History repeats itself. Social robots have appeared in books and movies for years and always felt far out. But all of a sudden they say hello to you! I participated in a panel at Digital Health Days in Stockholm and one of the speakers was a blue Giraff with the avatar of their CEO Stephen von Rump, present in Saint Lewis, Missouri. They have been developing their social robot focusing on home care. It can sit, stand, talk, nod, move etc, and in our case it was Stephen’s face and voice talking to us. In their concept the Giraff becomes the gateway for all sensors and devices needed in a particular home as well as for all service providers involved including family and friends. Today the price for a Giraff is in the ball park of 10K$ but Stephen mentioned there is more to be done on the hardware.
M2M or Internet of Things is not an industry. It’s more of a process describing that we are continuously connecting more things to the Internet. And it is a way to segment markets like how many dishwashers are connected and how many SIM cards are used in other things than phones and pads. Connecting things is not a big deal by itself but the data collected over the connection can make a huge difference when it shows up in systems for decision-making, process management, document management, monitoring and alarms, security and so on. It is when the data becomes information in relevant systems that the value appears. This is why I believe the IT industry must play the key role in pulling together the complete applications delivering the value thus enabling the investment decisions. A complete application always include the collection of data (sensors, networks, gateways, etc), management of data (i.e. making useful information for the application) and distribution (i.e. integration, app development, etc). Three distinct parts and at least three different industries.
This is well understood in the enterprise world which also explains why it takes some time to get going. But make no mistake – it will happen in all industries, it will bring massive effects and will redefine many businesses. GE is probably the best possible example of a large enterprise who identified this early on and got going with massive investments and rapid results. The future of the Internet of Everything is created by doers not politicians, thinkers, analysts, researchers, etc. The best approach is to keep eyes open for interesting examples from real life. Not only from your own industry. Identify and select problems and challenges relevant for this technology and start prototype and test. An agile approach with rapid prototyping and real-time testing with users is the way forward.
Up until now we have seen a lot of early successes by companies doing it all. There are companies like that in every single country. This is the obvious winning approach to overcome severe complexity in a new market. But this will change rapidly and new partnerships and value chains will be created to bring solutions to customers in different industries. This is how the IT industry solved issues before and this is why they are needed to participate in building the Internet of Everything. One area where we will see this change very fast is connected accessories like watches, wristbands, etc. A couple of years ago companies started to launched their wristbands and connected watches with an application or service attached. Good start to get to market but obviously not the right way moving forward. We want services where you can connect your devices of choice which allows you to also manage your data properly and distribute the information as you like.
Nobody expected the wristbands to become the new smart phone or pad, but sometimes I meet people who believe smart watches or Google Glasses is the next big thing. I think that is way off. These things are accessories and play in the same league as keyboards and mice. I think we will see the brands focus more on the services maybe with a branded device to show the way. The devices will be more standardized to fit all major services and we all will have to look for the next big thing somewhere else. I just received a 50$ quote for 500 units of a no-brand connected watch which looked quite nice and sophisticated and had decent features and specs. These accessories are about to become commodities and will soon show up in the weekly flow of deals in your inbasket. Data is the gold of M2M – that’s where the value is and that’s where the brands will want to be.
Companies have moved manufacturing of things to developing countries since many years. The reasons have primarily been competitiveness and profitability and the results of this are well-known and documented. Focus on software and the Internet made knowledge of making and marketing touchable products, things, scarce in countries like Sweden. It’s not that we are lacking ideas or can’t make a nice design but manufacturing, service and communication of products need to be closely integrated for superb results. Great ideas and designs are gradually taken down towards “normal” for every consultant, advisor, middle-man, controller and purchaser that gets involved. Huge cost-efficient factories only manufacture huge quantities and cost consciousness efficiently replace odd designs and components to those easier to manufacture and cheaper to buy. Most of this is obviously very good since we don’t want a world with only guordiously designed and incredibly expensive things! But take a look at things around you and you will see a lot of “global look and feel” in neutral colors and with rounded corners. Smartphones are really good examples – a huge, growing, rapidly changing and innovative market with youngsters showing the way should produce some sexy products but they all look more or less the same.
But the pendulum is swinging back again! There are many reasons why we will start to see much more things being designed and built “at home” onwards. Let me give you a couple:
An old friend wrote: “Hi Magnus, Great to hear from you. Sounds like you are in the sweet spot of the next digital revolution.” Internet of Things is on everyone’s lips now! If we wouldn’t have had the M2M hype phase over ten years ago I would definitely be nervous, but this is for real. Kudos to Gartner who provided us with the hype curve!
IoT is still in the teenage phase but growing very fast. The industry obviously remains excited on ever new levels. But what makes me believe that we will be grown up by 2015 is the rapidly growing requests from businesses across industries and nations. They want better decision-making, faster processes, competitive advantages, security, sustainability, profitability and bottom line, success. And more and more we end up talking about strategic issues like addressing adjacent markets, “re-defining our industry”, brands and new business models. Somehow a lot of decision makers got the point: it’s time to act! Leaving discussions and PowerPoint behind and jump into trials and action.
The value of M2M becomes visible when the information appears in decision-making systems and processes. The data collected and blended will have to end up in the IT systems why solutions require context, i.e. industry experience, and will be developed by specialized companies. As vehicle specialist Springworks put it: “it took as a while to learn the difference between a hard break and a crash”. Specialized M2M Service Enablement remains the most critical part of building the Internet of Things. Context is king!
The Swedish M2M Service Enablers alliance (SMSE) was established 2012 on this insight and we are already 21 members – Imagimob and Expektra joined earlier this week. And we are now sponsored by six organizations including four operators. We believe the M2M service enablement business will have to be international for M2M to grow up. And with all national players competing on an international market, only the specialized ones will win. It is simply not good enough to connect a couple of things to the Internet, collect some data and distribute it to an App or web page. One needs the context to develop and sell really useful Service Enablement solutions.
We are working hard to demonstrate our combined skills and experience in M2M, or Internet of Things if you like, and that Sweden is a great place to look for advanced M2M applications. Over the last 12 months we have been on several trade missions including Italy, France, Spain, Holland and Germany. And starting on Monday nine of our members – Springworks, Maingate, Kombridge, Possio, EvoThings, Fym, WSI, Info24 and Wbird – represent SMSE in the Swedish Pavilion (7F41) at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Please come by and visit us during the week! And as proud sponsors of the traditional Sweden@MWC Cocktail we invite you for a drink with us on Monday afternoon as well!
I can see a lot of applications where sensors embedded in something else could open new possibilities and opportunities.
Data is the gold of M2M! Today even “monkeys” can connect a couple of things, collect the data in the cloud and present it in an app. And now, in its teenage, the M2M aka Internet of Everything industry is splitting up in three distinct parts: collecting data (sensors and devices), managing data (analyzing, manipulating, combining data) and distributing data (apps, web, integration in business systems, decision-making systems). Each of these three parts have to be perfectly resolved to make a great M2M solution: efficient and sensitive sensors connected using relevant networks, secure and efficient data management where understanding the context is absolutely required, and great, sticky UX in apps and web interfaces are examples from recipes of culinary M2M dishes.
It is when the collected data cautiously has been transformed into information and delivered into business applications that the value of M2M appears. The cold chain for the lobsters from Canada just delivered to the store is uninterrupted. The car that just alarmed the response center of an accident has three passengers. The route suggested by the navigator has risk for ice on a bridge 2 km from here.
With data transformed to information and delivered in relevant applications being the key for M2M solutions it is obvious that the access networks are secondary. Each solution in the hands of customers should ensure proper information delivery using the best available network option given the situation. Requirements on bandwidth, QoS, cost, latency, SLA, power, size, investment horizon, etc should determine which access network to use for each device and sensor. I see only two ways to deliver on this: either the service providers provide a portfolio of access options to serve the clients or the M2M Service Enablers will have to get access from a mix of service providers. At M2M Summit Scandinavia last week I was glad to hear that both Vodafone and Deutche Telekom share this view and aim to provide a solid portfolio of connectivity options for M2M customers.
What 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.