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Have a Problem? Ask an Expert (Even if He, She, or It Is 3,000 Miles Away)

Your smart sprinkler system is happily pumping water to your lawn in highly efficient sprays that are “aware” of the soil, the climate, the weather, the time of day, and even whether or not your kids are playing in the backyard on a Saturday. Suddenly, a faulty valve bursts and an uncontrolled geyser erupts. One part of your property is about to be ruined by flooding while the rest of the lawn is left to yellow in the sun.

You and your family are miles away, yet you know all about it.  Sensors throughout the system alert your smartphone. At the same time, machine-to-machine signals shut down the pumps, and an expert from the sprinkler company is dispatched to your home with the precise replacement part and the real-time knowledge to fix the system.

It’s a great example of how the Internet of Everything (IoE) may soon funnel precise information in real time to the people — or machines — that need it most. Many of these “remote expert“ technologies are either already here or on the horizon.

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And if keeping your lawn green may not seem like saving the world, think again. UNESCO estimates that in the developing world, 50 percent of all drinkable water is lost to leaks. Scale that network of sensors, machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, and predictive data analytics — with experts informed and available in real-time — and you have a game-changing technology breakthrough for water utilities. Just one of many that will be enabled by the Internet of Everything.

Indeed, IoE is all about connecting people, processes, data, and things — and some of the key people in that equation will be experts. Many of them are likely to be in the next county, city, or continent.

Once those technology-enablers are in place, an event can be captured, a process kicked-off, and expertise brought to bear on a problem as it unfolds; or, better still, before it causes a disruption — in a store, factory, rural village, deep-sea drilling platform, anywhere. Voice, text, and mobile video collaboration technologies — all capabilities that connect people — will allow remote human experts to transcend geographical barriers. Along with being brought in to solve urgent problems, experts will be infused into our everyday lives, when we need them most. They will be available through video on our phone to help us fix a plumbing problem; on a digital display in the aisle of a store to answer a question; or even in a vending machine at the mall, sharing beauty advice and dispensing appropriate skin-care products.

In the developing world, remote experts could have a profound impact on health care, education, and economic development. Many developing markets are already in the processes of leapfrogging infrastructures, skipping landline technologies and jumping straight to mobility. In remote areas where many kinds of expertise are in short supply, these mobile capabilities could open a vast world of information possibilities.

For example, even in a rural village that lacks professional medical experts, sensors on clothing could one day monitor the day-to-day health of pregnant women. In response, automated prompts could dispense relevant expertise, or bring in a remote  doctor or midwife-nurse before an issue escalates. Post pregnancy, remote experts could dispense advice and information on breast feeding and general childcare. One illustration of how this can work is in the developing world, where prenatal and antenatal medical advice can be scarce. If, for example, a young mother is ready to stop nursing when her breasts hurt, she may not know that the cure is often the opposite — to nurse more. Having a remote expert (human or machine) to dispense the kind of information that people in the developed world take for granted, can make a profound difference in the nutrition, IQs, and general wellbeing of thousands of children.  These benefits were demonstrated clearly by a pilot program in Afghanistan.

As more “things” become connected and are able to reach out on our behalf, organizations will also be transformed. Expert labor once limited to one physical place or channel will need to be reorganized — to deliver real-time experiences anywhere, anytime. See my white paper for some examples of new models for retail. New service offerings will emerge that surround products with better services and support. (Along with that sprinkler system, you will purchase peace of mind, knowing that an expert is always ready to help.)

Some of these examples may seem simple. But I believe that all will be impactful. And as IoE evolves, the whole notion of expertise will change. In years past, experts may have seemed unknowable or unreachable in their ivory towers. In the age of IoE, they will be as close as the device in your hand, and as timely as the emergency that isn’t escalating.

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