January 15, 2014

No Predictions from INEX Advisors. A Parable and Prescription for the Internet of Things

Chris Rezendes, President INEX Advisors

Chris Rezendes, President INEX Advisors

Those of us playing some small part in one of the greatest stories of the 21st century – the instrumentation of the physical world (sometimes referred to as the Internet of Things, Internet of Everything, Industrial Internet, M2M or Programmable World) – are typically a little bit OCD about time.

Racing against it. Fighting for it. Working with it in our IoT ROI and impact models.

The last thing we can do is waste it.

My prediction is no ten-point list. No billions of devices shipped. No trillions of dollars of value available.

My prediction is this video parable as a set-up for a prescription.

Video by: NZTransportAgency

My prescription:  Lets start the conversation about how all well-intentioned, hardworking, decent people can win in IoT-enabled markets.  On a planet where real and virtual worlds are integrated and anyone and perhaps anything can be connected.  When the limits of our best systems thinking – free market economics, democracy, conservation, energy, urban development, education, population health – are being tested.

To be clear, I am a capitalist. I love free markets and democracy. I know we can define better applications of both. I think IoT can be the lever we pull together to realize the better versions of capitalism and democracy; and human rights, conservation, energy, national security, water security, food security, transportation, urban development and more.

But not if we limit our conception of it, or the systems within which we might deploy it.

About that video …

The man in the tie:  Big IT Solutionists

The man in the flannel shirt: Industrial SME Isolationists.

To be clear:  Not all Big IT is solutionist. Not all industrials are isolationist. But their influence is outsized, and not particularly helpful at this juncture of IoT development.

The kid in the car:  The global opportunity we have to address a number of grand challenges on the planet today with new, more enlightened approaches to instrumenting the physical world.  With an intentional as well as profitable approach to IoT, we can drive profitability without layoffs, disrupt for stability, and innovate with sustainability.

However, the solutionists inside big IT – the guy in the tie, going too fast – are wagging the dog with their ‘move fast or die’ meme. Rapid scale is the only answer to every question, statement or silent pause. Some solutionists sneer when they talk about people, humans in the loop of anything. The obsession with scale over value has created some powerful dimensions of unsustainability in their markets. From winner-take-all, to freemium as standard entrance fee to new markets, and the suicidal races to commodities, unsustainability in tech is everywhere. And it is not by design.

Moreover, the isolationists inside the industrial community – the guy in the flannel shirt – are misreading the IoT signal through all the noise and hype. They are closer to the physical world, the critical operations communities, and in many cases, the installed bases of sensing, instrumentation and control systems that are in many cases the antecedent to IoT in their markets. Some isolationists dismiss IoT as nothing new – in part blinded by the very real threat that the next wave of automation may literally destroy their organization, their office, their livelihood. And yet, as soft goods become wearables, bulldozers data centers and pipelines microclimate weather stations, companies building or operating those assets are in first position to help define how companies, industries, markets are reorganized. And it is not by accident.

I do not want to be rude, but I am impelled to be direct: Tech community solutionists, please go home. Operations community isolationists, please stay home. Let your humanist, pragmatic peers step in.

We are entering the next great synthesis – people and machines. There is too much potential to improve the planet AND make money to ignore it. There is also too much potential to mess a lot of stuff up by limiting our discussion of IoT potential to it being a tool to ‘take more humans out of the loop’ or extend ad platforms.

The potential of the Internet of Things – the kid in the car — is so much greater than automating manual tasks or filling advertising intelligence inventories. Yet those are the dominant themes one reads about in IoT today.

Pursuing the larger, more sustainable, more profitable, more meaningful potential of the Internet of Things will require significant changes in thinking about what we would connect, why and how.

One impact of applying the new thinking may result in some developments going a little slower –solutionists will reject this. Another impact may require more collaboration among peers and partners – isolationists will reject that.

But in going just a little bit slower, a little more collaboratively, we will be throwing fewer babies out with the bathwater.  We will suffer through fewer false choices.  We will shy away from fewer legitimate opportunities to do better on more dimensions.

My prescription:  Consider this parable and test INEX Advisors IoT Maxims in your definition, development and deployment of IoT:

  • People above machines.
  • Faces more than screens.
  • Grand challenges before small conveniences.

We may take some humans out of some loops, but, we will put more people back in the center of life.

January 15, 2014