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

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.

Update on skin-based sensing

skin sensor.jpgBack in 2011, I created a post about Sensors in Tattoos – taking wearables to a whole other level of monitoring.


Today I saw an update from the University of Illinois about a prototype for an Ultrathin “Diagnostic Skin” that allows for continuous patient monitoring.  This device sticks to the surface of the skin and can survive most normal stretching and pinching motions.


“The technology offers the potential for a wide range of diagnostic and therapeutic capabilities with little patient discomfort. For example, sensors can be incorporated that detect different metabolites of interest. Similarly, the heaters can be used to deliver heat therapy to specific body regions; actuators can be added that deliver an electrical stimulus or even a specific drug.”


The current investigation is tracking skin temperature, which can be used to track the onset of an illness…


Although not attached directly on the skin, this technology from Rice University attempts to detect malaria by sensing low levels of the malaria infection.


The new diagnostic technology uses a low-powered laser creating tiny vapor “nanobubbles” inside malaria-infected cells. The bursting bubbles have a unique acoustic signature that allows for an extremely sensitive diagnosis. The test requires no dyes or diagnostic chemicals, and there is no need to draw blood.


“A preclinical study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that Rice’s technology detected even a single malaria-infected cell among a million normal cells with zero false-positive readings.”


Hopefully this research will go more than skin deep and be deployed.

Earth Insights - Big Data in the Wild

Earth Insights.jpgToday at HP Discover, HP announced an innovative collaboration with Conservation International (CI) — a leading non-governmental organization dedicated to protecting nature for people — to dramatically improve the accuracy and speed of analysis of data collection in environmental science. 


The initiative, called HP Earth Insights, delivers near-real time analytics yielding new information that indicates a decline in a significant percentage of species monitored. The project serves as an early warning system for conservation efforts, enabling proactive responses to environmental threats. 


HP Earth Insights applies HP’s big data technology to the ecological research being conducted by Conservation International and its partners across 16 tropical forests around the world, as part of the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network Tropical forests, which are home to approximately 30 million species—half of all the plants and animals on earth—and generate 40 percent of the earth’s oxygen.


According to the United Nations Environment Programme, tropical forests are vanishing at a rate of about 18,000 square miles (4.6 million hectares) per year. Data and analysis from HP Earth Insights will be shared with protected area managers to develop policies regarding hunting and other causes of species loss in these ecosystems.


For this project, HP is providing a customized solution that harnesses the power of its big data offerings to address the challenges faced by CI scientists:

  • The HP Vertica Analytics Platform—a next-generation software tool, designed to manage and analyze massive and fast-growing volumes of data with amazing speed and unprecedented accuracy, will be used to address the needs of CI scientists to collect, store and assess a variety of data.
  • The Wildlife Picture Index (WPI) Analytics System—a dashboard and analytics tool built by HP Enterprise Services—allows for the visualization of user-friendly, data-driven insights to be accessed anytime, anywhere, in near real-time.


Currently, HP Earth Insights manages 3 terabytes of critical biodiversity information, including more than 1.4 million photos and more than 3 million climate measurements that continues to grow every day. The project analyzes the ever-increasing inputs related to species, vegetation, precipitation, temperature, carbon stocks, humidity and more, gathered from over 1000 camera traps and many climate sensors in 16 countries to deliver findings about the environment that previously were unknown.


By delivering analytics nine times faster than previously available and generating useable trend information on species and the impacts of climate, people and land use, HP Earth Insights is helping to protect these important resources.


This new solution also serves to demonstrate HP’s end-to-end capabilities in action, from HP ElitePads that meet the mobility requirements of the scientists to capture data in the tropical forests, to HP ProLiant servers powering back-end data systems, to building out the existing cloud component to meet the project’s growing data needs.


This real life example shows how big data techniques can take on big problems and provide new value and greater understanding, far beyond the office.

Innovative companies for 2013

innovation2.jpgThe Boston Consulting Group has released an interesting report on the most innovative companies for 2013.  It focused on the how and why innovation continues to increase as a company’s top strategic priority. The report includes various measures of successful Innovation. The great news from my perspective is that HP continued to be in within the top 20.


It is interesting though that there are more automakers than high-tech companies in the top 20. It makes me wonder if that is spurred by a focus on next generation manufacturing, sensors and automation… or something else. I talk about how resolving conflicts spurs on innovation and it is clear that the automakers have numerous conflicts on their plate.


The report goes on to analyse the sources of innovation strength:

  • Commitment to innovation
  • Leveraging IP
  • A managed portfolio of innovative initiatives
  • Strong customer focus
  • Strong processes


This last one is where people may be surprised. Some see innovation as something that is uncontrolled and spontaneous, to me strong processes help focus innovation where the creativity is needed.


The report was definitely worth looking at since it is example-based including a variety of perspectives.

The advent of the action based economy


plugging in economy.pngI’ve mentioned before the blurring of the edge of the enterprise. This was once the domain of large organizations like the Walmarts and DoDs of the world, but now is reaching down into farms, hospitals and smaller manufacturing organizations. With more sensors and greater mobility comes and ever more granular understanding of what is going on in the environment and all businesses are starting to catch on to the value.


I recently received a survey from my utility provider asking me about the level of automation and sensing I felt comfortable with in my home. Essentially, they were trying to determine how I perceived the rewards for participating in their efficiency efforts. For them it lowers their need for expensive infrastructure build outs, for me it could lower my monthly bills. The options available ranged from controlling the temperature of my home for small periods (essentially letting them have greater granular control of consumption) to installing solar panels on my home (addressing more granular supply side control).


This more connected, Internet of things (IoT) view of opportunities for a business can take on a number of opportunity dimensions:

  • Business: addressing business specific goals and initiatives

  • Market: opening up new markets and relationships

  • System: additional architectural flexibility using Machine to Machine (M2M) techniques to more efficiently use the resources of the organization

  • Security: there are actually opportunities for greater security with these techniques than the manual processes of today

If my utility company views these new capabilities as critical to their success, I bet almost every business has opportunities that are being overlooked. This more connected world is about taking action not just supplying greater insight into what is going on. Some people talk about this being a data economy – I’d rather think about it being an action-based economy. Those who can make better decisions faster will win. More data is just a side-effect of that process.


I am going to be speaking at a CIO conference in Dallas on Friday and one of the things I will stress is that these things are coming. They will change the role of the CIO, but if the focus remains on driving business outcomes, our organizations will be ready to take advantage of them.


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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.