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.

Virtual Sensor Networks: a key #IoT tool?

I was once again honored to be a guest on Coffee Break With Game Changers Radio today with David Jonker and Ira Berk of SAP — it’s always a delight to have a dialogue on the Internet of Things with these two brainy guys (and hats off as well to moderator/host Bonnie Graham!).

Toward the end of the show, Ira brought up a concept that was new to me: virtual sensor networks.

I’ve got sensors on the brain right now, because I’m frankly worried that sensors that don’t have adequate baked-in security and privacy protections and which can’t be ungraded as new opportunities and threats present themselves may be a threat to the IoT because they typically remain in use for so many years. Ah, but that’s a topic for another post.

According to Wikipedia, Virtual sensor networks are an:

“… emerging form of collaborative wireless sensor networks. In contrast to early wireless sensor networks that were dedicated to a specific application (e.g., target tracking), VSNs enable multi-purpose, collaborative, and resource efficient WSNs. The key idea difference of VSNs is the collaboration and resource sharing….
“… A VSN can be formed by providing logical connectivity among collaborative sensors. Nodes can be grouped into different VSNs based on the phenomenon they track (e.g., rock slides vs. animal crossing) or the task they perform. VSNs are expected to provide the protocol support for formation, usage, adaptation, and maintenance of subset of sensors collaborating on a specific task(s). Even the nodes that do not sense the particular event/phenomenon could be part of a VSN as far as they are willing to allow sensing nodes to communicate through them. Thus, VSNs make use of intermediate nodes, networks, or other VSNs to efficiently deliver messages across members of a VSN.”

Makes sense to me: collaboration is a critical basic component of the human aspect of the IoT (one of my IoT “Essential Truths), so why shouldn’t that extend to the mechanics as well?). If you have a variety of sensors already deployed in a given area, why should you have to deploy a whole new set of single-purpose ones to monitor a different condition if data could be synthesized from the existing sensors to effectively yield the same needed information?

2008 article on the concept said the virtual sensor networks are particularly relevant to three categories where data is* needed:

“Firstly, VSNs are useful in geographically overlapped applications, e.g., monitoring rockslides and animal crossing within a mountainous terrain. Different types of devices that detect these phenomena can relay each other for data transfer without having to deploy separate networks (Fig. 1). Secondly, VSNs are useful in logically separating multipurpose sensor networks, e.g., smart neighborhood systems with multifunctional sensor nodes. Thirdly, VSNs can be used to enhance efficiency of systems that track dynamic phenomena such as subsurface chemical plumes that migrate, split, or merge. Such networks may involve dynamically varying subsets of sensors.”

That article went on to propose a flexible, self-organizing “cluster-tree” approach to create the VSN, using tracking of a pollution plume as an example:

“…  a subset of nodes organizes themselves to form a VSN to track a specific plume. Whenever a node detects a relevant event for the first time it sends a message towards the root of the cluster tree indicating that it is aware of the phenomenon and wants to collaborate with similar nodes. The node may join an existing VSN or makes it possible for other nodes that wish to form a VSN, to find it. Use of a cluster tree or a similar structure guarantees that two or more nodes observing the same phenomenon will discover each other. Simulation based results show that our approach is more efficient and reliable than Rumor Routing and is able to combine all the nodes that collaborate on a specific task into a VSN.”

I suspect the virtual sensor network concept will become particularly widespread as part of “smart city” deployments: cash-strapped municipalities will want to get as much bang for the buck possible from already-deployed sensors, without having to install new ones. Bet my friends in Spain at Libellium will be in the forefront of this movement!

Thanks, Ira!


*BTW: if any members of the Grammar Police are lurking out there (I’m a retired lt. colonel of the Mass. State Grammar Police myself), you may take umbrage at “data is.”  Strictly speaking, the proper usage in the past has been “data are,” but the alternative is becoming so widespread that it’s becoming acceptable usage. So sue me…

 

First survey of C-level execs’ view of the IoT

For a big project I’m working on, I’ve fruitlessly combed the Web for surveys of C-level executives’ view of the Internet of Things — until now!

ARM has just released results of a worldwide June survey, “The Internet of Things Business Index: a quiet revolution gathers pace,” that included many C-level executives, which the Economist‘s Intelligence Unit did for ARM about respondents’ attitudes toward the IoT.

I’d strongly advise you to read the entire report for a reality check on the current state of the IoT (provided, of course, that the sample population really reflects corporate attitudes as a whole — in my mind, that’s a big if, because most companies just haven’t been disclosing much information about IoT initiatives. Of course that might be because they view IoT initiatives as a real strategic advantage!).

I was happily surprised, given the low level of business media coverage of the IoT until recent months, to see how many of those surveyed knew about the IoT and were actively involved in planning for corporate initiatives, although most of those initiatives were only in the early research stages and most companies weren’t convinced the IoT would be of major near-term benefit.

The report concluded that companies are taking the IoT seriously, although without a lot of public notice:

“The Internet of Things (IoT) is an idea whose time has finally come. Falling technology costs, developments in complementary fields like mobile and cloud, together with support from governments have all contributed to the dawning of an IoT ‘quiet revolution’. Now, after more than a decade of slow progress, the business community is beginning to look seriously at the IoT—to the extent that a mere 6% of business leaders believe that the idea of IoT is simply hype…”

Here are the major findings:

  • “over three-quarters of companies are either actively exploring or using the IoT. The vast majority of business leaders believe that it will have a meaningful impact on how their companies conduct business, yet there is some divergence about the wider effect it will have”
  • “optimism about the IoT is not yet matched by investment.” 96% expect to use the IoT in some way within 3 years, but they aren’t spending much on it: only 30% have increased their IoT spending by double-digits since 2012.
  • 61% think “companies that are slow to integrate the IoT into their business will fall behind the competition.” Consider yourself forewarned!
  • only 24% felt that the IoT would be “very relevant, used by the majority of the business” within the next 3 years.
  • “A lack of IoT skills and knowledge among employees and management is viewed as the biggest obstacle to using the IoT more extensively. To address these gaps, organisations are training staff and recruiting IoT talent, raising the potential for IoT talent wars. Others are hiring consultants and third-party experts, seeking to build knowledge and identify successful IoT business models.” (sounds like a lot of opportunity for our ilk!)
  • Here’s one that particularly resonated with me because of my relentless emphasis on collaboration as one of the “Essential Truths” of the IoT: “Companies must learn to co-operate with players across industries, including competitors…. businesses must be willing to adopt a different mindset. Successful IoT rollouts require interconnected networks of products and services, but few senior executives currently expect their business to become more co-operative with competitors as a result of the IoT. ” Oops: too bad for you — it ain’t just a technological shift, but an attitudinal one as well!
  • It’s going to lead to a data explosion. While companies think they’re up to this challenge, “….prior experience of storing and analysing large amounts of “big data” may lead them to underestimate the additional talent and skills needed to spot new uses and revenue steams emerging from it.” It will also increase needs for security and privacy. 

The Economist chose the ARM report as the setting to announce a new IoT Business Index, which will be updated to track progress toward actualizing the IoT. In the benchmark edition of the index, most businesses are in the “research” stage (at  point 4 on a scale of 1 to 10). They are more likely to use the IoT at this point for internal operations and processes instead of external products or services. As I’d expected, European companies are in the lead, and, among industries, manufacturing is the leading one. Hmm: wonder if that means a growing number are installing sensors on the assembly line?

The survey included 779 senior business leaders, among whom almost half (49%), were C-level executives or board members. The sample included:

  • 29% from Europe, 29% from North America, 30% from Asia-Pacific, and  12% from Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.
  • 19 industries. About 10% each from financial services, manufacturing, healthcare, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, IT and technology, energy and natural resources, and construction and real estate.
  • The sample is evenly split between large firms, with an annual revenue of more than US$500m, and small and mid-sized firms.

All in all, I think this is an important reality check in terms of commercialization of the IoT. It seems that it’s increasingly on the corporate radar, but that hasn’t translated into a lot of concrete action. It will be interesting to track annual updates of The Economist‘s IoT Business Index to see if analysis turns into action.

Why collaboration must replace zero-sum game for IoT profitability

Posted on 3rd September 2013 in collaboration, Essential Truths, Internet of Things, strategy

I guest blogged today @ INEX Advisors today on one of my favorite Internet of Things principles: how thinking collaboratively has to replace I-win-you-lose-zero-sum-game thinking if companies want to really profit from the IoT.

As before, I cited GE as one of the few big companies that’s seizing a strategic advantage in the IoT world by practicing this approach.

survey: M2M natural evolution of “consumerization of IT”

A new survey of worldwide IT decision makers (ITDMs as the acronym goes…) by Harris Interactive for SAP includes some pretty convincing reminders that the Internet of Things (in this case the emphasis is on M2M) is as much about empowering people as it is about things.

“..most ITDMs in all six countries view M2M as the natural evolution of the ‘consumerization of IT,’ with India and China at 92 percent and 90 percent respectively. The majority of Brazilian, German, UK and US ITDMs agreed, with a combined average of 81 percent.”

A lot of mobile devices are changing everything!

A quote from Sanjay Poonen, president of SAP’s Technology Solutions and Mobile Division, neatly ties the technology and human elements together:

“Today, M2M technology is primarily being used to collect vast amounts of machine data. The ‘Internet of Things’ goes one step further by integrating data from machines, ERP, CRM systems, social media and more, in real time, allowing humans to intelligently interact with devices, devices with devices and devices back to humans – the ultimate social media collaboration of man and machine.” (I spared you the self-serving conclusion: that SAP is uniquely qualified to bring all this together..LOL.).

Other important findings include:

  • “pluralities from all six countries surveyed said that smart cities would be the coolest (now there’s a technical term…)  possible outcome of M2M: China (35 percent), Brazil (35 percent), Germany (30 percent), India (27 percent), US (25 percent) and UK (21 percent).” Come on, US
    “ITDMs”: only 25% of you agree??
  • “…an average of 70 percent of the ITDMs in all six countries surveyed agree that companies that fail to implement M2M technologies will fall behind their competitors.”
  • Companies  will gain more insight into their business: China (96 percent), India (88 percent), Brazil (86 percent), Germany (79 percent), US (74 percent) and UK (61 percent)
  • Businesses will be able to respond to real world events: China (92 percent), India (86 percent), Brazil (82 percent), Germany (82 percent), US (78 percent) and UK (73 percent)

“Those surveyed also view the following as presenting the biggest opportunities for M2M in the workplace:

  • Increased efficiency was the No. 1 response in Brazil (54 percent), UK (53 percent) and US (49 percent)
  • Increased productivity for employees was the top selection in China (69 percent), significantly higher than any other countries surveyed
  • Increased employee collaboration was the No. 1 opportunity in Germany (63 percent)
  • Increased mobility among the workforce was the biggest opportunity in India (65 percent).”

I cast my lot with the Germans: while efficiency and productivity will definitely improve, I think the real hidden bonus of M2M in the workplace will be how collaboration will increase when everyone can share the same near-real-time data!

At the same time, the respondents said there were significant obstacles to full use of M2M. As Poonen summarized:

“The benefits of M2M are undeniable but there are barriers toward the adoption of M2M solutions, such as the lack of complete multi-industry offerings, management, security and big data issues, and deficiency of suitable global connectivity solutions that are needed by multinational enterprises.”

This survey is yet more evidence, as if we needed it, that the Internet of Things is finally rising in corporate awareness — or at least among those “ITDMs!” Now the question is how many of their employers will begin to craft IoT action plans.

 

GE gets it about #IoT: collaboration will be critical attitude

Posted on 17th April 2013 in Internet of Things, management

I had a fascinating phone interview this week with Christina, “CK” Kerley, a brilliant marketing consultant who’s increasingly moving into the Internet of Things arena. I strongly suggest that you check out her videos.

She was most interested in my comments about the management implications of the IoT. I told her that a lot of companies that still practice traditional hierarchical, top-down management won’t be able to fully capitalize on the IoT because a critical element of it that isn’t fully understood is that for the first time, everyone in a company will be able to simultaneously share near-real-time information.

That’s going to bring about fundamental change to those companies that are willing to share information:

  • people will be able to carry out their responsibilities more efficiently because they will have real-time information
  • it will be possible to break down “silos” between departments, as personnel in various departments will have simultaneous information to the the same information, increasing collaboration
  • it will also be possible to share information simultaneously with your supply chain and customers, reducing inefficiency and increasing collaboration.

I’ll guarantee you: when that happens, unprecedented innovation will result, because individuals will be empowered as never before.

One company that clearly gets it is GE, which is really practicing what it preaches about the “industrial internet” (if you have access to the print edition of Time, check out their recent story about making it in America again — it features GE’s Schenectady factory manufacturing the new Durathon batteries — one of the ways it is able to compete with the Chinese is that the assembly line is laden with sensors to relay real-time information…).

I was fascinated by this story about GE’s collaboration with Quirky and Electric Imp to hold a contest to develop several IoT products in time for the holiday 2013 season.  The disparity in size between the goliath GE and Quirky and Electric Imp couldn’t be more pronounced, but GE opted to partner with them:

“GE will open thousands of its most promising patents and new technologies to the Quirky community for the development of new consumer products; and a co-branded product development initiative to build a full line of app-enabled connected devices for the home in areas such as health, security, water or air that will be developed using advanced manufacturing tools and technologies. This new line of products will be co-branded Wink: Instantly Connected.”

Yep, with the Internet of Things collaboration will be critical, and I suspect GE will head the pack!