Intelligence in the edge

September 10, 2015

ai-cropped-640x353After the Billions-of-devices-hype came even bigger numbers on the Big Data opportunity. It’s obviously so that being able to gather and analyse huge amount of data from different sources gives interesting opportunities for both good and bad guys. And the big number game always works: if airlines save 1% cost it’s a huge amount of money. Or if rescue shows up at car accidents a minute earlier on average we save many lives and loads of pain and money. If people on the planet save a minute a day on their way to work we would create mountains of time to be used for something fantastic. We have left the Billions and talk Trillions now.

Let’s come back to the view that enormous shared data power in the cloud is the only way forward. We’ve heard it before. It all started with IBM’s mighty mainframes in the core and 3270 terminals in the edge. Computing was only about central expensive machines until Apple turned it all upside down with the first personal computer. And ever since have IT managers and others had to struggle with the balance between edge and core. At 3Com we invented Ethernet and argued power to the edge. Why send data outside the office if it’s internal and only to be shared between people in the office? It’s at least not safer and what if connection to the center is lost? It has been going on like this, back and forth, Thin Clients with all power in the core was really the future for a while and most recently employees started bring their own, rarely thin, devices to work.

There is definitely a lot of economies of scale to run things from the center. But innovation often comes from the edge. That’s why we have regional and local governments for example. Culture, climate, economy, religion, desire and everything else differs from place to place, company to company, human to human.

Coming back to Big Data and IoT. First of all, IoT is most often small data, and little or no velocity, variation and all the other V’s that Big Data is supposed to deal with. Secondly, in many applications we need to make really quick decisions down there at the floor, in the edge. A home care solution which tries to identify when a person living there is about to get stroke, requires a thorough understanding of that individual, constant monitoring and learning and very rapid and correct alarms when something is about to go wrong. A retailer who need to put the new pasta somewhere need to make that decision now. With real-time support for that decision it will be a better one than without.

I believe a new wave of distributed AI applications within self-learning systems will be a really important part of the Internet of Everything. Keep an eye at companies like our THINGS member Aifloo and Imagimob, both developing AI capable edge devices for industrial, healthcare, retail and energy markets. These clever devices with their own sensors built-in, might even make it possible to avoid further integration into larger equipment to provide applications requested.

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Busy doing nothing?

August 28, 2015

busy-working-quotes-6Companies who want to utilise a new technology have to work hard to get on top of it. First they need to understand how it works and what it could be used for in general and the emerging eco system. Then they need to understand how it fits into what they currently do and what could be achieved if they were able to utilise this new technology. From there on they need to make a business case quantifying what it takes and what it could give. Then comes changed processes and organisations, mitigation of risks, prototyping, testing, competitive analysis, marketing and sales strategies and plans and so on. It definitely takes a while.

With shorter cycles, fierce competition, parallel developments and challenged management comes pressure to move fast and show progress. That’s when companies typically only have three options: partnership programs, alliances and competitions.
When IoT came on top of Gartner’s Hype curve most organisations wanted to be part of the IoT revolution and get their fair share of the 50 billion connected devices. Most of us involved know that IoT solutions are very complex with several industries involved in any solution, combinations of hardware, software and communication is hard to develop and manage and huge fragmentation to meet specific industry and customer demand. By now very few organisations have figured out what to do with IoT why we probably have beaten all possible records when it comes to partner programs, alliances and competitions. This is an interesting paradox since it is quite unlikely that one alliance will standardise the intelligent buildings and that partnership programs suddenly will create a lot of business. But the biggest paradox of them all is that while tech entrepreneurs need to focus on developing their solution with customers we keep them really busy filling in applications and forms, pitching at events and twitter.

Back again!

June 1, 2015

Dear readers, I have to apologise for not having posted more than a couple of posts this year. The reason is that I have worked really hard together with Linda, Carolina and Pär to build THINGS™, our new 2000 m2 co-working space for start-ups with hardware as part of their solutions, at KTH Campus dowLogo3_green+wntown Stockholm. We started last spring and opened our house officially March 26 with a great party with over 300 people. It’s been a fantastic journey  and we already have 21 start-ups in our house, and five industry partners: Assa Abloy, ABB, Husqvarna, NCC and SP.

This is a fantastic project, trying to exploit the perfect storm created when the two mega-trends IoT and Makers Movement meet. The best way of following us is by signing up to THINGS NEWS, visiting our web thingstockholm.com from time to time and following us on twitter @sthlmthings.

I remain devoted to IoT and my alliance for Swedish IoT start-ups, SMSE, now has 41 members and 13 partners. I’m now working on our annual IoE For Real™ event in Stockholm June 17 and the International IoT Get Together at THINGS the night before (sign up for free using code “connectcompute”).

From now on I will start focusing on my blog again. Nobody knows how IoT will develop and I believe it is really important with original views, thoughts and opinions from people spending their lives working with IoT. Today, on top of the Gartner hype curve, everybody want to be part of IoT and there are 13 announcements and competitions on a dozen right now. We need to put these right and put them into context. Most recently Google announced Brillo and Weave. I’m not very impressed and I will come back to that very soon in my blog.

Avanti!


Watch out! Two major forces meet – interesting times ahead

March 18, 2015

Imakr 3D Shoes in the Machine and on the computerAdding things to the Internet will make extraordinary impact on industries, businesses, nations and people’s lives. And I hope it will make us take better care of our globe too. The three major deliverables of IoT – safety, sustainability and efficiency – together with convenience will do the trick. In essence IoT fuels digitization of processes and allows us to base decision-making on better, often real-time, data. Applications like preventive maintenance and scheduled repairs will make us tremendously more efficient to name one example. And one day “if it aint broken don’t fix it” might be hard to understand. The Internet of Everything is rapidly coming together and I believe we’re leaving the teens already 2016.

Another rapidly developing major trend is the Makers Movement. Equipment and tools have become much easier to use and really affordable. And new types of equipment like 3D printers together with a host of new materials and techniques complete the opportunity to democratise manufacturing. In other words a couple of people could easily get together and buy what it takes to make at least prototypes of their ideas. And that is exactly what has happened – there are makers everywhere, in more or less organised and specialised organisations, sharing tools, skills and facilities, training each other and building new micro startups en masse. FabLabs, TechShops and Makerspaces are popping up everywhere and 3D printing and scanning by itself promise massive changes on how we design and produce things, e-business, healthcare and so on.

It is hard to predict what will happen when these two mega trends meet but let me share a couple of observations to get going:

– It’s more difficult and resource consuming to design, manufacture, market and service hardware than just software
– Hardware requires more money and a wide range of expertise
– Working with hardware requires more physical interaction and relevant facilities
– Early stage investors are often reluctant to invest in hardware today
– Crowdfunding services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are already loaded with hardware, often with great innovative design compared to mainstream products
– Apple combines gorgeous things with ease of use and Internet bringing continuous innovation and record profits

I find the meeting of these two mega-trends very interesting and have worked for a year with some friends trying to figure out how to turn this into serious solutions and big business. One important conclusion is that successfully making solutions with things included require great engineers, great designers, great entrepreneurs and internationally successful enterprises with things part of their solutions to collaborate with. That makes it a perfect fit for Sweden and I will do my best to help the Swedish hw start-up community become successful. We have started to use #sthlmthings for our community and I would welcome other communities to gather around similar hash tags to make it easier to follow and interact in and between “things communities”.

Things matter!


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.


Hype or not? Both!

October 16, 2014

Gartner_Hype_Cycle.svgIoT is hotter than ever! Gartner just placed IoT at Peak of Inflated Expectations in their Hype Curve and forecast 5-10 years until the Plateau of Productivity. But our baby is growing much faster than anything else we have seen before and I stick to my previous view that our baby will be grown up, but still young, 2016 after only three years as teenager. Good enough technology and infrastructure are in place since a couple of years and when organizations started to go from Powerpoint and thinking to trials and pilots we reached the teens. Four things have been missing to leave the teens behind: solid participation from the IT players, a hot M&A market, active and seriously engaged enterprises and efficient easy-to-use prototyping tools for users of IoT. All these things are starting to happen now which is one of the reasons why I dare to challenge Gartner on their projection. But there is another aspect of IoT which is underestimated: how the value is created.

In most cases we build something and when it’s done we start harvest. And if customers like what we built it takes off. It might take a couple of years at least  to plan, develop and start produce, then we start market and after another year or so it might take off. That explains Gartner’s 5-10 years to Plateau of Productivity, if one ever gets there. But IoT applications deliver value when the information created is distributed to an IT system, shows up in an app, makes an alarm go off somewhere or change a road sign. Initially all IoT applications had to be created end to end – from sensor to terminal – which made them expensive to make and maintain. But now we can leverage existing networks, platforms, tools, terminals and applications making it much cheaper and quicker. So far we have seen this primarily in the consumer market where a connected sensor providing data to an app has been good enough. In enterprises data management and delivery is more complicated and changes in processes and business models takes time, but they are getting there. When they do, the operational value (cheaper, faster, etc) will be obvious and the strategic value (brand, innovation, employer attractiveness, etc) will be visible in the horizon. One only has to look at what GE is doing with Industrial Internet to understand that the impact will be massive.

Everyone promoting the story about billions of connected devices delivering data to impressive Big Data systems creating trillions of $ benefits clearly put IoT at the peak of inflated expectations. But all hard-working organizations and entrepreneurs working on industry or company specific IoT applications, well-integrated and cleverly implemented, are changing the world very fast. These efforts will start pay off soon putting competitors who haven’t started yet in a very difficult situation similar to when the frequent flyer program happened or Richard Fosbury jumped 2.24 at the Olympic Games in Maxico City 1968  using a “redicolous” new technique.

The only major difference between when we connected people and businesses to the Internet and when we connect things is that ignorance will not be an acceptable excuse this time. Beyond some clever start-ups the winners will be organizations who best understand when and how to improve their business using IoT solutions.


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