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Once again, our tech world has opened its figurative mouth and inserted its proverbial foot. The "Internet of Things?" Really? That's what we are going with? I suppose, to some extent, there is a certain semantic consistency at work here, as the Internet of Things is so closely related to the "cloud" -- an even worse name for new technology, although "big data" is also up there. What do the names of these milestone technologies have in common? Among other things, the way that we name them obfuscates their meaning, makes adoption more complex and, importantly, focuses our conversation on their definition rather than on the incredible value creation opportunities that they potentially unleash. But, alas my good readers, do not despair -- to help us communicate better about the Internet of Things, we have created an even less meaningful acronym, "IoT."
Ask any non-techie if they know what IoT means and the likely response will be, "Did you leave out a 'd' and and another 'i' in there?" Then explain that it is an acronym for the Internet of Things and you will typically hear "Is there an app for that?"
What is a thing?
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines "thing" as follows:
: an object whose name is not known or stated
: an object, animal, quality, etc., of any kind
: a particular event, occurrence, or situation
- What is that thing on the floor?
- He is good at making things out of clay.
- My doctor told me to avoid fatty things like donuts and potato chips.
Are we really talking about connecting donuts and potato chips to the Internet? Maybe.
Looking further, Wikipedia tells us:
"… the Thing is a fictional character, a superhero that appears in comic books published by Marvel Comics. He is a founding member of the Fantastic Four. His trademark orange rocky appearance, sense of humor, blue eyes, and famous battle cry, 'It's clobberin' time!,' make him a very recognizable comic book character. The Thing's speech patterns are loosely based on those of Jimmy Durante."
Does this imply that we should also be discussing the Internet of Super Heroes (IoSHs)? Maybe so -- please read on.
The third wave of the Internet
A recent report from Goldman Sachs entitled, "IoT primer, The Internet of Things: Making sense of the next mega-trend," describes the IoT as the third wave in the development of the Internet. The primer characterizes the 1990s as the "fixed Internet wave" that connected over 1 billion users; the early 2000s are designated the "mobile Internet wave" that connected an additional 2 billion users via their mobile devices. Goldman Sachs boldly states, "The IoT has the potential to connect 10X as many (28 billion) 'things' to the Internet by 2020, ranging from bracelets to cars." It is not clear whether the specific examples chosen were intended to increase the accuracy of the prediction as bracelets and cars are already, and have been for some time, connected to the Internet (or cloud if you prefer). Also note that both bracelets and cars generate Big Data.
In addition to the huge increase predicted in the number of connected people and devices, corresponding opportunities within existing and new markets are emerging. An article published last month by McKinsey presented the following metrics in regards to the techno-prowess of today's connected car:
|combined processing power equivalent to what is running within the connected car|
|number of lines of programming code running within the connected car|
|amount of data generated per hour by the connected car|
While these numbers are impressive, McKinsey predicts that the value of the global market for automotive connectivity components and services will grow from its present level of $40 billion by more than five-fold to $225 billion by 2020.
Importantly, while the automotive industry has traditionally grown through technological advances coming from within, early indicators show that much of the five-fold growth may come from software and telecommunications companies outside of the automotive sector, which could pose both significant competitive threats to established automakers and create opportunities for the providers of connectivity components, communications and services.
Tech adoption, privacy, security: The battles rage on
McKinsey interviewed 2,000 new-car buyers from Brazil, China, Germany, and the U.S. A few key insights from the study include:
|of buyers would not even consider purchasing a new vehicle without Internet connectivity|
|of buyers prioritize connectivity over more traditional automotive features, e.g., horsepower, fuel efficiency, etc.|
|of buyers would not consider purchasing a connected car because of privacy concerns|
|of buyers would not consider purchasing a connected car because of fear that critical systems, e.g. brakes, could be externally manipulated if connected to the Internet|
The dynamics of this seemingly unending friction between technological advances and cultural adoption was probably best described by Marshall McLuhan in his legendary 1964 work, "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Chapter 1: The Medium is the Message," where he writes:
"In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium—that is, of any extension of ourselves—result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology."
OK, so returning to super heroes and the definition of things, is a car a thing? Is a smartphone in a connected car a thing? If I take my smartphone out of my connected car, is it the same thing or a different thing? Is the braking system within the car a thing? What about the backup camera, the telematics controller and the tire pressure monitoring system? Are they things? Is a car really a thing that is made up of things, each of which may be made up of other things, and on and on?
10-step survival guide to the IoT
Oy vay -- what are IT executives to do? As always, there are some practical ways for CIOs to get their hearts and minds around IoT and for preparing their enterprises to sustain and thrive in the third wave of the Internet:
- Think about the three waves of the Internet as: (1) making people a lot more productive; (2) making a lot more people a lot more productive; and: (3) making things and people orders of magnitude more productive.
- Characterize the people and the types of things that exist within your logical and physical environment (customer-to-ledger, end-to-end supply chain).
- Imagine the types of sensors that could be attached to things or people that are already or could be deployed across your environment, whether it is within automotive, health care, financial services, manufacturing, or any other industry sector.
- Consider who builds, owns, operates and maintains the sensor componentry and think about potential competitive threats from these providers to your enterprise and/or to your industry.
- Consider who builds, owns, operates and maintains the "pipes" (logical, virtual and/or physical) through which sensor-based data would flow and consider potential competitive threats from these providers to your enterprise and/or to your industry.
- Envision new products, services and markets that could potentially be created by implementing sensor-enabled things within your environment and what the economic value of these advances could be to your enterprise.
- Characterize the types of data that could be generated by the sensor-grid that you imagine for your enterprise and/or industry.
- The scope of the volume of data that could be generated across the grid and what would be needed to store, retrieve and analyze the data that would make things more efficient or deliver new experiences to your customers and/or value to your stakeholders.
- Work with your internal and external business partners to envision an innovative set of IoT-enabled products and services, the cost of moving forward with that vision and the cost of not moving forward with that vision.
- Work with your business partners to build a business case, a governance structure and a strategic roadmap to guide your enterprises' efforts along the undoubtedly bumpy road that, for now, we will humbly concede to call the Internet of Things.
Let me know what you think. Post a comment or drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Discuss, debate or even argue -- let's continue the conversation …
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