June 26, 2015 Leave a comment
Perspectives from a Guardian roundtable event: The internet of everything – a catalyst for the start up economy?
Great economic and societal potential, riddled with risks and data ‘ownership’ issues – that’s one way of summing up the discussion at the Guardian’s recent roundtable on the internet of everything (IOE).
The roundtable, sponsored by Cisco, comprised a range of participants from academia, investment and technology sectors. The Guardian will be publishing their full page write-up on the 4th June and their coverage will no doubt objectively balance the key themes from the morning. My write-up is not a report of the discussion but a reflection on some of the points that made me think or are closest to my heart as someone linking technology to business value and outcomes.
Throughout the roundtable, we kept coming back to two things – data and people.
Ultimately, the IOE is about creating, extracting, sharing and using data from physical objects that were not previously ‘data-enabled’ – for instance an industrial battery that tells you when it’s running low or in need of maintenance. That data may be responded to in an entirely automated way or, most often, by human beings who act on the insights gained from that data. Let’s keep in mind that the E in IOE means everything. And everything includes people.
And that’s what I kept coming back to as we talked. To truly cross the chasm, any use of IOE needs to make business life or personal life better.
For a business, that comes down to two things – creating greater cost efficiency and/or innovating to gain competitive advantage. For consumers, that means making the mundane more efficient, helping us to be more productive or increasing our enjoyment of things we like to spend time on.
Healthcare, already a sector in transition through the growing adoption of ‘telemedicine’ and ‘telehealth’, looks set for further transformation as IOE enables vulnerable and elderly people to live independently at home for longer and its further potential to help those with both physical and mental support needs is immense. Of course, it’s not about the technology per se – the technology simply triggers the right human support at the right time in a way that potentially cuts costs, enhances quality of life and saves lives.
But there are many other areas open to transformation.
Manufacturing and energy industries can create greater efficiency through remote and automated monitoring and management of plants and equipment. Support organisations, from garages to social housing, can pre-empt and repair customer equipment problems before the customer knows they have a problem. ‘Smart cities’ can better manage traffic flow and parking across the city. Of course that’s all good. But the real power of IOE is the insight that comes from the aggregation and analysis of data. That may identify patterns of healthcare need or why products fail in the field or how customers actually behave. In turn products and services can be enhanced to deliver lower cost and/or more customised and relevant services. And, so we come back to people.
Those with in-depth sector experience are often best placed to know and understand the problems and opportunities that can be addressed by IOE but need the support of technical experts to identify what’s actually possible. Making it easy for businesses, new and existing, to understand the potential of IOE within their business is essential to adoption. The feeling around our table was that it’s often hard for businesses to understand what data they have, grasp what IOE is all about and what it can do for them.
It’s a matter of education and those of us involved in the technology sector need to help companies explore their working processes and practices to identify better how to bring the physical world into the digital and how to capture, share and analyse the potentially rich data that brings.
Of course, with any potential ‘game-changer’ there’s usually a downside too. Suppliers and technologists – and the legal sector too – need to help companies navigate through the risks, challenges and options inherent in doing anything transformational. Probably the biggest of these challenges is around data ownership. Indeed, as the round table asked, what is ‘data ownership’? How data is collected, how it is used and by whom – and how it is ‘protected’ – will be key to longer term adoption of IOE, particularly in our personal lives or in sensitive sectors like healthcare.
So, what should our collective call to action be?
Business people don’t start by thinking about technology. They start by thinking about how to make their organisations ‘better’ in pursuit of their goals. Cisco talk about the ‘art of the possible’. IOE inhabits the realms of the possible – what we know today is only the tip of the iceberg. The companies that will truly find competitive advantage will be those that engage in the dialogue today – that open discussion up to new ideas and new partners and who are prepared to transform the way they work and interact. And those that engage in those discussions need to join up technology, people, commerciality and process.
After all, technology is just techie stuff for geeks until it finds real world applications for real world businesses. And, that’s where we stop talking about ‘IOE’ and start talking about what it’s doing for us in our daily business and personal lives.