Internet of Things Can Pay Off for Small & Medium Businesses Too

Think again, if you’re a small and medium-sized business (SMB) that is holding back on Internet of Things projects until the price of software and components such as sensors came down and the technology is more robust!

INEX Advisors’ IoT Impact LABS, an accelerator program in New Bedford, MA brings together IoT startups, top technology and industrial suppliers such as Analog Devices, Dell, and PTC/ ThingWORX, plus legal and policy experts to use the IoT help innovative, sustainable small and medium-sized businesses in the region in fields such as “smart cities,” food and agriculture, water and maritime, and energy and transportation.

One is particularly noteworthy because it is bringing fishing into the 21st century.

Island Creek Oysters of Duxbury MA, was plagued by the need to do a five-step, paper-based food safety inspection reporting on variables such as water temperature and pH, that had to be recorded precisely during the two-hour window after low tide when it had to harvest the oysters.  It’s difficult to do both.

The Mass. Department of Fisheries Management brought together INEX and Island Creek to develop a real-time digital program to both monitor the oysters and do the data collection. Chris Rezendes, partner at Inex Advisors, said the department contacted IoT Impact Labs to figure out a digital traceability program for shellfish farmers in Massachusetts, which includes Island Creek’s farm in Duxbury Mass., just a half-hour south of Boston.

IoT Impact Labs put together a solution to enable monitoring of conditions in real time, wirelessly.

“There are just dozens of instrumentation opportunities. That means dozens of opportunities for sensors, and firmware, and connectivity, and analytics vendors,” Rezendes told CRN.

The project included replacing time-consuming human monitoring of more than 60 water pumps with wireless sensors.

The LABS will release more information about the other projects in coming months, and will host one of our Boston/New England IoT Meetups on February 29 in New Bedford (6 PM, 1213 Purchase Street), with speakers including:

  • Dave Wiley, PhD. NOAA, Research Director, Stellwagon National Marine Sanctuary. He has led the development and deployment of sensor buoys and marine mammal tracking, including supporting a recreational marine application based on his team’s work.
  • Dave Duquette, Founder and CEO, Littoral Power Systems which recently closed its Seed Round, including a prestigious ARPA-E grant. Their kinetic energy harvesting systems are breaking ground in tidal energy capture.
  • Brian Coffey, environmental sensing and instrumentation lead at Analog Devices.


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IoT: What Can You Do That You Couldn’t? Heavy Construction

Not sure why, but I’m particularly fascinated by how the IoT can transform parts of the economy that have been around for more than 100 years, such as the way the Union Pacific uses it to reduce derailments — and worse.

One of those tradition-bound industries where the IoT Essential TruthWhat Can You Do Now That You Couldn’t Do Before” is starting to revolutionize both daily practices and strategy is heavy construction, both for buildings and public works.

First of all, heavy construction is inherently dangerous, so anything that can be done to manage that danger is beneficial.

Lots of very heavy machinery; many people, frequently on foot; almost impossible to coordinate all of them in the past, especially as vehicles enter and leave the site.  According to OSHA, in the US alone, 796, or 20.3% of all workers killed on the job in 2003 were killed on construction sites, primarily through falls, struck by objects, electrocution or “caught-in-between.” Of those, lack of coordination probably resulted in most of the struck by objects and “caught-in-between” deaths.

One of the most exciting developments in that regard is SAP’s demonstration program with SK Solutions, which makes anti-collision software, on a construction site in Dubai. They are capitalizing on new construction cranes and construction vehicle  that have sensors built in so their real-time location can be determined instantly. SAP and SK Solutions combine sensor-based data – such as 3-D motion control, location, load weight, equipment usage and wind speed – to avoid collisions with trucks  to enhance worker safety, improve productivity and reduce costs. The site and project managers monitor the equipment via a dashboard.

Less dramatic than collision avoidance is the way that construction companies are using real-time data from the equipment to maximize operating efficiency and reduce maintenance costs through innovations such as “predictive maintenance.”  As my Boston IoT MeetUp co-director Chris Rezendes of INEX Advisors discussed at the recent Association of Equipment Management Professionals Asset Management Symposium, “instrumentation of assets” through digital plans and models, sensors, data and embedded communication devices in buildings and bridges is becoming a key differentiator in the industry. According to Rezendes:

““Everybody in tech wants to instrument your assets, inventories, operations, people and processes… They are looking at instrumenting all manner of industrial machines, equipment and more. And they’re doing it really well…. You should feel threatened, at least a little bit, by big technology companies trying to instrument your assets for you, maybe to you… I’m going to tell it to you straight: He or she who controls the intelligence–the data about those assets, inventories and areas of operation–will control that market, the customer, the regulatory environment and the supply chain. They will control you.”

What a seismic shift from the old days of heavy construction, which was largely a matter of brute force and difficult demands on operators to remain always vigilant in the midst of loud noises.  Add in the sensors that these construction crews are now embedding in bridges’ structure and in buildings to monitor a wide range of stresses and environmental conditions, and the conclusion is inescapable: every industry can and will be fundamentally altered in the coming decade as equipment and processes begin switch the requirements from brawn to brains.

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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!

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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!


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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.

If you’re in Boston, hope you’ll come to EntreTech Tuesday!

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

Just got off a conference call with the participants in what’s shaping up to be a great panel on the Internet of Things at Northeastern University’s EntreTech Forum series, Tuesday night in Waltham.

EntreTech Forum

In addition to moi, the participants will be:

  • old friend Chris Rezendes, my partner-in-crime with the IoT Meetup series and CEO of INEX Advisors, THE IoT strategy consultants
  • Josh Siegel, who was one of the stars of the first IoT Meetup with his presentation on the MIT CloudThink car project! Josh is also founder of CarKnow.
  • Richard Pietravalle, a principal at MITRE Corporation.
  • Hans Scharler, co-founder of ioBridge, which creates gatesways that “make it easy for professionals and enthusiasts to monitor and control nearly anything via their smart phone or web app.”

I’ll provide an overview of the IoT for those who aren’t familiar with it, and the other panelists will give an insider’s perspective on the entrepreneurial opportunities for both old and new companies created by the IoT.

The EntreTech Forum consists of moderated monthly panel discussions on emerging academic research and the commercialization of this technology.  It was designed for those interested in technology innovation and marketing collaboration and networking with fellow entrepreneurs, business and government executives, investors, and technology researchers.

Registration costs $25, reduced to $10 for students and active military. The event begins at 6:30 with networking and snacks, and will be held at the Foley Hoag’s Emerging Enterprise Center at the Bay Colony Corporate Center, 1000 Winter Street, Suite 4000 (North Entrance), in Waltham.

See you there!

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Program announced for second Boston #IoT MeetUp

Posted on 24th April 2013 in Internet of Things

Here’s the announcement from my friends at INEX Advisors about the second of our Boston/New England IoT MeetUps, to be held Thursday, May 2nd, at COSM’s new headquarters in the South Boston Innovation District:

Internet of Things MeetUp: Boston/New England #2

Leveraging IoT to Empower Individuals and Small Teams

The Boston/New England technology communities are coming together once again to share
and learn how to best put people at the center of the Internet of Things. The next IoT MeetUp:
Boston/New England on May 2 is at the new headquarters of LogMeIn and COSM, located at
320 Summer Street in Boston, MA.

The theme of this free networking and demonstration event focuses on how new people-centered
IoT solutions can be created by combining repurposed existing technologies with new approaches
to IoT.

National security, public safety and health care markets will be highlighted.

At this MeetUp, one of the world’s leading intelligence community systems integration firms
will demonstrate how it is creating new markets with its service creation and content delivery
platforms. Two small, local companies will also share how they are radically enhancing the
operational effectiveness of public safety and health care workers by creating secure, ad-hoc
networks of connected devices industries.

“I’ve been studying the value of networked devices in homeland security preparation and
emergency response since 2001, so I’m particularly excited about this program,” says David
Stephenson, Stephenson Strategies, and co-organizer of the event.

“The national security industry has long been at the forefront of information and intelligence
collection, analysis and application,” says Chris Rezendes, president of INEX Advisors and
co-organizer. “Almost every technology market has benefitted from some cross-pollination of
defense and commercial markets. IoT is no different.”

This MeetUp is all about empowering individuals and small teams in the broadest of applications
and environments. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. with one hour of networking, following by a
one hour speaking program and then more networking.

Speakers include:
• Les Yetton, General Manager, Cosm. Welcoming remarks.
• Michael Simon, CEO, LogMeIn. LogMeIn’s latest chapter: The Innovation District,
• Chuck Samuels, PhD, VP, The SI Organization. Chuck will be briefing attendees on his
firm’s development of a secure marketplace for tool developers to market and monetize their
collections of algorithms, data models, data feeds, applications — including IoT.
• Michael Helfrich, CEO, Blue Force Development (BFD). Mike will thumbnail of couple of
BFD applications in the national security and public safety spaces that place mobile operators
in the middle of ad-hoc networks of unattended devices configured to radically improve their
operational effectiveness in environments with limited resources.

Jeff Carlisle, Founder, ivBreeze. Jeff will share his firm’s vision behind their new digital,
connected IV pump and mobile access platform that drives material positive gains in patient
outcomes. Moreover, the solution creates more opportunity for meaningful interactions
between caregivers and patients by reducing the medical staff time required to support
traditional pump stations.

IoT MeetUp Boston/New England #2, Leveraging IoT to Empower Individuals and Small Teams,
is organized by David Stephenson, owner, Stephenson Strategies, an author, speaker, consultant
and strategist with a passion for creating a community around the Internet of Things, and INEX
Advisors, a new kind of technology intelligence and advisory firm concentrating in helping IoT/
M2M/ Physical Web and related solution developers grow through the intelligent, intentional
deployment of these solutions as a means to create more value – in meaning, time and profit – for
the broadest possible community of users.

To register for this free event or for more information, please visit Search IoT:
Boston/New England.

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#IoT saving the Amazon

Posted on 31st January 2013 in environmental, Internet of Things

As a passionate environmentalist who’s always looking for economical win-win solutions to thorny environmental issues, this one caught my eye!

Chris Rezendes of INEX Advisors blogged recently about a great example of the IoT making a real difference, in this case in the Amazon (disclaimer: Chris is my co-organizer for a forthcoming Meetup for IoT people in New England, and he’s built me into a number of new business proposals), where two firms, Cargo Tracck  and Gemalto, teamed up to catch thieves who had switched from their former clear-cutting to more selective processes aimed at only high value trees:

“M2M modules optimized to operate in austere network and harsh physical environments in protected regions of the Amazon.  Devices are attached to trees.  A number of mechanisms are embedded in the devices to notify authorities when a tree from a protected/ managed region is harvested.  The solution operates in near-real-time, and has back-end services that have enabled authorities to more quickly apprehend poachers, keep the contraband off the market, and provide layers and layers of economic and quality of life benefits to a number of stakeholders.”

This reminds me of the project of creating a trillion-sensor  “central nervous system for the planet” including the rainforests that HP proposed several years ago as part of its CeNSE project but has not been willing to discuss recently (when I attempted to interview personnel for the project when I was writing my e-book about the IoT the company’s PR department flatly refused. Hmmm…).

One particularly interesting aspect of the program is that it uses a RED (Radiation Data Exchange) technology “that boosts effective operating ranges in austere power and network coverage environments.”  As Rezendes points out, using the RED system doesn’t rely on transmitting massive amounts of real-time data, which would create headaches in terms of big data processing and also would require larger energy supplies for the sensors. Instead, it reports “short bursty data” based on exceptions to the normal data, which would indicate out-of-the-ordinary occurrences such as harvesting of one of the trees.

Here’s how it works:

“Smaller than a deck of cards, the tiny tracking device is camouflaged in a resin case made to blend in with the trunks of trees. Ten of the devices were covertly installed in remote active harvesting areas deep in the jungle. In addition, specialized night vision cameras were installed in nearby trees to capture visual evidence of illegal logging activities. The sophisticated power management system of the Cinterion module provided superior power efficiency allowing the device to operate reliably in the field for over a year without recharging batteries. When lumber gangs harvested a tagged tree, the solution immediately began sending alarms to law enforcement officials. Cargo Tracck’s leading-edge geo-location algorithms, along with the R.E.D. boosters provided unprecedented location accuracy, delivering tracking data and alarm notification to officials as soon as harvested trees passed within 20 miles of a cellular network. This allowed officials to remotely track trees and intercept and arrest thieves in the act of selling timber at sawmills, which ultimately led to quicker prosecution.”

Is that kewl, or what?

As Rezendes points out, the system is a win-win one for all of the major publics concerned with the rainforests: residents, those licensed to responsibly harvest the trees, the government — and the planet.

Perhaps an ad hoc assemblage of discrete projects such as this one in the Amazon can achieve the vision of the “central nervous system for the planet” on the cheap.

Bravo, Cargo Tracck & Gemalto!



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