The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

Is it time for a Chief Automation Officer?

Automation officer.pngOver the last few years, there has been quite a bit of discussion about the race against the machines (or the race with the machines), based on the abundance of computing available. When I think about the IoT and its implications on business, it may be that information is just a side effect of an entirely different corporate strategic effort.

 

Maybe there is a need for a Chief Automation Officer more than a Chief Information Officer going forward?!? Someone who looks at the business implications and opportunities for cognitive computing, sensing, robotics and other automation techniques.

 

Or is automation just assumed to be part of all future strategic planning activities. As I began thinking about it, it’s clear that others have thought about this CAO role as well, although mostly from an IT perspective instead of one based on business need. It could be viewed that this is a role for the CTO or even the enterprise architect.

Where did the IoT come from?

I was talking with some folks about the Internet of Things the other day and they showed me some analysis that made it look like it was relatively recent.

 

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My view is that its foundations go back a long way. I worked on (SCADA) Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems back in the 80s, which were gathering data off the factory floor, analyzing it and performing predictive analytics, even way back then.


In the 70s, passive RFID came into being and one of the first places it was used was tracking cows for the department of agriculture to ensure they were given the right dosage of medicine and hormones – since cows could talk for themselves.

 

In the late 70s and early 80s barcodes become widely used to identify objects, allowing greater tracking of manufacturing lines as well as consumers in stores.

 

In the 90s, higher speed and greater range allowed for toll tags to be placed on cars, allowing for greater ease of identification but still very little use of sensors to collect additional information.

 

At the turn of the century, the military and Walmart required the use of RFID to track products and that caused significant increase in their adoption. About the same time, low powered sensing capabilities were developed since RFID only provided identification and the scanner provided location, people began to look at other information that could be collected like temperature, humidity as well as ways to gather information remotely like smart metering in the utilities space (although even that started much earlier).

 

Most technology adoption follows an S curve for investment and value generation. We’re just now entering the steep part of the S curve where the real business models and excitement is generated. It is not really all that new it is just that the capabilities have caught up with demand and that is making us think about everything differently (and proactively).

Is the IoT going to be under the control of the CIO?

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As we shift from the internet of people (moving beyond the smartphone era) to the Internet of Things (IoT) some of our assumptions for the IT organization and its value may no longer be valid. According to IDC, the IoT will become so prevalent that by 2020 that more than 212 billion devices around the world will be connected. That’s the equivalent of 27 devices per person on earth.

 

There are a few drivers for this increase in adoption. Those are advances in:

  • Sensing capabilities – allowing broader and deeper understanding
  • Power management and consumption – enabling devices that are smaller, last longer and are more autonomous
  • Networking – permitting machine to machine and greater process collaboration

There are actually predictable changes. The three exponential laws that enable the shift in value are:

This shift is already happening in the consumer space, but the question remains “What will the CIO’s role be,” when it happens in industry? Many CIOs spend all their time focused on systems of record, those systems that track all the transactions of a business. IoT implementations are in a different domain all together.

 

The primary consumers of these implementations may be different as well. These are the sources of the abundance of data I’ve mentioned earlier. The IT organization should have the skills to understand what the implications of:

  • Transporting all that data and the interconnection required
  • Storing the information for later use
  • Analyzing the data to actually generate value
  • Automating the response so that people don’t become overwhelmed – systems of action

But the big question for most will be if they willing to invest now so they can have the influence and impact when it is needed. It’s not a foregone conclusion.

Who defines business opportunities of mobile?

mobile worker2.pngThis morning I was in a discussion with some people from academia and industry that was primarily focused on communications trends. We quickly dove into the issues of security, networking education, mobility and sensing. Everyone agreed about the impact these areas are having at a high level, but when you dug down just a little bit, the business implications thinking stopped.

 

These technologies are going to shift how we think about some of the foundational aspects of business and employment today. Concepts are going to shift by asking: “What is a mobile worker?” In this age of BYOD and Mobile Device Management (MDM), nearly everyone is a mobile worker. Mobile is no longer special, it is a foundational tool for the masses, not a convenience for the elite. If anything, when the field services workers at the face of the customer are enabled by the technology, they can fundamentally shift how the client sees an organization. For many business the client is the field service worker.

 

Mobile interfaces can be more effective (since they are present at the time information is needed) and can actually be more secure (with all the sensing capabilities of modern devices they have much greater contextual understanding of who you really are than old PC or green screen interfaces ever could).

 

Organizations that want to generate new business value need to start identifying the business processes that are under-addressed with in the current IT portfolio (can a more mobile interface help?). They need to assess how the roles in those processes could be support – what is scarce in the decision making process – and provide the content (or even context) needed to make that process more effective. Techniques can be applied to shift adoption.

 

One thing that also needs to be considered is how will the change be tracked. With all the information mobile devices are capable of gathering, it sets the stage for a much deeper understanding of what is really happening, allowing more agile organizations to make course corrections on their deployments along the way.

 

Employees and customers are typically excited to use these techniques, if they can perceive its value. If they can embrace the experience. It is up to us to recognize the opportunity and make it happen. 

Is the Internet-of-Things really on the brink of enabling a major shift in business value?

fields.JPGI was talking with some folks the other day about the implications of technology shifts and what it means to business. Some shifts like Cloud and Big Data advance how we do many of the things we’ve been doing for years. Others like the Internet-of-Things (IoT) enable whole new approaches. I think the impact is being under estimated – probably because they are not as technically sexy.

 

One of my favorite examples of IoT is the SmartSpud. This sensor pack allows a potato producer to look at the process from the potato’s point of view, reducing bruising and other issues that cause waste -- very quickly. We’ve just not been able to get this perspective in the past. I grew up on a farm so the whole issue of organic processes and their optimization is always of interest.

 

I believe almost every industry as opportunities to use IoT in new ways. This report from the Economist states that this is “an idea whose time has finally come.” They took a survey and only 40% of the respondents saw the impact limited to certain markets or industries. 38% believe that the IoT will have a major impact in most markets and industries. Yet, 96% of all respondents expect their business to be using the IoT in some respect within 3 years. When I think about this, it is an issue where people are just coming to grips with what can be done to maximize the value of what is scarce to the organization.

 

There are some things that are holding the pressure to deploy IoT back. The need for some common infrastructure and services that enable secure, fairly reliable transport and analysis of information. All the parts exist, they just need to be bundled so they can be consumed effectively. It is crying out for an innovator’s dilemma approach that is just good enough for what is needed now to get things rolling. The people who want to use these capabilities don’t want to have to understand it deeply or create it from scratch – they just want to buy it and use it. Until we reach that stage, we’ll only have great examples (in isolation) and not real impact.

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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