I’ve been spending a lot of time talking and thinking about a world in which everything is connected. The Internet of Everything isn’t some futuristic Idea that we are dreaming about, it’s charging forward at incredible speed and everything is being connected. I’d like to look at five characteristics or truths about IOE that are becoming evident:
One – The Internet of Everything will level the playing field for large and small companies. Previously, developments like do-it-yourself websites eliminated the visual difference between large corporations and small companies which ushered in a new era of small business creation. In the IoE world, local access to the network is straightforward and sensors are inexpensive which lowers the barrier to entry for new applications and inventions. Innovation fueled by the Internet of Everything will hinge on seeing the world in a new way, not on the large capitalization previously required for corporate success. The Internet of Everything will play a key role in next-generation product development. Richard Foster of Yale predicts that 75% of the S&P 500 will be replaced by 2027.
Two – The great new insights will not solely be about efficiency. Connected devices and sensors will be generating data and giving us insights that go way behind efficiency. In the 1990s we focused on optimization to increase productivity. This next wave of data fueled by sensor technology will be transformational: real-time, on-the-ground information that reveals patterns we couldn’t have previously seen. Not just whether the machine operates but how it’s being used; correlations between use and time, use and location, bringing us a myriad of correlations that we don’t analyze because the data didn’t exist. My friend and colleague Rick Smolan, author of The Human Face of Big Data and other excellent books, says that metaphorically, the 90’s focus on optimizing efficiency was like walking around with one eye but this next wave will involve seeing the world with two eyes. (And I point out that only in the land of the blind does the one-eyed rule. We have to see beyond simple efficiency!)
There’s a wonderful example I was just exposed to: Earth Works has an extensive sensor network that tracks lightning and, using analytics on massive amounts of data, is able to predict severe weather faster than, and at a fraction of the cost of, the U.S. Weather Service. Now, I have no beef with the U.S. Weather Service: it’s the best in the world, hands down, but it requires a significant infrastructure that can’t be replicated in developing countries. Earth Works Founder Bob Marshall maintains that there are six billion people who get no warning whatsoever about severe weather. What makes Earth Works’ product line unique is that doesn’t rely on satellite imagery or radar, just data generated by simple sensors that they attach to cell phone towers. The data is analyzed automatically, and alerts are sent instantly to local subscribers of the WeatherBug phone and desktop app — and there are 33 million of them monthly on a global scale. Because the cellular network is the predominant platform in the developing world, building their product on it opens this life-saving innovation to previously un-served citizens, without tapping into the scarce resources of the government. And it’s a win for cellular carriers as well because they’re always looking for additional benefits to be derived from their product. WeatherBug may very well be able to save property and lives.
Three – Humans will still be in control. Although machines will be offering insights and making recommendations, humans will still be in control and responsible for the outcomes. As with prior technologies like collaboration, cultural changes in the way we work and how we manage employees were required to make best use of the technology. The Internet of Everything will also require a period of adoption by people who are willing to develop and implement strategies that shape the kind of culture and behavior of organizations in the IoE world. Imagine a retail clerk that is notified of a highly valued customer who has entered the store. You still need the clerk to take the data, interpret the highly recommended steps, and execute the order to realize the benefit. It’s still all about people. Which doesn’t mean that the moment you turn some portion of control over to a machine isn’t a moment that’s all that comfortable: I recently rode in the Google automated car and when the driver took his hands off the wheel and turned to me (as we hit freeway speeds) I gulped, fighting back a feeling of uneasiness.
Four – Standards will be key. The acceleration of devices connecting to the Internet will soon be faster than anything we’ve seen. Every manufacturer will want to connect existing devices to the Internet for control monitoring. Smart objects and sensors will continue to be deployed and used in applications that haven’t even been identified at this time. These will drive the number of things that connect to the Internet to an all-time high. This is a challenge, however, because many of these things that are being connected are being built for very specific purposes and due of lack of standards are being created with their own protocols. We’ve seen this happen before with transformational technologies like the Internet. . We needed routing protocols, and TCIP, to name a few. For IoE to be highly effective and useful, protocol standardization will be key.
Five – Intelligence and security at the edge will be critical. We’re moving from millions to billions of connections and as more things connect to the network, the requirement that intelligence and security work at the local edge will have a profound impact on product and network design. Identifying what is connecting, how to protect it, and manage it will be critical.