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!

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!


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.