What does it take?

October 23, 2015

IoT, IoE, M2M or whatever we call it has three primary deliverables: sustainability, security and efficiency. Each of these are massively important in all organisations. And like if that wasn’t enough, they are almost always interlinked – a more secure solution is often more efficient and saves a little of our planet for example. So what’s stopping all of us from running after these benefits? It actually takes quite a lot to get there but done correctly it’s almost always worth the effort. A simplistic description of what it takes could look like this:

• understand the current business well enough to see what issues or opportunities to work on
• time and mandate to work on them
• a couple of ideas on what to do
• simplistic understanding of what’s in the toolbox today
• prototyping and user testing over and over and over again
• make a business case, plan or something like that
• guts to bet on it
• development and proof of concept testing
• pilot testing
• focus on processes and people
• roll-out

IBaroundPrototyping with user testing is probably the single most important part since without a clear view of exactly what to do, what users want and so on, the projects most often become very expensive failures. And up until recently it was very complicated and expensive to make working hardware prototypes. But today we have a range of affordable fantastic devices for prototyping like iBeacons and TI sensortags. And together with developer tools like Evothings Studio a working prototype is only hours or maybe a day or two away from real life tests on mobiles and pads. Further more, it is too abstract for normal human beings to visualise what adding IoT to something will allow us to do. We need to try it out to understand.It is my experience that most organisations are stumbling on other things than technology when trying to figure out how to utilise IoT in their business. At the same time adding IoT for the right things and at the right time will be game changers across industries. The countries who can enable citizens to do a fair share of what the healthcare system is doing for them today (like the banks did) will make massive gains in efficiency. The manufacturer of fridges who figure out how to provide them as a service to their customers will change the game, increase predictability and help save the planet. Avanti!

None of these things are even close to rocket science, most of them have been done many times before and very few have anything to do with technology in general or IoT in specific. The thing that we are less used to is to actually connect the things physically. It’s about hardware and hardware is challenging by definition – ask the next VC you come across. Design for manufacturing, mechanics, design, labour cost, DOA, electronics, material, tools, power, freight, etc are typical things we need to be on top of. And that require quite many people to be involved.

PS. Don’t forget that the key difference between when we connected people and organisations to the Internet and now when we connect things, is that ignorance will not be an acceptable excuse.

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Like Lego for IoT

March 27, 2014

Evothings sign-up-for-betaLast night I participated in my first hackaton. It was arranged by Evothings who has developed an open source tool which includes libraries and API:s for connected devices like Arduino, Rasperry Pi, sensor tags, iBeacons and Philips LED-lamps and provides the ability of speedy development of IoT apps for IOS, Android and Windows Mobile. We were around 30 men (M2M unfortunately still means Men to Men) who got a 15 minute introduction, free pizza and a great experience. After two hours of playing with Evothings Studio, smartphones and some connected devices we had a “show-and-tell” session where the participants shared their experience and results.

Even though I’m quite well aware of what can be done in the field of IoT I was blown away to see how easy it was to put things together into a working prototype. Two young participants demonstrated how they controlled a small cannon from their smart phone, aiming and shooting. In two hours without having seen Evothings Studio before. My colleague came with an idea to extend their offering to retailers using iBeacons and I believe these two hours gave him what he needed to make the first prototype for a pilot test with a client.

I think this is very important to realize: not only is the Internet of Everything being built here and now with massive impact on industries, individuals and society. It takes minimal programming skills, little time and almost no money to develop a working prototype and see what happens. The democratization of IoT development tools together with modern phenomena like crowd-funding, crowd-sourcing and open API:s brings immense change. For sure.

EIT ICT Idea Challenge is a competition for start-ups in EU launched at CeBit some weeks ago. It includes eight different categories, each with 40K/25K/15K€ prices, and the IoT category is managed from Sweden. Before last night I thought that maybe 100 participants per category would be realistic. But after yesterdays experience I could easily see thousands of participants per category!


M2M enabling efficient marketing

December 11, 2013

Evian DropCompanies are investing a lot of money year after year to communicate with their customers and influence their perception of their company and brands. The budgets are there basically to sow for future sales and they remain on the same level year after year measured as a percentage of sales. The ever-increasing challenge is the growing number of channels to be used, and the constantly changing relative importance of them. But the best channel by all means has always been the product itself. Customers who buy it has it and use it often for a long time. People around them might see them using it. Satisfied users as well as dissatisfied users are happy to tell others about their experience.

All of this is well-known facts. But what is less known is that it has become realistically possible to establish a continuous dialogue with the products and also the users of them depending of what product it is, by using modern M2M or Internet of Things technology. Examples of products that often are connected already are: trucks, electrical meters, cars, alarms, vending machines and coffee machines. They are typically connected for operational benefits like being able to tell the truck driver to go to a service facility and depending on where he is propose which one, for electricity companies to measure and report consumption almost in real-time, for vending machines to understand when it’s time to go there to fill it up and better schedule the service route, for coffee machine rental companies to change recipes over the air and for alarm companies to get the alarms automatically. This is all fine and the normal first phase of an M2M investment. Operational value is easy to realize and make ROI investments on thus easier to get project approval and budgets for.

As we all know by now: data is the gold of M2M. And with these things connected we can gather and interpret the data from the connected things and start use it to create strategic value. Examples could be that the owner of the truck could measure how drivers actually drive, provide training to them and become a more sustainable company, the electricity company could offer customers better price off-peak hours, vending machines would get decision support from real data to know what products to have on weekends and warm days in different parts of the country and to use dynamic pricing, coffee machine companies could tune the choice of coffee for different seasons and learn customer’s coffee drinking habits and the alarm companies could add new adjacent services to their alarm infrastructure to become more competitive. All these things are examples of how the collected data could be used to add brand value, competitiveness, customer loyalty, innovation and attractiveness for employees, etc.

We are in the teen-age of M2M aka Internet of Things and many companies have started to connect their things, mainly for operational reasons. But it is still very rare to see companies using the data to create strategic value. Most consumer goods is not connected and if it is, there is no organized use of the data collected. Most professional equipment isn’t connected either and if it is, the data is rarely used in an organized fashion to create strategic value.

But this is about to change and I think we will see a lot of new examples in 2014. A number of new relevant ways of connecting things are available including the power-efficient and very small Bluetooth 4.0 chips with innovative solutions like iBeacon, networks optimized for connecting millions of autonomous things like Sigfox and a host of different ways to associate real life things with an avatar on the Internet like QR-codes, smart cameras, RFID and innovative solutions from companies like Evrythng.

This isn’t about technology. It is only when clever strategists, progressive marketing directors, creative advertising agencies, determined product managers and innovative business developers really understand what is practically and financially possible today that true innovation beyond operational value creation starts to happen. Interesting examples of creative customer communication through products could be the Evian Smart Drop, Volvo’s On Call app enabling their B2B+B2C model and Apple’s recent launch of an iBeacon based service in all 254 Apple Stores in the US.


Did NFC lose it now?

September 13, 2013
EstimoteI was chairing Short Range Wireless Forum in Amsterdam 2006 and NFC was the hot topic of the day since Nokia announced the first NFC phone the day before. But the combination of its limitations and the fact that only some vendors decided to implement NCF seriously made it yet another promising technology that never took off. These days Apple is introducing iPhone 5C / 5S and iOS7. This launch is as always followed and debated by a lot of people but still very few seem to have captured iBeacon. I believe that is yet a significant enabler by Apple which rapidly will become an important building block for Internet of Things applications and could make NFC redundant.Imagine entering into an indoor location like a University Campus. Your iPhone connects to iBeacon automatically over Bluetooth and depending on who you are it will provide you with directions where to go for the next class, it will take you to the canteen and take care of the payment leaving you with a receipt. One build wireless coverage in a location quite cheaply. Lets move to a department store, shopping mall or train station and the use cases are easy to see.A beacon, or mote, is like a lighthouse for radio transmission. Estimote is s startup providing beacons supporting iBeacon. The beacons are a couple of centimeters big and include an ARM processor, accelerometer, flash memory and Bluetooth connectivity. A beacon could cover up to 50 m radius and have battery life time of around 24 months. Estimotes developer kits give you three beacons for 99$ which gives us an idea of price points.iBeacon leverage Bluetooth 4.0 (also called Bluetooth Low Energy BLE or Bluetooth Smart) which was approved in July 2010 and is told to be a stable platform to develop solutions on. With over 19.000 companies as members in Bluetooth SIG and over 2.5 Billion products shipped Bluetooth is a well supported technology across industries. I believe developers will love this technology and application enabler why pick-up will happen quickly and massively. When we look back at these announcements a couple of years from now I think we will conclude that Bluetooth 4 was the real breakthrough for Bluetooth, iBeacon enabled a new generation of apps and NFC didn’t make it.Exciting times!


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