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!


No news is good news – M2M will remain fragmented!

December 5, 2013

gold-bars-3Data is the gold of M2M! This remains the most important thing to keep in mind when trying to understand where the industry is going. When collecting the data from sensors and sub-systems of all sorts, we need to understand the context in order to turn the data into useful information. Data analysis without understanding the context opens up for poor conclusions and decision-making down the road. No news here! The value of the information created appears when the information is properly integrated into business systems, decision-making systems, etc. No news here either!

The good news is that the need to understand the context for the data collected and the fact that value materialize when the information is integrated into ERP systems, processes and decision-making systems clearly points towards a fragmented market with successful players focused on industries or functions. Good news is that this is how the software industry has been structured for years. And efficiency is achieved by generic platforms, tools and API:s which specialized applications can utilize.

Since M2M will have to become an international business to benefit from scale this brings us a “glocal” value chain like this: customized or specific software provided to customers by local integrators, resellers or consultants working with specialized international M2M Service Enablers. Software used is based on generic platforms, tools and API:s – this is where Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, SAP and others come in. And the M2M Service Enablers are agnostic to devices and connectivity. And sensors are provided by a variety of specialized companies. 

Voila!

So which conclusions could we draw? The three most important conclusions to me are that:

  • M2M Service Enablers need to be agnostic to connectivity and device
  • there are many M2M Service Enablers in each country today and only the ones who are really specialized, context aware, will survive when it becomes an international market
  • generic software companies as well as connectivity providers need to figure out how to work with the best M2M Service Enablers

Big Data for M2M – too much too soon

October 27, 2013
Walker Information

Walker Information

The M2M aka Internet of Everything market is developing quickly. It is interesting to see how analysts, vendors and journalists over the last few months collectively shifted from one big number to another – from number of connected devices to Big Data business potential for Internet of Everything. It is a sign of growing up that we leave the connection focus and huge abstract estimates on number of connected devices for a focus on data and information. Data is the gold of M2M and I’m pleased that the industry focus is shifting towards the information. The industry loves buzzwords and in the M2M case we ended up in the Big Data bucket. ABI just estimated that Big Data and Analytics in M2M will generate revenues of $14 Billion in 2018. We are in the beginning of M2M aka Internet of Everything and organizations are starting to gather useful information from sensors and things. We see more open API:s and people have started blending the collected M2M data with other data to enrich the value of the information. But few if any are even close to a situation which Big Data is addressing. Most data collected in M2M applications are a couple of bytes from time to time. When mobile networks are used its predominantly tiny data in 2G networks, a lot of narrow band wireless sensors are used and when POTS is used it is typically a couple of seconds transmission. And it is not likely to change! Most of the data we are collecting from things are meter reading data, positions, status information, health data, times and so on. Nothing of that comes close to Big Data. But with big volumes of sensors and transactions we will rather need sophisticated decision support systems.

So why are Big Data brought into the M2M aka Internet of Everything discussions? First and foremost people understand that focusing on number of connected devices isn’t interesting any longer and since the solutions and applications most often are industry, function or company specific it is really difficult to translate them into mind-blowing numbers. But by looking at it from a Big Data point of view new huge market numbers are the results. Secondly, as we become more data oriented the IT companies are getting involved in Internet of Everything. And since many of them are preaching the need for Big Data solutions it is easy to bring the “M2M stuff” into the Big Data story.

I see a risk that the Big Data twist on M2M will make organization miss the ball in their own M2M efforts. Volumes, velocity and variety is not among the key issues in M2M projects today. It is too much too soon. In my experience the best approach is to get going, connecting a couple of things together with a relevant specialist M2M Service Enabler who has most of what is needed already. That way we will learn rapidly from real-time data in our own business and the trials are rapid and affordable. Then its quite easy to see what data to collect from which sources and step by step develop the collecting, management and distribution of data for maximum value to the organization. It is only when the information appears in business systems, business processes, decision-making systems or user applications that the value is realized. We simply don’t need any Big Data methods or solutions for this. It is obvious though, that sooner or later, especially if streaming data is involved, organizations will have a lot of data to process. And M2M applications will of course increasingly add to these systems down the road.


M2M – a glocal business!

June 29, 2013

Parking in NiceWhat more does it take to make M2M aka Internet of Things – everything or some things – happen big way? Let’s revisit the key components again. Data is the gold of M2M and the winners will be those who best utilize the data captured. Integration of data in existing business systems and processes is key to maximizing the value. Distribution of information through relevant channels and to terminals of users choice, using open api’s and gorgeous human-machine interaction is required for the applications to be used. Generic Device Control platforms on top of service providers networks together with Specialist Service Enablers are required to make it affordable to develop and maintain applications for clients of all types. The winners in Service Enablement will be the ones who understand the data they are dealing with and due to the huge amounts of industries and functions to be served Service Enablement will be a very fragmented part of our industry.

I see most of this happening now and our industry is definitely developing fast. We are in the teenage stage already with clients moving from thinking and talking to doing. From Powerpoint to pilots. There is absolutely no better way to understand what happens if one connects things than actually connecting some things to play around with. And there is no better way to go for that than to contact a Specialist Service Enabler who has most things ready. Connecting things and collecting the data in the cloud was good enough 1-2 years ago when technology was the key challenge. But today the challenges are mainly business centric why understanding the context of the data is key to succeed. This is why Specialist Service Enablers is the right choice when it is time for a pilot or proof of concept project.

But there is one major thing missing: Internet is global, ICT is a global business and Internet of Things will have to be global as well to prosper. Vendors and operators are working quite hard to make this happen which is great but it will take long time and they can’t make it themselves. Most organizations in the world are small to medium-sized and the software they use are mostly local or localized. Law, policies, culture, language, taxonomy, habits, taxation, religion, alphabet and friendship are examples of things that make people use local software. And it will continue to be like this for many many years. Since the data captured in M2M solutions should end up in business applications, maybe blended with data from public or commercial sources, we need what I call a glocal value chain. The global component is needed to drive economies of scale and enable international business etc. The local part is there to cope with the local requirements, to ensure proper integration in business systems and to engage integrators, consultants and developers locally bringing their clients with them.

Glocal value chains are always difficult to make work. But in our case, whatever we call our industry, I find it quite straight forward. The global part consists of operators (like Telenor Connexion) and their alliances (like GMA), Telecommunication vendors (like Ericsson and Telit) and international ICT vendors (like Cisco, SAP and Oracle who all have started to move now). Ever since Ericsson’s 50 Billion Devices statement this inside-out effort has been coming along quite well. The local part, i.e. developers, integrators, resellers and consultants, has in most parts not got going yet and therefore the small to medium businesses in general are in waiting mode or not even aware. Specialist Service Enablers constitute the missing link. Due to missing operator device connectivity services they have had to learn to deal with the connectivity layer directly. And the services they provide to customers in the industry they target is to a large degree useful across boarders. To me it’s clear: operator networks with device connectivity services together with Specialist Service Enablers interfacing to local developers and integrators is the way forward. The challenges are primarily commercial and practical, not technical. I am working with members of Swedish M2M Service Enablers in several projects along those lines and it looks very promising.


ITS 2.0

November 9, 2012

Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) has been worked on for some twenty years. The idea to look at traffic and transportation using a holistic approach is great and rarely disputed. And the effects when ready would be fantastic! Efficiency, safety, sustainability and convenience, all the key promises of M2M, are there. But still the development is quite slow. Of course we need to remember that a lot of these issues are infrastructure related thus complex and time-consuming to develop. And a multimodal transportation approach require integrated organizations which is yet another complex thing to change. There are also many stakeholders and a lot of legislation involved.

But still I believe there are ways to drastically speed up the process: by leveraging the rapid development in technology in combination with innovation and pragmatism we could make things happen fast. Examples of key things to leverage are

  • the open data movement to allow entrepreneurs to drive innovation
  • the smartphones and pads to allow users of the transportation systems to access the information they need to make qualified decisions
  • crowd sourcing and other innovative ways to collect data
  • entrepreneurs to drive creativity, innovation and choice
A very good example of an ITS type application which is in place and leverage all of these is Waze. It is the world’s  fastest growing community-based traffic and navigation app and it is free. They claim 30 million users already and they even get help to edit the maps from their users. It started as an open-source mapping project in 2006 and Waze was founded 2008. The company is backed by serious investors and the business model is based on location-based advertising. The level of innovation is high and you can for example connect your Facebook account to see where your friends are.

Think about this: First came GPS devices integrated into cars for maybe 3-5K$, then came mobile GPS devices, often with better maps and features, for about 1/10 of the price and now this, for free. The power of what today’s technology and modern ways of working can do is immense. The services are continuously improved and by using one device for many things we even help save the planet.

I am focusing a lot on ITS and together with our partners and entrepreneurs we have numerous concepts and ideas (including dynamIQ parking™ which we launched at ITS World Congress) leveraging modern technology and ways of working to make drastic ITS progress. Let’s get going!


eCall – life saver or business enabler?

July 3, 2012

The European Parliament just adopted a resolution where they call on the European Commission and Member States to make sure eCall is installed in every new vehicle by 2015. The Parliament consider this resolution a major step towards the roll-out of eCall in Europe that will have a significant impact on citizens’ safety.

This is certainly a good intention and with 35-40.000 Europeans killed and over a million injured in road accidents per year something needs to be done. But it is not obvious that eCall will make a big difference in that regard. Some countries don’t have national response centers which will make implementation more difficult and similar services from car manufacturers haven’t really become commercially popular. I guess the road towards less road traffic accidents starts with better drivers, better cars and better roads but I obviously hope eCall will save a lot of lives.

But connecting all new cars in a similar fashion could potentially make a difference in other ways. If some data would be made more openly available we could see a lot of new innovative services made available to drivers, owners, insurance companies and government agencies. Imagine apps like the Volvo App managing the parking heater etc becoming available for all cars, maintenance data becoming available to third party service companies, real time position data available to ITS systems, etc. And if some of these services really would take off the vehicle M2M retrofit market would be huge. We all know it by now: data is the gold of M2M.


Services Enablers key to successful M2M deployments

March 23, 2012

A key challenge for the M2M industry right now is to enable time and resource efficient development of specific M2M applications to industries or even companies. As soon as the interesting devices are connected in a proper way, data needs to be collected, organized and combined with other relevant data in order to provide useful information to new or existing applications. Devices need to be monitored, alarms have to be taken care of and maybe even transfer of money needs to be handled. This is what is done in M2M Services Enablement systems – the key to successful M2M deployments.

The Services Enablement systems can be deployed in three different ways: as extensions to operator connectivity offerings, as independent services from a third-party or as an in-house service to support M2M initiatives. It seems obvious that devices in many cases will be connected using a mix of technologies which further complicates this issue. It is my experience that we always end up in different communication technologies for wide area networks, local area networks and personal area networks/short-range communications. And even though wireless most often is preferred when feasible, also fixed networks will be used onwards. Needless to say, it is challenging to build a Services Enabler solution and to choose which solution to use in a specific situation.

We need to make it easier for potential customers to understand and decide which type of solution to use in order to accelerate deployments of real M2M solutions. Six Swedish companies just joined forces under the name of “Swedish M2M Service Enablers” in an ambition to start work together on educating the market on the importance of Services Enablement solutions and to try establish some common language and even APIs. The collaboration is also an attempt to market the companies to customers and partners abroad. Please visit http://www.swedishm2m.se to read more about the initiative or take a look at the press release issued today at http://www.mynewsdesk.com/se/view/pressrelease/swedish-m2m-services-enablers-initiative-launched-to-jointly-promote-swedish-companies-with-world-class-solutions-744720


M2M and PSI – Public Sector Information

February 14, 2012

The connecting part of M2M is not really the interesting one, it’s the enabler. The computing part is the interesting one and where most value is created. Connecting things becomes easier and easier technically, practically and financially. Meanwhile the computing power in the cloud is developing immensely fast. Making information collected from machines and other relevant sources available to Internet application developers using the computing power available in the cloud will push innovation to new heights provided security and integrity is taken care of properly. By utilizing computing power in the cloud, devices can be lighter, faster, cheaper and optimized for other things like interaction and usability in something quite similar to the good old client server architecture.

Governments around the world try to support their local high tech industry and most cities today have their local incubators, investment funds and support programs. A quick and quite affordable way for governments on all levels to push and support innovation is to provide access for developers to data produced in the public sector and to promote, maybe push, usage of modern innovative information technology. The access must be affordable and not too complicated for the developers.

EU issued already 2003 the PSI directive – Directive on the re-use of public sector information – which was built on the two key pillars of the internal market: transparency and fair competition. The directive defined minimum rules for re-use of PSI and recommended states to go beyond these rules and adopt open data policies. Several countries including Sweden have been chased by the Commission for slow or poor implementation of the PSI directive which in the case of Sweden is strange since we have had our legislation regarding freedom of information including the right to reprint official documents since 1766. In the most recent version of the directive, 2012, also museums, archives and libraries are covered in the scope.

Most data produced within governments remain there and their ability to attract developers to make innovative and useful applications and services for citizens and society are limited. The growing number of M2M solutions deployed will drastically increase the amount of useful data created why countries acting now will have a growing advantage to others.


API:s key to M2M

January 3, 2012

One way of describing M2M solutions is in the three steps: collect data, process data, use data. These three steps need to have standardized interfaces in order to avoid re-inventing the wheel every time we need something from the M2M solution in place. This is true when data is collected, processed and used internally but even more so when some or all data should be made available to someone else. M2M solutions are most often deployed internally with a business case developed to support the investment. They are typically there to respond to very specific internal challenges or opportunities why it’s not fully natural to think about sharing data externally when the systems are designed. However I believe we will see increasing business opportunities for owners of data collected in M2M (and other) solutions. I see at least three types of opportunities:

– making internal data available to selected or even all developers might boost perceived service levels for the company. A good example is tåg.info in Sweden where information about trains and stations are made easily available for developers who have developed popular apps like Train Info Sweden and Tågtavlan. I am convinced these apps have increased the overall perceived services by the train operators. Another great example is the “City of Stockholm Open API” where a lot of information is made available to developers and where I expect to see more and more information from M2M solutions in the city.

– making internal data available on commercial terms will probably be increasingly interesting. The more services made available, especially for smart phones and pads, the more important will quality of the service and differentiation become. And adding interesting data from a second and maybe innovative source might single out a specific service from the crowd. Let’s use weather forecasts as an example where the service with the best forecast quality can charge more or get most of the advertising money.

– making internal data available might impact the brand positively. An example could be creating indexes from the internal data which could be used by the public as comparisons and means of learning how to save energy at home, green driving, what to pay for things, etc.

Needless to say a very well thought through strategy has to be in place in order to avoid major mistakes like giving away the crown jewels or challenging peoples integrity.

In order for the big M2M boom to happen we need to make bits and pieces fit better together, end to end, in order to drive down cost for development and maintenance, to avoid duplication of efforts, to avoid fork lift upgrades of systems, simplify integration with partners and to improve time to market of services. Standardized and open API:s are important parts of that development and I think we will see an increasing amount of independent middle-men collecting data from different sources then cleaning and organizing the data in order to sell it. Such companies would help establishing standard API:s which is good for the M2M industry.


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