Surprising Benefits of Combining IoT and Blockchain (they go beyond economic ones!)

One final effort to work this blockchain obsession out of my system so I can get on to some exciting other IoT news!

I couldn’t resist summarizing for you the key points in”Blockchain: the solution for transparency in product supply chains,” a white paper from Project Provenance Ltd., a London-based collective  (“Our common goal is to deliver meaningful change to commerce through open and accessible information about products and supply chains.”).

If you’ve followed any of the controversies over products such as “blood diamonds” or fish caught by Asian slaves & sold by US supermarkets, you know supply chains are not only an economic issue but also sometimes a vital social (and sometimes environmental) one. As the white paper warns:

“The choices we make in the marketplace determine which business practices thrive. From a diamond in a mine to a tree in a forest, it is the deepest darkest ends of supply chains that damage so much of the planet and its livelihood.”

Yikes!

Now blockchain can make doing the right thing easier and more profitable:

“Provenance enables every physical product to come with a digital ‘passport’ that proves authenticity (Is this product what it claims to be?) and origin (Where does this product come from?), creating an auditable record of the journey behind all physical products. The potential benefits for businesses, as well as for society and the environment, are hard to overstate: preventing the selling of fake goods, as well as the problem of ‘double spending’ of certifications present in current systems. The Decentralized Application (Dapp) proposed in this paper is still in development and we welcome businesses and standards organizations to join our consortium and collaborate on this new approach to understanding our material world.”

I also love Provenance’s work with blockchain because it demonstrates one of my IoT “Essential Truths,” namely, that we must share data rather than hoard it.  The exact same real-time data that can help streamline the supply chain to get fish to our stores quicker and with less waste can also mean that the people catching it are treated fairly. How cool is that?  Or, as Benjamin Herzberg, Program Lead, Private Sector Engagement for Good Governance at the World Bank Institute puts it in the quote that begins the paper, Now, in the hyper-connected and ever-evolving world, transparency is the new power.

While I won’t summarize the entire paper, I do recommend that you so, especially if blockchain is still new to you, because it gives a very detailed explanation of each blockchain component.

Instead, let’s jump in with the economic benefits of a blockchain and IoT-enabled supply chain, since most companies won’t consider it, no matter what the social benefits, if it doesn’t help the bottom line. The list is long, and impressive:

  • “Interoperable: A modular, interoperable platform that eliminates the possibility of double spending
  • Auditable: An auditable record that can be inspected and used by companies, standards organizations, regulators, and customers alike
  • Cost-efficient:  A solution to drastically reduce costs by eliminating the need for ‘handling companies’ to be audited
  • Real-time and agile:  A fast and highly accessible sign-up means quick deployment
  • Public: The openness of the platform enables innovation and could achieve bottom-up transparency in supply chains instead of burdensome top-down audits
  • Guaranteed continuity:  The elimination of any central operator ensures inclusiveness and longevity” (my emphasis)

Applying it to a specific need, such as documenting that a food that claims to be organic really is, blockchain is much more efficient and economical than cumbersome current systems, which usually rely on some third party monitoring and observing the process.  As I’ve mentioned before, the exquisite paradox of blockchain-based systems is that they are secure and trustworthy specifically because no one individual or program controls them: it’s done through a distributed system where all the players may, in fact, distrust each other:

“The blockchain removes the need for a trusted central organization that operates and maintains this system. Using blockchains as a shared and secure platform, we are able to see not only the final state (which mimics the real world in assigning the materials for a given product under the ownership of the final customer), but crucially, we are able to overcome the weaknesses of current systems by allowing one to securely audit all transactions that brought this state of being into effect; i.e., to inspect the uninterrupted chain of custody from the raw materials to the end sale.

“The blockchain also gives us an unprecedented level of certainty over the fidelity of the information. We can be sure that all transfers of ownership were explicitly authorized by their relevant controllers without having to trust the behavior or competence of an incumbent processor. Interested parties may also audit the production and manufacturing avatars and verify that their “on-chain” persona accurately reflects reality.”

The white paper concludes by also citing an additional benefit that I’ve mentioned before: facilitating the switch to an environmentally-sound “circular economy,” which requires not only tracking the creation of things, but also their usage, trying to keep them out of landfills. “The system proposed in this paper would not only allow the creation (including all materials, grades, processes etc) and lifecycle (use, maintenance etc) to be logged on the blockchain, but this would also make it easy to access this information when products are returned to be assessed and remanufactured into a new item.”

Please do read the whole report, and think how the economic benefits of applying blockchain-enabled IoT practices to your supply chain can also warm your heart.

 

IoT Intangibles: Increased Customer Loyalty

There are so many direct, quantifiable benefits of the IoT, such as increased quality (that 99.9988% quality rate at Siemens’s Amberg plant!) and precision, that we may forget there are also potential intangible benefits.

Most important of those is customer loyalty, brought about by dramatic shifts both in product designs and how they are marketed.

Much of this results from the IoT lifting the veil of Collective Blindness to which I’ve referred before: in particular, our prior inability to document how products were actually used once they left the loading dock. As I’ve speculated, that probably meant that manufacturers got deceptive information about how customers actually used products and their degree of satisfaction. The difficulty of getting feedback logically meant that those who most liked and most hated a product were over-represented: those who kinda liked it weren’t sufficiently motivated to take the extra steps to be heard.

Now, by contrast, product designers, marketers, and maintenance staffs can share (that critical verb from my Circular Company vision!) real-time data about how a product is actually operating in the field, often from a “digital twin” they can access right at their desks.

Why’s that important?

It can give them easy insights (especially if those different departments do access and discuss the data at the same time, each offering its own unique perspectives, on issues that will build customer loyalty:

  • what new features can we add that will keep them happy?
  • can we offer upgrades such as new operating software (such as the Tesla software that was automatically installed in every single car and avoided a recall) that will provide better customer experiences and keep the product fresh?
  • what possible maintenance problems can we spot in their earliest stages, so we can put “predictive maintenance” services into play at minimal cost and bother to the customer?

I got interested in this issue of product design and customer loyalty while consulting for IBM in the 9o’s, when it introduced the IBM PS 2E (for Energy & Environmental), a CES best-of-show winner in part because of its snap-together modular design. While today’s thin-profile-at-all-costs PC and laptop designs have made user-friendly upgrades a distant memory, one of the things that appealed to me about this design was the realization that if you could keep users satisfied that they were on top of  new developments by incremental substitution of new modules, they’d be more loyal and less likely to explore other providers.

In the same vein, as GE has found, the rapid feedback can dramatically speed upgrades and new features. That’s important for loyalty: if you maintain a continuing interaction with the customer and anticipate their demands for new features, they’ll have less reason to go on the open market and evaluate all of your competitors’ products when they do want to move up.

 

Equally important for customer loyalty is the new marketing options that the continuous flow of real-time operating data offer you. For a growing number of companies, that means they’re no longer selling products, but leasing them, with the price based on actual customer usage: if it ain’t bein’ used, it ain’t costing them anything and it ain’t bringing you any revenue!

Examples include:

  • jet turbines which, because of the real-time data flow, can be marketed on the basis of thrust generated: if it’s sitting on the ground, the leasee doesn’t pay.  The same real-time data flow allows the manufacturer to schedule predictive maintenance at the earliest sign of a problem, reducing both its cost and the impact on the customer.
  • Siemens’s Mobility Services, which add in features such as 3-D manufactured spare parts that speed maintenance and reduced costs, keeping the trains running.
  • Philips’s lighting services, which are billed on the basis of use, not sold.
  • SAP’s prototype smart vending machine, which (if you opt in) may offer you a special discount based on your past purchasing habits.

At its most extreme is Caterpillar’s Reman process, where the company takes back and remanufactures old products, giving them a new life — and creating new revenues — when competitors’ products are in the landfill.

Loyalty can also be a benefit of IoT strategies for manufacturers’ own operations as well. Remember that the technological obstacles to instant sharing of real-time data have been eliminted for the supply chain as well. If you choose to share it, your resupply programs can also be automatically triggered on a M2M basis, giving an inherent advantage to the domestic supplier who can get the needed part there in a few hours, versua the low-cost supplier abroad who may take weeks to reach your loading dock.

It may be harder to quantify than quality improvements or streamlined production through the IoT, but that doesn’t mean that dependable revenue streams from loyal customers aren’t an important potential benefit as well.

Circular Company: Will Internet of Things Spark Management Revolution?

Could the IoT’s most profound impact be on management and corporate organization, not just cool devices?

I’ve written before about my still-being-refined vision of the IoT — because it (for the first time!) allows everyone who needs instant access to real-time data to do their jobs and make better decisions to share that data instantly —  as the impetus for a management revolution.

My thoughts were provoked by Heppelmann & Porter’s observation that:

“For companies grappling with the transition (to the IoT), organizational issues are now center stage — and there is no playbook. We are just beginning the process of rewriting the organization chart that has been in place for decades.”

If I’m right, the IoT could let us switch from the linear and hierarchical forms that made sense in an era of serious limits to intelligence about things and how they were working at thaFor companies grappling with the transition, organizational issues are now center stage—and there is no playbook. We are just beginning the process of rewriting the organization chart that has been in place for decades.t moment, to circular forms that instead eliminate information “silos” and instead give are circular, with IoT data as the hub. 

This article expands on that vision. I’ve tried mightily to get management journals to publish it. Several of the most prestigious have given it a serious look but ultimately passed on it. That may be because it’s crazy, but I believe it is feasible today, and can lead to higher profits, lower operating costs, empowering our entire workforces, and, oh yeah, saving the planet.

Audacious, but, IMHO, valid.  Please feel free to share this, to comment on it, and, if you think it has merit, build on it.

Thanks,

W. David Stephenson


The IoT Allows a Radical, Profitable Transformation to Circular Company Structure

 

by

W. David Stephenson

Precision assembly lines and thermostats you can adjust while away from home are obvious benefits of the Internet of Things (IoT), but it might also trigger a far more sweeping change: swapping outmoded hierarchical and linear organizational forms for new circular ones.

New org charts will be dramatically different because of an important aspect of the IoT overlooked in the understandable fascination with cool devices. The IoT’s most transformational aspect is that, for the first time,

everyone who needs real-time data to do their jobs better or
make better decisions can instantly 
share it.

That changes everything.

Linear and hierarchical organizational structures were coping mechanisms for the severe limits gathering and sharing data in the past. It made sense then for management, on a top-down basis, to determine which departments got which data, and when.

The Internet of Things changes all of that because of huge volumes of real-time data), plus modern communications tools so all who need the data can share it instantly. 

This will allow a radical change in corporate structure and functions from hierarchy: make it cyclical, with real-time IoT data as the hub around which the organization revolves and makes decisions.

Perhaps the closest existing model is W.L. Gore & Associates. The company has always been organized on a “lattice” model, with “no traditional organizational charts, no chains of command, nor predetermined channels of communication.”  Instead, they use cross-disciplinary teams including all functions, communicating directly with each other. Teams self-0rganize and most leaders emerge spontaneously.

As Deloitte’s Cathy Benko and Molly Anderson wrote, “Continuing to invest in the future using yesteryear’s industrial blueprint is futile. The lattice redefines workplace suppositions, providing a framework for organizing and advancing a company’s existing incremental efforts into a comprehensive, strategic response to the changing world of work.”  Add in the circular form’s real-time data hub, and the benefits are even greater, because everyone on these self-organizing teams works from the same data, at the same time.

You can begin to build such a cyclical company with several incremental IoT-based steps.

One of the most promising is making the product design process cyclical. Designers used to work in a vacuum: no one really knew how the products functioned in the field, so it was hard to target upgrades and improvements. Now, GE has found it can radically alter not only the upgrade process, but also the initial design as well:

“G.E. is adopting practices like releasing stripped-down products quickly, monitoring usage and rapidly changing designs depending on how things are used by customers. ‘We’re getting these offerings done in three, six, nine months,’ (Vice-President of Global Software William Ruh said). ‘It used to take three years.’”

New IoT and data-analytics tools are coming on the market that could facilitate such a shift. GE’s new tool, “Digital Twins,” creates a wire-frame replica of a product in the field (or, for that matter, a human body!) back at the company. Coupled with real-time data on its status, it lets everyone who might need to analyze a product’s real-time status (product designers, maintenance staff, and marketers, for example) to do so simultaneously.

The second step toward a cyclical organization is breaking down information silos.

Since almost every department has some role in creation and sales of every product, doesn’t it make sense to bring them together around a common set of data, to explore how that data could trigger coordinated actions by several departments? 

Collaborative big-data analysis tools such as GE’s Predix, SAP’s HANA, and Tableau facilitate the kind of joint scrutiny and “what-if” discussions of real-time data that can make circular teamwork based on IoT-data sharing really achieve its full potential.

The benefits are even greater when you choose to really think in circular terms, sharing instant access to that real-time data not only companywide, but also with external partners, such as your supply chain and distribution network – and even customers – not just giving them some access later on a linear basis.  For example, SAP has created an IoT-enabled vending machine. If a customer opts in, s/he is greeted by name, and may be offered “your regular combination” based on past purchases, and/or a real-time discount. That alone would be neat from a marketing standpoint, but SAP also opened the resulting data to others, resulting in important logistics improvements. Real-time machine-to-machine (M2M) data about sales at the new vending machines automatically reroute resupply trucks to those machines currently experiencing the highest sales. 

With the IoT, sharing data can make your own product or service more valuable. With the Apple HomeKit, you can say “Siri, it’s time for bed,” and the Hue lights dim, Schlage lock closes, and Ecobee thermostat turns down. By sharing real-time IoT data, each of these companies’ devices become more valuable in combinations than they are by themselves.

Hierarchical and linear management is outmoded in the era of real-time data from smart devices. It is time to begin to replace it with a dynamic, circular model with IoT data as its hub.

Concurrent Engineering: Great Tool to Make IoT “Circular Company” Reality!

Simultaneously sharing real-time data and collaborating (vs. linear methods where departments work in isolation from each other and sequentially) is a major theme of my “Circular Company” vision.

At the PTC ThingWorx expo in June one of the themes was “concurrent engineering“), which could be a major tool in making the circular company a reality.  The company’s Creo Advanced Assembly Extension  lets the the lead designer plan the assembly’s “skeleton” to give all the subassembly teams a common work basis and to include critical design info in the subassemblies. This lets each team work in parallel. If the lead engineer modifies the primary design, all the subassemblies will modify automatically. The process transfers seamlessly to the assembly line.

According to Wikipedia, the concept also fits nicely with the “circular economy” concept that’s gaining strength, by considering factors such as end-of-life disposal and recycling,  which is a great bonus of the “circular company”:

“.. part of the design process is to ensure that the entire product’s life cycle is taken into consideration. This includes establishing user requirements, propagating early conceptual designs, running computational models, creating physical prototypes and eventually manufacturing the product. Included in the process is taking into full account funding, work force capability and time. A study in 2006 claimed that a correct implementation of the concurrent design process can save a significant amount of money, and that organizations have been moving to concurrent design for this reason.[3] It is also highly compatible with systems thinking [which, BTW, is what originally introduced me to this concept, many years ago, through the writings of Peter Senge and Jay Forrester, who, BTW, is still kickin’ at 97!] and green engineering.”

Come on, gang: hierarchy and linear processes are soooo 20th century. Get with the program.

Distributed Manufacturing by 3D Printing Revolution for IoT Comes of Age!

Two major developments in the 3-D printing world, from Fictiv and (who woulda thunk it!) UPS, make me think the time has come for “distributing manufacturing” and getting away from the old massive, manufacturing mentality exemplified by Ford’s River Rouge plant.

OK, first a confession and a little history. Being short & named David, I’ve always had a fascination with David & Goliath, and you can bet who I’d root for. I also was deeply touched by two visionaries in my past:

  • Steve Clay-Young, who used to run the workshop at the old Boston Architectural Center & turned me on to a neat, nearly-forgotten bit of WWII history: either Popular Science or Popular Mechanix (can’t remember which), organized a network of hobbyists with metal lathes, who played a major role in the war effort. The magazine published plans for turning metal for munitions, and these guys each worked in their workshops to make them.
  • Eric Drexler, the nano-tech guru, spoke at the Eco-Tech conference in the ’90s about his vision of a bread-box-size gizmo on your kitchen counter that would churn out all sorts of customized products for you.

Now, it’s all taking place, and I suspect 3D printing will be a crucial element in the IoT-based transformation of the economy.

 

                                   Fictiv distributed manufacturing model

Fictiv is a startup founded to “democratize manufacturing,” which just went public with its new “distributed manufacturing” service using a nationwide network of 3D high quality printers and CNC machines:

 

“We route parts to machine with open capacity so you don’t wait 5 days for a part that takes 5 hours…. We aggregate orders so every customer receives the benefits of large purchasing power….”

Perhaps coolest, “Parts are produced as close to customers as possible to reduce inefficiencies in logistics and shipping lead-time”  so that (for an extra charge) they’re fabricated and delivered in 24 hours, and otherwise delivered in two days.  I suspect that, just as having sensors on their products that results in real-time feedback allowing GE to compress the design cycle, especially upgrades, that this proximity and quick turn-around will allow designers to radically alter the design process by “failing rapidly,” just the way early spread-sheet software allowed business managers to do “what-if” hypotheticals for the first time.

By bundling orders, they give startups the bargaining power of large companies.As co-founder Dave Evans, an experienced product design pro, says, distributed, local manufacturing can even the playing field for smaller companies, especially startups just designing their first products:

“When ordering from a large manufacturing company, parts need to navigate through their complex system and then be shipped from the machine warehouse direct to the customer, increasing lead times.

From an engineer’s perspective, when you’re in the prototyping and ideation stages, time is everything and even a 1-2 day loss from a 3PL (third-party logistics player) matters significantly.

What’s important to consider here is that in manufacturing, things can and will go wrong. So when remote manufacturers inevitably have to manage errors, there’s a lot of complexity to deal with …. This is very evident in overseas mass manufacturing, which is why companies put engineers as close to the source as possible. It’s amazing how few companies consider the same principles during the early prototyping stages of a product when time is everything.

The beauty in working with smaller, local manufacturers on the other hand, is that parts can be picked up as soon as they’re ready or delivered via same-day courier, saving you the 1-2 days of shipping. In addition, if things go wrong (they always do), smaller shops have more agility, fewer organizational layers, and in general can respond more quickly compared with their larger counterparts.”

              3D printing at The UPS Store

Equally important is the continuing stream of 3D services being offered by UPS. which recently announced a nationwide on-demand 3D printing network.  The network will combine 3D printers at more than 60 The UPS Stores® and Fast Radius’ On Demand Production Platform™ and 3D printing factory in Louisville, KY. My friends at SAP will marry its SAP’s extended supply chain solutions will be integrated with the UPS 3D network and — most important — its global logistics network “to simplify the industrial manufacturing process from digitization, certification, order-to-manufacturing and delivery.”

If I’m correct, the UPS network will concentrate on prototyping at this point, but it’s easy to see that it could soon have a dramatic impact on the replacement parts industry. Why should the manufacturer warehouse a large supply of spare parts, just because they might be needed, when they could instead simply transmit the part’s digital file to the nearest UPS 3D printer, generate the part, and use UPS to deliver it in a fraction of the time.

Combine that with the predictive maintenance possible with feedback from sensors on products, and you truly have a revolution in product design and maintenance as well as manufacturing. It would also foster the IoT-based circular company vision that I’ve been pushing, because supply chain, manufacturing, distribution, and maintenance would all be linked in a great circle.

Sweet!