My take on the IoT at CES

Here I am languishing in bitterly-cold Massachusetts, while all the cool kids are playing with toys at CES!  I’ll try to get over it and give you my impressions of the Internet of Things new product introductions, as filtered through the lens of my IoT Essential Truths:

  • Perhaps the most important development is Samsung’s whole-hearted embrace of the IoT, building on its acquisition of SmartThings.  In his keynote, Samsung CEO BK Yoon struck exactly the right notes, emphasizing the need for open standards and collaboration.Within 5 years, all new Samsung products will be IoT enabled.Don’t forget that Samsung doesn’t just make consumer products, but also critical IoT tools such as sensors and chips.  Its 3-D range sensors that can detect tiny movements may be a critical IoT components.SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson was part of the presentation, and stressed:

    “For the Internet of Things to be a success, it has to be open, Any device, from any platform, must be able to connect and communicate with one another. We’ve worked hard to accomplish this, and are committed to putting users first, giving them the most choice and freedom possible.”

  • If was accurate, the GoBe calorie counter could be a great Quantified Self device. I still find it waaay to time-consuming and laboriously to look up specific foods’ caloric content and enter them into an app. However, The Verge says not so fast…..  What might be feasible is the InBody Bend, to measure the result of those calories — your body fat — and your heart rate. It’s also a pedometer and measures your calories burned. Oh, yeah, the Bend also tells time. Best of all, it will go 7-8 days between charges.
  • The HereO children’s watches seem like a great product for worried parents, allowing them to locate the wee ones via GPS.
  • While I think the key to realizing my “Smart Aging” paradigm shift will primarily be tweaking mainstream IoT Quantified Self and smart home devices for seniors’ special needs, there are some issues, such as hearing loss, that particularly affect seniors. In that category, Siemens’ Smart Hearing Aid looks promising, and an interesting example of enhancing a not-so-great existing product using IoT capabilities. A key is the unobtrusive clip-on easyTek  which complements the in-ear device, and can connect (via Bluetooth) to smartphones, computers or TVs, so that the hearing aides also function as earphones for those devices. As The Verge reports, even those with good hearing might end up using it.
  • However, my two favorite CES intros both enhance a decidedly 19th-century product, the bike.They illustrate the Essential TruthWhat Can You Do Now That You Couldn’t Do Before?
    Smart Pedal

    Smart Pedal

    One is a nifty substitute for a plain-vanilla pedal, from Connected Cycle. On a day-in-day-out basis, the pedal is a Quantified Self device, recording your speed, route, incline, and calories burned.

    However, when some miscreant steals your ride, it’s the two-wheel equivalent of Find My iPhone, telling you and the cops exactly where the bike’s located.

    Ok, that’s nice, but the other bike device introduced at CES can save your life!

    Smart Bike Helmet

    In the spirit of IoT collaboration, Volvo, Ericsson & sporting goods manufacturer POC have worked together on a smart helmet.

    The bike’s and the car’s locations are both uploaded to the cloud.

    If the  helmet is connected to a bike app such as Strava, built-in warning lights warn it there’s a car nearby, while a heads-up display on the dash warns the driver at the same time.

    I can’t see Volvo gaining any competitive advantage from this, and, of course, the technology will really only be effective if every hemet and every car are equipped with it, so I hope the partners will release it for universal adoption. Who would have ever thought that the IoT could peacefully bring bicyclists and motorists together. Just shows you that with the IoT, we’ll have to re-examine a lot of long-held beliefs!

 

Lifting the Veil After the Sale: another IoT “Essential Truth”

Count me among those who believe the Internet of Things will affect every aspect of corporate operations, from manufacturing to customer relations.

Perhaps one of the most dramatic impacts will be on the range of activities that take place after the sale, including maintenance, product liability, product upgrades and customer relations.

In the past, this has been a prime example of the “Collective Blindness” that afflicted us before the IoT, because we basically had no idea what happened with our products once they left the factory floor.

In fact, what little data we did have probably served to distort our impressions of how products were actually used. Because there was no direct way to find out how the products were actually used, negative data was probably given exaggerated weight: we heard negative comments (warrantee claims, returns, liability lawsuits, etc.), loud and clear, but there was no way to find out how the majority of customers who were pleased with their products used them.

That has all changed with the IoT.

Now, we have to think about products  in totally new ways to capitalize on the IoT, and I think this merits another “Essential Truth” about the IoT:

Everything is cyclical.

Think about products — and industrial processes in general — in the old industrial system. Everything was linear: perhaps best exemplified by Henry Ford’s massive River Rouge Complex, the world’s largest integrated factory, and the epitome of integrated production.

Ford River Rouge Complex

“Ford was attempting to control and coordinate all of the necessary resources to produce complete automobiles.  Although Ford’s vision was never completely realized, no one else has come so close, especially on such a large scale.  His vision was certainly a success, one indication of this is the term Fordism, which refers to his style of mass-production, characterized by vertical integration, standardized products and assembly-line production”

At “The Rouge,” raw materials (literally: it had its own coke ovens and foundry!)  flowed in one side, and completed cars flowed out the other, bound for who knows where. Once the cars were in customers’ hands, the company’s contact was limited to whatever knowledge could be gleaned from owners’ visits to dealers’ service departments, irate calls from customers who had problems, and (in later days) safety recalls and/or multi-million dollar class-action lawsuits.

That linear thinking led to a terrible example of the “Collective Blindness” phenomenon that I’ve written about in the past: who knew how customers actually thought about their Model T’s? How did they actually drive them? Were there consistent patterns of performance issues that might not have resulted in major problems, but did irritate customers?

Sure, you could guess, or try to make inferences based on limited data, but no one really knew.

Fast forward to the newest auto manufacturer, Tesla, and its factory in Fremont, California (aside: this massive building — Tesla only uses a portion, used to be the NUMMI factory, where Chevy built Novas and Toyota built Corollas. Loved the perceptual irony: exactly the same American workers built mechanically identical cars [only the sheet metal varied] but the Toyotas commanded much higher prices, because of the perception of “Japanese quality.” LOL. But I digress….).

Tesla doesn’t lose track of its customers once the cars leave the plant.

Tesla assembly line

In fact, as I’ve written before, these “iPhones on wheels” are part of a massive cyclical process, where the cars’ on-board communications constantly send back data to the company about how the cars are actually doing on the road. And, when need be, as I mentioned in that prior post, the company was able to solve a potentially dangerous problem by simply sending out a software patch that was implemented while owners slept, without requiring customer trips to a repair shop!

I imagine that the company’s design engineers also pour over this data to discern patterns that might indicate elements of the physical design to tweak as well.

Of course, what would a blog post by me about IoT paradigm shifts be without a gratuitous reference to General Electric and its Durathon battery plant (aside to GE accounting: where should I send my W-9 and invoice so you can send me massive check for all the free PR I’ve given you? LOL)?

I can’t think of a better example of this switch to cyclical thinking:

  • including sensors into the batteries at the beginning of the production process rather than slapping them on at the end means that the company is actually able to monitor, and fine tune, the manufacturing process to optimize the critical chemical reaction. The same data allows the workers to remove defective batteries from the assembly line, so that every battery that ships works.
  • once in the field (and, remember: these batteries are deployed in incredibly remote areas where it might take days for a repair crew to reach and either service or repair them) the same sensors send back data on how the batteries are functioning. I don’t know about the specifics in the case of these batteries, but GE has actually created new revenue streams with other continuously-monitored devices by selling this data to customers who can use it (because the data is shared on a real-time basis, not just historically) to optimize performance.

Elsewhere, as I’ve mentioned before, General Electric’s William Ruh has said that being able to lift the veil of “Collective Blindness” through feedback from how customers actually use their products has even revolutionized their product design process:

“… 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. These approaches follow the ‘lean start-up’ style at many software-intensive Internet companies. “’We’re getting these offerings done in three, six, nine months,’ he (Ruh) said. ‘It used to take three years.’”

Back in the ’90’s, I used to lecture and consult on what I called “Natural Wealth,” a paradigm shift in which we’d find all the inspiration we needed for an information-based economy in a table-top terrarium that embodies billion-year-old  principles of nature:

  • embrace chaos, don’t try to control it. (i.e., use open systems rather than proprietary ones)
  • create symbiosis: balance competition with cooperation (IFTTT.com, where you release your APIs to create synergistic mashups with others).
  • close the loop.

With the IoT, we can finally put that last principle into practice, substituting cyclical processes for linear ones.  At long last, the “systems dynamics” thinking pioneered by Jay Forrester and his disciple, Peter Senge, can become a reality. Here’s a closing tip to make that possible: in addition to SAP’s HANA or other analytics packages, look to systems dynamics software such as isee systems’  iThink to model your processes and transform linear into cyclical ones. Now get going: close the loop!

Perhaps Most Important Internet of Things Essential Truth: Everything’s Linked

PROCEED WITH CAUTION!

You see, I’m thinking out loud (that accounts for that sound of gears grinding….) — I really am writing this post as I mull over the subject for the first time, so you’re forewarned that the result may be a disaster — or insightful. Bear with me…

I’m working on a book outline expanding on “Managing the Internet of Things Revolution,” the introduction to IoT strategy for C-level executives that I wrote for SAP. One of the things I’ve been looking for is a theme that would bring together all of the book’s parts, which include product design, manufacturing, marketing and corporate organization, among other topics.

I think I’ve got that theme, and I think it may be the most Essential Truth of all the ones I’ve written about regarding the IoT:

Everything’s Linked!

When you think about it, there have been a lot of dead-ends in business in the past:

  • we haven’t been able to know how customers used our products. We’ve actually got a lot more information about the ones that failed, because of warrantee claims or complaints, than we have about the ones that worked well, because that information was impossible to gather.
  • data that could help workers do their work better has always come from top down, filtered by various levels of management and only delivered after the fact.
  • customers can’t get the full value of our products because they operate in isolation from each other, and often were slow to react to changing conditions.
  • assembly-line machinery has frequently been hard to optimize, because we really didn’t know how it was operating — until it broke down.
  • key parts of the operation, such as supply chain, manufacturing, and distribution, have been largely independent, without simultaneous access to each other’s status.

With the Internet of Things, by contrast, everything will be linked, and that will change everything:

  • we’ll get real-time data about how customers are using our products. Most radically, that data may even allow us, instead of selling products and then severing our ties to the customer as in the past, to instead lease them the products, with the pricing dependent on how they actually use the products and the value they obtain from them.
  • everyone in the company can (if your management practices allow!) have real-time access to data that will help them improve their decision making and daily operations (hmm: still looking for an example of this one: know any companies that are sharing data on a real-time basis??).
  • products will work together, with synergistic results (as with the Jawbone UP turning on the NEXT), with their operation automatically triggered and coordinated by services such as IFTTT.
  • the assembly line can be optimized because we’ll be able to “see” into massive equipment to learn how it is operating — or if it needs repairs in time to avoid catastrophic failure.
  • access to that same data may even be shared with your supply chain and distribution network — or even with customers (again, looking for a good example of that transformation).

There’s won’t be dead ends or one-way streets where information only flows one way. Instead, they’ll be replaced by loops (in fact, I thought loops might be an alternative theme): in many cases, data will be fed back through M2M systems so things can be optimized.

If that’s the case, we’ll be able to increase the use and value of tools such as systems dynamics software, that would help us model and act on these links and loops. Instead of massive oscillations where we’re forced to make sudden, major corrections when data finally becomes available, machinery will be largely self-regulating, based on continuous feedback. We’ll delight customers because products will be more dependable and we’ll be able to fine-tune them by adding features based on actual knowledge of how the products work.  Workers will be more efficient, and happier, because they’ll be empowered. We’ll tread lightly on the earth, because we’ll use only what we need, precisely when we need it.

By George, I think I’ve got it! I’m excited about this vision of the Internet of Things linking everything. What do you think?? Please let me know! 

Smart Washing Machine: another example of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should”

When I buy the much-hyped smart refrigerator, you’ll know I’ve officially gone around the bend, and have officially surrendered to IoT hype: it makes sense for those who buy a ton of processed foods with bar codes on them, but I just can’t see the value to those of us who buy a lot of label-less veggies from farmers markets, for example.

In a close second place on my personal list of those IoT devices that violate one of my Essential Truths of the IoT: “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should” would be a smart washing machine.

As the Washington Post wrote about Whirlpool’s $1,699 “smart” washer,

“Few expected ‘smart’ machines would fly off the shelves. They’re expensive, and Americans don’t typically replace their washers and dryers all that often. But analysts say the problem is bigger than that. Today’s smartest washer and dryer set won’t fold your clothes, erase wrinkles or stop you from mixing reds and whites. It won’t even move a load from one machine to the other. So what’s the point?”

I know there are going to be some false starts in creating IoT-enabled products that really do provide value, and good for Whirlpool for experimenting, but I do wonder whether something we used to call “common sense” is sorely lacking in some companies’ IoT decision-making.

IMHO, it would really be helpful if my washer and dryer could go on late at night to take advantage of utilities’ off-peak pricing as part of their smart grid initiatives (to their credit, as you’ll see from the photo of the companion smart dryer, a smart grid link is part of these appliances)

smart grid button on Whirlpool dryer

. However, I suspect that would be easily possible if the utilities just published APIs so some smart IFTTT user could create a “recipe” that would turn on an utterly-conventional washer that was plugged into a WeMo smart plug (hmm: did a search for that, and found a recipe that would automatically turn off a washer plugged into a WeMo if a Nest alarm detected a fire: nice, but rather low on my list of what I’d want to have done in case of a fire….).

So, yea, smart appliances, but let’s also make sure that one of the questions companies ask before committing to a really expensive initiative is: “do we really need it?”

IoT ideal example of “recombinant innovation”!

I’m currently reading Erik Brynjolfsson (say that one fast three times…) and Andy McAfee’s brilliant The Second Machine Age, which I highly recommend as an overview of the opportunities and pitfalls of what they call “brilliant technologies.”

While they don’t specifically mention the IoT, I was riveted by one section in which they contrasted current digital innovation with past technologies, using economist Paul Romer‘s term “recombinant innovation”:

Economic growth occurs whenever people take resources and rearrange them in ways that make them more valuable…. Every generation has perceived the limits to growth that finite resources and undesirable side effects would pose if no new … ideas were discovered. And every generation has underestimated the potential for finding new … ideas. We consistently fail to grasp how many ideas remain to be discovered… Possibilitities do not merely add up, they multiply.” (my emphasis)

I felt like Dr. Pangloss, who was surprised to learn he’d been speaking prose all his life: I realized Romer’s term and definition was a more elegant version of what I’ve written before, especially about IFTTT, about an Essential Truth of the IoT — that sharing data is critical to achieving the IoT’s full potential. IFTTT is a great example of Romer’s argument in practice: individuals are “taking resource and rearrang(ing) them in ways that make them more valuable.” As Brynjolfsson and McAfee write:

“.. digital innovation is recombinant innovation in its purest form. Each development becomes a building block for future innovations. Progress doesn’t run out; it accumulates. And the digital world doesn’t respect any boundaries. It extends into the physical one, leading to cars and planes that drive themselves, printers that make parts, and so on….We’ll call this the ‘innovation-as-building-block’ view of the world..” (again, my emphasis)

This is such a powerful concept. Think of Legos — not those silly ones that dominate today, where they are so specialized they can only be used in making a specific kit — but the good ol’ basic ones that could be reused in countless ways. It’s why I happen to believe that all the well-thought-out projections on the IoT’s potential size probably are on the low side: there’s simply no way that we can predict now all the creative, life-saving, money-saving, or quality-of-life-enhancing ways the IoT will manifest itself until people within and outside of organizations take new IoT devices and use them in IFTTT-like “Recipes” that would never have occurred to the devices’ creators.  But beware: none of this will happen if companies use proprietary standards or don’t open their APIs and other tools to all those who can benefit.

How exciting!

Why It’s So Hard to Predict Internet of Things’ Full Impact: “Collective Blindness”

I’ve been trying to come up with a layman’s analogy to use in explaining to skeptical executives about how dramatic the Internet of Things’ impact will be on every aspect of business and our lives, and why, if anything, it will be even more dramatic than experts’ predictions so far (see Postscapes‘ roundup of the projections).

See whether you thing “Collective Blindness” does justice to the potential for change?

 

What if there was a universal malady known as Collective Blindness, whose symptoms were that we humans simply could not see much of what was in the world?

Even worse, because everyone suffered from the condition, we wouldn’t even be aware of it as a problem, so no one would research how to end it. Instead, for millennia we’d just come up with coping mechanisms to work around the problem.

Collective Blindness would be a stupendous obstacle to full realization of a whole range of human activities (but, of course, we couldn’t quantify the problem’s impact because we weren’t even aware that it existed).

Collective Blindness has been a reality, because vast areas of our daily reality have been unknowable in the past, to the extent that we have just accepted it as a condition of reality.

Consider how Collective Blindness has limited our business horizons.

We couldn’t tell when a key piece of machinery was going to fail because of metal fatigue.

We couldn’t tell how efficiently an entire assembly line was operating, or how to fully optimize its performance.

We couldn’t tell whether a delivery truck would be stuck in traffic.

We couldn’t tell exactly when we’d need a parts shipment from a supplier, nor would the supplier know exactly when to do a new production run to be read.

We couldn’t tell how customers actually used our products.

That’s all changing now. Collective Blindness is ending, …. and will be eradified by the Internet of Things.

What do you think? Useful analogy?

The New IoT Math: 1 + 1 + 3 — Jawbone UP24 now controls Nest thermostat

A chance conversation about the IoT the other day turned me on to this elegant proof-of-concept that what I call “Smart Aging” to help seniors be healthier and avoid institutionalization is possible: my Jawbone UP bracelet could now control my Nest thermostat (if I had one: with three heating zones in my house, I’m gonna wait until the NEST price drops before I’ll buy them…).

That, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what I’m talking about with my concept of “Smart Aging” for seniors, which would combine:

  • Quantified Self devices such as Jawbone UPs, Nike FuelBand, the congestive heart failure necklace,  or the Biostamp sensor (more about that one in a future post!) that will easily and unobtrusively monitor your bodily indicators and, if you choose, report them to your doctor, both to improve diagnoses, and to encourage you to adopt healthy practices such as a daily walk.
  • smart home devices such as the NEST or the voice-activated Ivee hub.

Even better, if device manufacturers get it about one of my Essential Truths about the IoT:  who else could use this data?, they will allow free access to their algorithms, and someone will realize that 1+1=3: the two devices are even more powerful when linked! In this case, the Jawbone UP is powerful, and so is the Nest, but something totally new is possible when they are linked:

“By connecting your UP24 with your Nest Thermostat, the temperature of your house will automatically adjust to a temperature you prefer – the moment you go to bed or wake up.

“Through UP Insights, we have shared the fact that an ideal sleeping environment is cooler, between 65 and 72 degrees. With the Nest integration, we no longer just tell you this fact. We make it a reality. Once your band enters Sleep Mode, your thermostat will kick down to your ideal temperature. And when you wake? You guessed it. Your thermostat will automatically adjust to a warmer temperature… all without leaving your bed.”

Nest-2_thermostatJawbone_UpHow cool (or hot, depending on the season…) is that?

I particularly like it for seniors because of one UP feature: instead of setting a precise wake-up alarm, you also have the option of creating a 30-minute window when it it should vibrate to wake you, with the exact time determined by what the UP determines is the ideal point in your natural sleep cycle.  Some working people on extremely tight morning schedules may not want to take advantage of that option, but for seniors, answering to no one but themselves, that would be an added benefit: get the best possible sleep, AND get up in a warm house (oh, and while you’re at it, why not link in some Phillips HUE lights and a coffee pot plugged in to a Belkin WeMo socket, so that you’ll also have fresh-brewed coffee and a bright kitchen?).  Sweet!

Do the math: one IoT-empowered device is nice, but link several more of them, and 1 + 1 = 3 — or more!

My speech on how the Internet of Things will aid Predictive Analytics

I spoke yesterday at the Predictive Analytics Manufacturing conference in Chicago, about a theme I first raised in the O’Reilly SOLID blog, about how the Internet of Things could bring about an “era of precision manufacturing.”

I argued that, as powerful as Predictive Analytics tools have been in analyzing manufacturing data and improving forecasting, their effectiveness has been artificially restricted because, for example, we can’t “see” inside production machinery to detect early signs of metal fatigue in time to avoid a costly breakdown, nor can we tell whether EVERY product on an assembly line will function when customers use them.

By contrast, I argued that the IoT will give us all this information, and, most important, allow everyone (from your supply chain and distribution network to EVERYONE in your company) to share this data on a real-time basis.  I warned that it will be management issues (those pesky IoT Essential Truths again!), such as whether to allow this sharing to take place, and whether to end departmental silos, that will be the biggest potential barrier to full IoT implementation.

Believe me, it will be an incredible transformation.  You can read the full text here.

My piece in Harvard Biz Review blaming #370 crash on lack of “Internet of Things” thinking!

Hey, everyone else has weighed in with an explanation on why Flight 370 crashed, so I did, today, with a piece in the Harvard Business Review blog in which I blamed it on lack of “Internet of Things thinking.”

May sound crazy, but I think it’s true, because of two of my “Essential Truths” about the IoT — two things that we can do now but never could before, which open up a huge range of possibilities for change:

  • limitless numbers of devices and people can share the same data on a real-time basis
  • for the first time, we can get real-time data on how devices are actually operating, even conditions deep within the device

In this case, if Malaysia Air had only been willing to pay $10 more per flight, it could have had a wide-ranging flow of real-time data from the plane’s engines. Under regular conditions this data could have allowed the company to tweak the engines’ performance, while also allowing them to do “predictive maintenance,” catching minute problems as they first emerged, in time to make safe, economical repairs rather than waiting until a catastrophic failure.

AND, it also would have allowed them during the crisis two weeks ago to have immediately switched to monitoring the engine data when voice transmissions ended, so they would have known immediately that the plane was still flying, in time to have launched planes to intercept the plane and land it safely.

HOWEVER, what was missing was this “Internet of Things thinking,” so they didn’t think expansively about the value of sharing the data.  They saved $10 per flight, but lost 290 people. Somehow the math doesn’t add up…

IoT Essential Truths: Just Because You Can Do It Doesn’t Mean You Should

Posted on 9th December 2013 in Essential Truths

Whilst (aren’t I the Anglophile?) walking the dog this morning, the “social sensing badges” that I’d slammed a while ago as crossing my personal line in terms of invasion of privacy popped into my head.

As I thought more about these monitors of your personal interactions in the workplace, I thought that one of my comments about them deserved elevation to the level of one of my “Essential Truths” about the IoT (i.e., such basic principles that they should be considered throughout the design and launch of any IoT service):

Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it!

Primarily, it seems to me this adds a crucial ethical component to the IoT, which should never be far from our thoughts because of the omnipresent issues of privacy and security that pervade so many IoT services. In the case of the “social sensing badges,” Sociometric Solutions paints a strong case for how their badges can lead to a more productive workplace, but, IMHO, that fails to outweigh the omnipresent invasion of workers’ personal privacy that the badges represent, especially in today’s poisonous workplace environment (that’s my judgment: love the humane workplaces that prove me wrong!).

Medical solutions should particularly be subject to this test, because the information they gather and diffuse is so personal and potentially harmful. I am a huge fan of these solutions — many can literally save your life, while most will improve your quality of life — but I think they carry with them the need to place heavy emphasis on privacy and security protections if they are to be introduced.

And there’s a corollary to this Essential Truth that companies need to keep in mind:

Just because you can do it doesn’t mean I have to buy it!

That one comes to mind every time I read a breathless new update on the IoT’s Holy Grail. I speak, of course, of the “smart refrigerator!” I’ll grant you that each iteration does add more services, but suffice it to say that I ain’t making a down-payment on any of those on the market, and I doubt whether I ever will!  Why? I don’t buy a lot of prepared refrigerated foods, and I’m making at least a half-hearted effort to eat locally and farther down the food chain. Veggies and grains from the bulk bins at my store don’t come with bar codes, so I can’t personally see paying a premium for a fridge that really isn’t going to fulfill the promise of monitoring my food intake and generating my shopping list. If you’re contemplating a new IoT solution, make sure it’s really worthwhile, vs. just a gimmick.

I’m not sure where I stand on the issue of whether a new technology is essentially good or evil (except for the A-bomb…) or whether it’s ethically neutral.  However, I do think that the IoT, by virtue of its great strength of generating such high volumes of real-time data, does continually bump up against ethical questions, so it’s just smart policy to constantly think of whether you should do it just because you can.

What do you think? I’d love your thoughts on this important issue!