-time to improve operating performance and analysis.

According to Chris,

“You will have data, objective facts, about that tree or tidal pool, that machine or that vehicle, that room or that field, that patient or that criminal. The data in that ground truth will complement certain aspects of our perceptions about those things; and displace our misperceptions. And that ground truth will help us all make better decisions about how to manage our time on earth.”
— “Internet of Things: Grandest Opportunity, Most Stubborn Challenges

It seems to me that this is one of the IoT’s most important potential benefits: improving decision-making by being able to base it on factual, timely information.

Think, for example, about the contentious issue of global warming. Cisco’s  “Planetary Skin,” and HP’s  “central nervous system for the planet” projects will deploy unprecedented numbers of remote sensors planet-wide, yielding real-time data about how global warming is affecting your community. It may not win over the hard-core global warming deniers (they’ll never listen to reason, IMHO!) but it should provide the objective evidence that rational people can agree on as the basis for action.

Even better, we can also improve this decision making because of my first “Essential Truth,” learning to ask “who else can use this data?”  Think of it: within limits, of course, the more perspectives that are brought into decision making the more likely we are to make sound decisions, because the likelihood of leaving out some important perspective and not analyzing all the possible ramifications is reduced. In the past, we could never do that, because we didn’t have the real-time data, and we couldn’t involve all of those people on a real-time basis.

I suspect that this will be a major issue for management theorists to bat around in coming years, and that our decision-making processes will be fundamentally altered for the better. IMHO, it is this change in decision making, not advances such as automatic regulation of assembly lines or building in feedback loops between manufacturers and customers, is perhaps the most important thing that the IoT will allow. It will have profound impact!

Thanks for the concept, Chris!

Hallelujah! The Internet of People launches

Most readers of this blog probably already know Rob van Kranenburg, arguably THE leading European Internet of Things theorist. What you may not  know is that, for the past year, he and a core group of IoT leaders have been planning creation of a UK-based global IoT consultancy, “The Internet of People.”

Unfortunately, one of the victims of that effort was a planned collaborationinternet_of_people_small
between Rob and me on an article about the IoT for the Harvard Business Review, but now I’ve got Dave Evans of Cisco as a writing partner, so I ain’t complainin’!

At any rate, there’s glorious news today: The Internet of People has officially launched, and there are more than 100 of us consultants who are already in the fold!

This is going to be an all-star team, so if you’re in need of IoT strategy and other consulting services, I hope you’ll contact us!

Cormoran Project: Ad hoc human networks and the IoT

Posted on 11th June 2013 in Homeland Security, Internet of Things, privacy, security

I first became interested in mesh networks when I was focusing on the role of individuals in homeland security — what I call “networked homeland security.”  I learned about a project at the University of Illinois that created software to form ad hoc mesh networks that could relay data between PCs, and quickly realized this could be invaluable in disasters to relay information (see my YouTube video on the subject, part of my “21st-century disaster tips you WON’T hear from officials series…).

That’s why I was particularly excited to hear about this possible component of the Internet of Things: individuals becoming nodes in mesh networks because of sensors woven into our clothing.  Gigaom reports that a team of French researchers have launched the “Cormoran Project,” to create “wireless body-area networks (WBANs).”

They would capitalize on the growing number of wearable computers, from the Peeko “onesie” to Google Glass. However, the researchers visualize these devices as being more than just data sources for real-time health monitoring (as important as that is!): “Rather than just remain terminuses, they could route bits to and relay data from each other, becoming a distributed ad hoc network that constantly morphs as we move through physical space.”

Instead of requiring a dedicated link to the web, such a network would share

Cormoran Project

 (BTW, collaboration will be one of my future “Essential Truth” subjects)  connections and relay data from everyone who, at that moment in time, is a member of the ad hoc network because of their location.

Here’s the neat (and, equally scary!) aspect of these ad hoc human networks:

“… by linking to one another, body area networks could create new useful data about users’ surroundings and location. By measuring the signal strength of nearby connections, the network could determine the precise location of every node, or person, within it.”

The article points out that this could lead to services such as sharing information in disasters, guiding all passengers en masse to their gates, managing pedestrian traffic in cities, or studying group behavior.

Equally important, if individuals weren’t able to control access to their personal location data, it could lead to horrific invasions of personal privacy, made even more scary by the fact that hackers would be able to tell the individual’s precise location. Although I have been unable to find anything in the Cormoran literature specifically identifying privacy protections as part of the project, the EU seems to take privacy concerns about the IoT much more seriously than the U.S. government does, so let’s hope they come up with practical, enforceable protections — otherwise the downside would seem to outweigh the advantages.





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Automated factories: that’s not the IoT’s potential!

It’s easy to see why some people make the assumption that one of the results of the Internet of Things will be fully-automated factories.

After all, if automatic, real-time machine-2-machine data sharing would allow self-starting and self-regulating machinery, wouldn’t that allow us a utopian vision of completely autonomous manufacturing?

Instead, I think Bosch’s Volkmar Denner nailed it with this blog entry. He says that rather than complete automation:

“Instead, it’s about finding ways to increase agility. Putting that into figures, optimizing resource allocation within a more flexible production process can result in a jump in productivity of as much as 30 percent. Our goal is to be able to customize even the smallest unit volumes while retaining optimum productivity, and ultimately leading to achieve optimized multi-variant series production.”

I agree totally that what’s going to happen is an end to centralized management and top-down control of information (see my last post, on “Buckyball Management”!, with decentralized, self-management emerging that could threaten old industry leaders who don’t get it (see my posts about how GE does get it!) :

“… And I’m convinced that this shift will provide opportunities for established companies to offer new business models. But they too need to watch out: the IoTS is shaking up what until now has been very much a closed market, opening it up for entirely new players such as IT companies. Here, the IoTS is not just about connecting objects, machines, and systems. On the contrary, it’s also about how to use the data that this connectivity generates. And instead of using this information only within the plant itself, now everyone along the manufacturing chain can be given access to the data over the internet. Once again, the knowledge gained from these data can be applied to generate new business models.”

Denner says that one of the #IoT services that Bosch — the leading supplier of automotive sensors and one of the leaders in industrial sensors — is developing is predictive maintenance, which innovators such as GE (with its jet turbines) and the railroads (I’ve never traced my ancestry on my father’s side, but I harbor the possibility that I’m descended from the Stephensons, pere et fils, who invented the locomotive, so I have a warm spot in my heart for that industry…) are already doing.  As Denner says, “Having such a solution in place allows organizations to offer their customers new and improved levels of service, including a guarantee of reduced downtimes.”

So don’t count out the human element in manufacturing once the IoT is commonplace: in fact, it will be more important, and more valuable, than ever!

I’ll speak on human communication aspect of IoT on 18th

Chris Rezendes of INEX Advisors continues to push me to create some thought capital around the issue of human communication and the Internet of Things.

He’s asked me to speak at the next  IoT Boston/New England Meetup, on June 18th, when we’ll move south to Providence (at the offices of Betaspring, 95 Chestnut Street, 3rd floor).

I’ll talk about a number of communication issues that I think will have a major impact on whether we really take full advantage of the IoT:

  • my 1st “Essential Truth,” that we must begin to ask “who else could use this data.” 
  • let’s not use the IoT as an excuse to fully-automate processes and procedures (the subject of my next blog post): instead, let’s use it as the means to fine-tuning and customizing.
  • turning monologues into dialogues: I think that’s going to be particularly vital in medicine, where the potential for two-way communication on a real-time basis between doctor and patient should empower the patient.
  • improving discussions of operations and strategy by basing them on what Chris Rezendes calls “ground truth.”
  • the need for a whole new management style that’s based on empowering every employee, every supplier, every distributor and every customer.

The later point harkens back to a long piece I wrote in 1995 for Network World (sorry, it’s no longer available online. When I get a chance I’ll add abuckyball-1-small section to this blog that will include access to my speeches and articles going back to 1990…) that I think is even more relevant today: that we need to scrap hierarchical, linear management styles and instead substitute what I call “Buckyball Management,” in which conventional organizational charts are replaced by spherical ones in which every person is an important node in the organization and there is no longer any up or down: anyone can reach out to anyone else. THAT, my friends, will be a real revolution!

Hope you can make it to The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (The longest official state name is a great trivia question … ) on the 18th!


Nice long NPR piece on Stantander

Posted on 4th June 2013 in cities, government, Internet of Things, transportation

One of my sons turned me on to this long NPR piece this morning about Santander. Thought it did a good job of covering the mix of top-down (the city’s installations of sensors) and bottoms-up (the active involvement of citizens through apps to report potholes, etc.) that a make up a robust IoT program.

Essential #IoT Truths: who else could use this data?

Two weeks ago at the EntreTech seminar on the Internet of Things, good buddy Chris Rezendes told an anecdote that blew me away, both because it was such a powerful demonstration of the IoT’s potential to transform our world and because it reminded me of one of the IoT’s “Essential Truths.”

Chris mentioned that Grundfos, the world’s largest pump manufacturer, now includes sensors that report on the operating status of pumps at remote wells that dot Africa. They did it so that monitoring the wells would allow customers to improve maintenance of the wells and do it more economically, dispatching repair crews only when needed.

Nice, but not the cool, transformational part!

As you may know, Africans (primarily the women) often walk hours each day to-and-from their villages in order to get vital water — often carrying big jugs on their shoulders for many miles. Some dear soul at Grundfos realized that the same data that helped their customers improve management of the wells could also let the women know when there was adequate water flow at the well to make it worthwhile to make the trek (rather than having to walk to several wells before actually finding water — an all-too-frequent occurence).  So Grundfos made the data available to designers who were able to create an app that the women could read on their phones before leaving their village to determine where to go.  It cut the average amount of time the women spend per day hunting for water from 8 hours to 3 — a dramatic savings that allows them to spend their time on more productive and less tiring activities!  Isn’t that wonderful?

The second lesson I drew from the Grundfos data story was one that I first detailed two years ago in my book Data Dynamite: I argued that in the new era of “democratizing data,” that managers need to learn to routinely ask a new question when they examine a data set:


With the vast quantities of data that will be created by the IoT, the question is more relevant than ever!

This question doesn’t come easily to many managers. For so long, the secret to economic success was proprietary information that I had and you didn’t (for those with long memories, proprietary operating systems were the secret to the “Massachusetts Miracle” of the 1980s, when companies such as DEC and Prime created entire ecosystems around their proprietary systems).

Now, however, the future lies with open standards and shared data, that will actually create more wealth by sharing information because other people with a particular insight or critical need will realize that your data can be combined in mashups with other data sets to create whole new insights and valuable information.

Asking this question can also be a powerful tool to get rid of information silos within organizations, on the realization that many people in many departments can now potentially share the same near-real-time data at the same time, both improving coordination of activities such as supply-chain management and improving decision-making.

It’s time to wipe away the last vestiges of the old way of creating wealth and instead ask ourselves “who else could use this data?” The chances are that, whether inside your organization or — more daringly — outside it, you’ll be able to find other potential users who can cooperate to create new services and revenue streams as well as increasing operating efficiency.

So who else could use your Internet of Things data?

PS: I’ll be offering more of these “Essential #IoT Truths” on an occasional basis in the future, prodded by Chris Rezendes, who finally hammered it into my thick skull that all of my years in consulting on communications in a wide range of field meant that my unique contribution to the IoT can and should be to help  companies with the human communication aspects of the IoT that often tend to get obscured by our emphasis on machine-2-machine communication. Thanks, Chris (I plan to develop consulting services in this area to be offered in conjunction with INEX Advisors)! I’ll be speaking on this topic at a Meetup in Providence later this month — details to follow.