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Who owns the IoT data?

What were your first thoughts about IoT? Did you even call it IoT? In most cases, connected devices were around long before people were paying attention to them. From early version factory floor automation, on-board diagnostic (OBD) units in cars, cellular switching and control, and to disk drives that “phoned home” before they would break, machines have been instrumented and communicating their status for a long time. Now, as the deployment architecture has ostensibly expanded to a huge degree, with standards and increased addressability via IPv6, we are seeing and thinking about virtually everything being connected. This is the next frontier of technology.

But it isn’t — technology is already at that point, so it can’t logically be the next frontier. Rather, what we now find ourselves in are the various iterations of this massive technological wave. The early iterations were all about hardware (sensors), connectivity, and the ensuing workflow, rules and resulting actions taken based on the insight gained from a given record. This was the early, very cool phase. And since smartphones have become largely ubiquitous (at least in some geographies), there is more often than not the mechanism to determine that you left your refrigerator door open, and you can get an alert on your iPhone, or maybe you can even see the open door. Miraculous, right?

Maybe not miraculous, but a nice first step. So once you have all that IoT data, then what? For starters, you close the door. But another thing you might do is instrument the lights or track the security in your house — and the HVAC, ceiling fans, entertainment system, energy systems, large kitchen appliances ad so on. On a separate but related note, you may have an iWatch that is collecting a good amount of information about you based upon your pulse, the steps you walk and even more depending on how you use it. You may also be using other IoT tools for blood pressure, blood glucose monitoring, weight and BMI measurements, temperature and more. The systems you use — and IoT data being collected about you — are only going to grow. The same is true for your house and for that matter, your car. Have you ever looked at what your heart rate looks like when you are driving? Have you ever looked at a correlation between the temperature in your home and the temperature of your body? For that matter, have you tried to understand what the conditions were with your vital signs, as well as in your house preceding the last time you got sick? Did you notice any correlation between the air quality in your house, the temperature outside, the air quality in the neighborhood, the temperature inside, and the exercise and vital signs you were registering leading up to your illness? Probably not, right? Why exactly do you think that is? I am guessing it is probably because you cannot control how you see and access the IoT data, and how you can ultimately consume, enrich and analyze that data. But if you were to look back in time at how data evolved and then look forward, would you predict that just maybe you would one day be able to access, correlate and analyze that data?

Of course that will happen. The reason is that the market — in this case, the consumer market — will demand it. It will come in phases — and there will be forces against it — but it will come. A good indication of this is in the home market, where there is consolidation around the home “hubs” that serve to interconnect and consolidate the implementation of smart homes. This is a first step on the path to harness the breadth of data in a home, although most probably just reduce to the fans talking to the thermostats. That is a mistake, because the value is in the data. And insight is less a function of the data from an IoT subsystem, and more a function of all the IoT subsystems working alongside one another. It is not so much what happens with the HVAC system, but what happens with the HVAC system correlated with what happens with the appliances, the activity in the house, the weather and so on. Insight is gained from leveraging the utility value of the IoT data, but that only happens when you can access and analyze that data. You can’t really do that well in 2016, but it is inconceivable that you won’t be able to do so in the future.

And if that is true for homes and mhealth, what do you suppose is the view of businesses that are implementing multiple IoT subsystems? Are they happy to have their HVAC, beacon, lighting and kitchen equipment systems gathering information that they cannot leverage and correlate? How long do you think it will be before the users of the IoT subsystems — or more to the point, before the buyers of the IoT subsystems — demand the ability to own or minimally at least control for the purposes of accessing, enriching, correlating and consuming the entirety of the data associated with all of the IoT subsystems in use?

IoT is cool, and the doors it opens are new and enabling in ways not seen before. But the battleground will mainly focus on the data. The ownership and the control and leverage of the data will become central to how IoT moves forward. Ultimately, the control will lie with those who own and/or implement these systems.

As a side, this can and should happen without compromising the vendors that provide these IoT-enabled products. They should — and likely will continue to — get the same data they get today, just not at the expense of the users of the systems, but that is an architectural discussion.

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