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12/9/2013
09:06 AM
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Internet Of Everything: Connecting Things Is Just Step One

Success in the Internet of Things era will depend on gathering intelligence within a thriving ecosystem and, of course, being cool.

This year marked the 23rd anniversary of two clever guys -- John Romkey and Simon Hackett -- hooking up a toaster to the Internet. The device was connected by TCP/IP and was controlled with the Simple Network Management Protocol. And even though it had only one control (power on/off), it was a huge hit at the Interop networking conference that year. Later a robotic arm was added, which picked up a slice of bread and dropped it into the toaster -- no human interaction needed.

Fast forward and today we have no shortage of things connected to the Internet (more than 10 billion things, according to Cisco), from things we wear (watches and footwear) to the cars we drive. Heck, we're even getting to the point where living "things" are connected -- such as self-watering plants. Welcome to the wonderful Internet of Everything.

[ How connected will future vehicles be? Read 5 Ways Big Data Can Improve Your Car. ]

But before we get carried away with the technology and possibilities, take note. Like the Internet toaster circa 1990, just moving the products your business makes online doesn't necessarily result in commercial success. And unlike that toaster, it's actually no longer a thorny technical challenge or even that costly.

Today the cost of all the wizardry (temperature, motion and image sensors, WiFi, and GPS) is falling dramatically. This, together with the adoption of newer technologies and common standards in areas such as Near Field Communication, telematics, and machine-to-machine communications (M2M), makes just about anything a connected thing. So if getting things connected is just table stakes, what are the factors that actually guarantee success? They might not be what you think, but each has huge implications for business and IT pros. Here's my quick take.

Build connected intelligence: What's really exciting is when connected products build a whole new value proposition because of their ability to gain intelligence from things and events happening around them. Take the humble home temperature thermostat. It has been around for decades, and the technology isn't particularly earth shattering. But what if the thermostat could self-regulate based on household activity or adjust according to weather patterns? And what if the thermostat were connected to cloud-based analytics systems to become part of an energy use ecosystem, advising the homeowner on how to reduce energy consumption? Now the humble thermostat would no longer be a device. It would be something far more valuable: a customer experience.

Find the cool factor: Building connectedness and intelligence into your devices will be futile if you ignore another critical element: design. For example, the smarts factor in a home thermostat is pretty much standard and something we take for granted. It no longer differentiates. But combine intelligence with something that looks cool, and the value proposition increases. Take a look at some of the newer smart products -- yes, even thermostats, which have morphed from the clunky-looking, hard-to-program products of yesteryear into something cool and desirable.

But what does this have to do with IT? Everything. Developing cool, innovative products will require nimble management of the technologies and processes -- such as rapid software and mobile app development, agile project management, social media management, and cloud computing -- that are needed to support design, manufacturing, and marketing.

Enrich products with services: Really smart products build an ecosystem of services around them. They're so connected that external innovators want to connect, too, quickly meshing their own innovation into the product. For example, what might have started off as the humble bathroom scale suddenly becomes the central element in a person's health regime. It's intelligently connected to myriad third-party mobile apps and services, or even your health insurance provider. For IT, this switch in thinking presents some challenges. First, you must ensure the integrated software systems are not encumbered with elements that hurt the user experience (like a badly designed mobile app mimicking a website or poor security). Second, you must develop easy-to-use APIs and robust architectures and provide good old-fashioned support to your networks.

In the Internet of Everything, there is a cautionary note. Sometimes building intelligence into products can be counterproductive. Our toaster, for example, ultimately exists to make toast. But if we over-engineer with too much intelligence, we risk building products that are so annoying that our customers won't want to use them. This idea is hilariously illustrated in the BBC UK sci-fi comedy show Red Dwarf.

Finally, always remember the fight club rules of disruptive technology, especially when communicating with the business side on how innovations can expand markets and drive revenue. After all, at the end of the day, you'll be doing the toasting.

IT groups need data analytics software that's visual and accessible. Vendors are getting the message. Also in the State Of Analytics issue of InformationWeek: SAP CEO envisions a younger, greener, cloudier company (free registration required).

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PeteJW
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PeteJW,
User Rank: Strategist
12/11/2013 | 5:29:00 AM
Re: Good device information leads to better energy use
Yes, I think the really exciting point of IOT isn't the connections per se, but some of the management intelligence use cases -- especially in areas such as transportation, energy and healthcare. 
PeteJW
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PeteJW,
User Rank: Strategist
12/11/2013 | 5:22:59 AM
Re: More Than Cool
Yep, good point -- connected trust and identity-centric security will become increasingly important as more connections become established.

 
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
12/9/2013 | 11:55:20 PM
Good device information leads to better energy use
Just collecting information from devices isn't a big step forward, but creating the opportunity to integrate it into a larger picture certainly is. We've already learned it's cheaper to run the washer and dryer in the middle of the night. But there are dozens of other ways we could better manage our energy consumption. Our computer screens and TVs consume a trickle of electricity all day just so the screen fills up when we touch a button to turn them on. What if that trickle turned itself off during the day and back on only after we've crossed the threshold. Ditto for people who need a computer or a local wireless network up and running when they're in the house. In many cases they run continuously, not when they're needed. By integrating the device information, you can begin to apply some usage intelligence and make a big difference in consumption patterns.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
12/9/2013 | 6:00:46 PM
Re: More Than Cool
Very true. I don't think Sony or Samsung is attracting anyone to their smartwatches. The funcitonality is just lacking. And yeah, I steer clear of Web MD because it frequently leads me to conclude I have contracted the plague. The potential for wearable fitness devices to cause the same sort of unnecessary hysteria is immense.

But Apple is reportedly stockpiling fitness experts, and I don't think they'd release a major product if they weren't confident in the UI. Maybe the iWatch will have nothing to do with fitness, and maybe Apple will just mothball the whole thing.  But where there's smoke, there's often fire, and I'm very interested to see what Apple comes up with. Ditto for Microsoft's rumored wearable product, as I think they know it can't be a Surface-branded Galaxy watch clone. Whatever these near-term products are, they will still be a long ways from the kind of pervasive sensing technologies that I was referring to, but as the tech evolves, the implications are profound.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
12/9/2013 | 5:36:27 PM
Re: More Than Cool
A company doesn't have to be evil to lose trust. Companies lose trust with incompetence, too. To the healthcare example -- how many false positives before you chuck some monitoring device and decide it's not worth the effort?   
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
12/9/2013 | 5:30:41 PM
Re: More Than Cool
Great point. IoT applications will only succeed if they capture the right data and turn it into something actionable and useful. But even compelling use cases might not be enough if users don't trust companies with their data. Like I wrote in response to the iBeacon story from a few days ago, I think wearable technology could add years to a person's life-- but I also fear that it will help generate some sort of dystopian credit score-like rating that determines health insurance rates. Lots of IoT issues like this one will get thorny as the most disruptive applications come along.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
12/9/2013 | 5:03:57 PM
Re: More Than Cool
Internet of things use cases need one other element: trust. Do consumers trust you enough to let their device connect? Think of all the companies that launched gee whiz mobile apps only to have consumers tell them "sorry, you and I don't have that kind of relationship."
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
12/9/2013 | 3:15:26 PM
Re: More Than Cool
>While an Internet-connected home thermostat may look cool and its uses may sound cool, what is it really adding?

The Nest thermostat is an interesting case. I got one and installed it myself. It's not life-changing by any means, but it's nice to look at. It would matter more if I had air conditioning (many homes in San Francisco don't have that), which is more discretionary than heating. The thing about data is just having it isn't enough. You have to be able to take action on it easily and affordable for it to be worthwhile.

 
digital_commute
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digital_commute,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/9/2013 | 1:05:40 PM
plugaway
There is also a kickstarter campaign going on at the moment, by the creators of plugaway. They also want to fill the gap between existing devices and the possibilities of digitally communicating with them: http://www.digital-commute.com/plugaway-plugs-led-smart-home-app/
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
12/9/2013 | 10:36:22 AM
More Than Cool
Ultimately, the success of any Internet of things application will hinge on how useful/indispensable it becomes. While an Internet-connected home thermostat may look cool and its uses may sound cool, what is it really adding? "What if the thermostat could self-regulate based on household activity or adjust according to weather patterns?" My standalone home thermostat already adjusts according to weather patterns--it maintains the temperature I set it at regardless of outside weather. And it doesn't need to be connected to the Internet to be set to push the heat up 15 minutes before I get up in the morning and down when I normally go to bed. We need to move beyond Internet-connected refigerators and toasters and thermostats to applications like central monitoring of farm equipment or car parts or train wheels to anticipate breakdowns. That's exciting, really practical stuff. 

 
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