Respect!

December 10, 2016

volvo-productionTechnology driven innovation continues to challenge and change our world. Internet is the single most important enabler and the last big thing is the smart phone, which gave us new ways of using the Internet including apps. The iPhone is about 10 years old now and it’s time for the next big thing: connecting things to Internet, where we already have people, organisations and services. This will once again change lives, organisations, industries, companies, cities and governments in the same way and magnitude that the arrival of Internet made last time. But this time it will happen much faster since most of the bits and pieces already are in place. We call this IoT right now but soon it will just be Internet again. 

I always think that everything is a science. Regardless of what you look into in more details, it proves to be very complicated. I love the massive opportunities Internet brought and believe these will be even bigger now when we add things to it. But Internet has created a trend which I dislike: by leaving out the physical part of the equation (like running a taxi business without taxis or hotel business without hotels) we are dependent on others doing the hard “physical” part which is connected to places, people, boarders, re-cycling, communities, manufacturing etc. Not that there is anything wrong with entrepreneurs executing on these opportunities, not at all, but we all have to think a little further before celebrating or investing in these initiatives. I see a whole range of challenges, including the vulnerability of these businesses when it comes to policymakers and not the least when the incentives to provide the underlying activities or assets disappear. The Internet part alone also tends to become global leaving only one or few companies in the market (Facebook, Twitter, Google…). Put differently, we simply have to think about the type of society we want to live in.

With Internet of Things this becomes quite obvious. Data is the gold of IoT and a lot of companies are focusing on building business on that data. But without anyone connecting the things, the T in IoT, there will be no data. And when companies make the effort, I don’t think it is obvious that they will share all their gold with anyone anyway. At least not for free. On top of that I’m convinced human beings as well as organisations will become much more cautious with their data and how it is shared and used. Security and privacy are the two big challenges to IoT!

Another dimension of this is that the opportunity to disrupt using Internet has made a lot of people completely lose the respect for the underlying assets or activities. A good example of that is all IT/Internet companies announcing plans to build a car. There is nothing wrong with that, if you have funds to buy all skills and other assets it takes. But I have still to see a car manufacturer announcing that they will start make fridges, shoes, smartphones or Internet search engines. Maybe traditional companies have more respect for the complexity of other industries. 

I believe we all would benefit from a little bit more respect for how difficult it actually is to do different things. A hackathon with youngsters to innovate healthcare over a weekend is great education and fun but makes no sense from a healthcare point of view. An app to keep track on parking spaces is easy to do compared to building the infrastructure to provide all the information needed. The how of IoT is about collaboration and eco-systems, where all relevant players have an important role bringing their experience and know-how to the solution.

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Smart Homes For Real

January 7, 2015

_799128_pursepad300Smart Homes is a much talked about opportunity for IoT. It has what it takes to attract a lot of companies and people including those owning, managing, visiting and living or working in them. And beyond that also companies selling products and services for them. And the concept of smart homes is fluffy enough to include the three big deliverables of IoT: sustainability, safety and efficiency, as well as things like economy, comfort, fashion and entertainment.

We all know that a specific solution for every single task or device isn’t good enough. So the approach to make a remote controller for the toaster, one for the fridge and one for the kitchen fan (I actually saw a dedicated remote controller for the fan in Italy and I’m still thinking about the use-case) will not make the job. And we also know that “this is THE network for the SmartHome” approach isn’t taking us there since we already have a lot of different infrastructure and networks in houses and we have a number of different more or less technical requirements on them.

The combination of these two insights makes it hard to come up with Smart Home solutions that will capture large parts of the market, especially if we leave aside new buildings where one can start from scratch. I suggest something like a cluster approach to the challenge where we try to combine infrastructure, applications and tools to provide attractive solutions for larger parts of the Smart Home challenges. Let me give you a couple of examples what that could look like:

  • The ultimate Media solution which uses IP networks to stream content easily and flexibly to and from devices and services (bring the best from Sonos, AirPlay, Spotify, Netflix, etc). Once installed you could add, change and remove hardware and software components easily.
  • A really secure managed infrastructure with a tough SLA for applications and services that require an infrastructure to really trust. Applications could be alarms, door locking systems, smoke detectors and other things you are ready to pay extra for if the service is guaranteed.
  • A kitchen app that interact with all your favourite Internet services for cooking and shopping, your kitchen appliances regardless of brand (or not?) and maybe energy monitoring and advice relating to the kitchen.

I have concluded that we will have at least three networks in our homes: an unmanaged Wi-Fi network which is already there, a managed very secure network with top-notch quality of service and a more generic but still managed network for things like home appliances. WAN solutions will generally speaking be too expensive and will just complement the LANs the way they always had. But some devices connected directly to a mobile network and/or narrow band WAN infrastructure like Sigfox will most certainly be part of the solutions.

One of the most interesting projects I’m currently involved in is a joint effort between a number of Swedish real estate owners and members of our alliance for Swedish IoT entrepreneurs (SMSE) with real estate focus. The request from the real estate owners was “a secure, robust and open service platform for multi-dwelling buildings” which they can install now, keep for years and have app developers to start bringing innovation to tenants, owners and maintenance staff.

We’re working with several technologies and one of the most interesting one is the well established Internet chat protocol XMPP since it provides a promising open architecture to deal with data integrity and privacy issues. We have already pulled together the bits and pieces required to run our first hackathon creating mobile apps on building automation systems talking XMPP. I’m looking forward to the next few months of this project which hopefully include a major hackathon demonstrating the power of this approach.


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