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

Automation prioritization

 

Since I have been putting out some posts on automation, I’ve been getting some feedback from coworkers. One was a post titled: 8 Questions to Ask before You Automate. It holds some useful perspectives to evalutate if automation is even applicable to a situation.

 

Back in the early 90s, I led a project called Knowledge-based Tool Design focused on improving the productivity of tooling designers for automotive manufacturing. We used the capabilities of CAD tools to try and automate as much as we could, related to the creation of the machines that facilitate car assembly. This was a high value effort, since late stage engineering changes in the car parts themselves have implications on the tooling and can delay the startup of manufacturing. Anything we could do to address the reengineering of tooling had a direct effect on time-to-market.

 

We would load the car component models that need to be clamped and welded into the CAD system and try to create automated techniques to define and design the tooling needed. After firing rays all over the place to determine entry routes for robotic arms holding the clamping and welding tools, it became clear that people can look at parts and tooling and determine routes for entry very easily compared to doing this programmatically. Creating these designs well definitely involved creativity and intuition.

 

What people could not do reliably was define the underlying Bill-of-Materials need to create that robotic assembly, physically. So yes, I learned back then that it is very useful to understand what people and/or computers are good at, when defining the right approach to address repeatable, higher-value, computationally capable tasks with automation first.

 

Whether it is designing tools, answering calls or writing software – even though the automation capabilities are radically improving, this assessment is still required. I usually think of it as a 3 dimensional matrix and the further away from the origin, the more likely the automation effort will be effective.

 

 automation axis.png

Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should do something, especially when there is a constraint on the effort available to tackle a set of tasks. We need to prioritize.

 

 

The need for automated environmental validation in IT

action 002.jpgI was recently reading the post When disaster strikes: How IT process automation helps you recover fast and it got me thinking about the need for automated environmental validation. Recovering fast may not be good enough if the recovery destination environment has changed.

 

In the software space, you can use jUnit or nUnit to codify the limits of the code and make sure it works, and breaks as defined. It can be a very useful component of a test first unit testing approach.

 

I was wondering if infrastructure automation efforts should include a similar capability that we can automatically test an environment to ensure its characteristics are up-to-snuff, before and after we make a change. These tests could either be run periodically, or as part of a promotion to production process.

 

Automating this validation would remove the human element from this tedious step. It seems like this would be a useful and possibly necessary step for cloud deployments, since those environments are dynamic and beyond the scope (and understanding) of the person who wrote the original programs. Maybe this is commonly done, but I've not talked to many who attack this issue proactively.

IoT standards war begins

tug of war.pngI seem to have done quite a number of blog posts in the last month related to the Internet of Things. I just noticed that there have been numerous announcements about standards efforts. This may have spurred me on. 

 

There are a number of them, but the three I’ve seen the most about are:

  • AllSeen Alliance that supports the open source project AllJoyn that provides “a universal software framework and core set of system services that enable interoperability among connected products and software applications across manufacturers to create dynamic proximal networks.”
  • The Open Interconnect Consortium with “the goal of defining the connectivity requirements and ensuring interoperability of the billions of devices that will make up the emerging Internet of Things. “
  • And Google (not to be left out) has defined Thread. Its goal is: “To create the very best way to connect and control products in the home. “ These devices all run over IEEE 802.15.4.

The IEEE has its own set of IoT standards efforts, but those haven’t been getting the press as the recently announced ones above.

 

It is clear that IoT needs standards, but if it is too fragmented there will be no standard at all.

 

Hopefully this will shake out soon, since standards will help make the services and the software needed that actually provide the value for the end consumer.

 

Other views about starting small but thinking big

Last week, I did a post titled: Start Small but think big, when transforming. Fairly quickly I got a note from Erik van Busschbach from HP SW that said he’d made some similar statements related to cloud adoption. In fact he even had a video about his perspective. 

 

 Think big, start small.jpg

 

Next week at HP Discover, I hope to track Erik down (who is the Chief Technologist, World Wide Strategy & Solutions for HP Software) and talk about the nuances of our perspectives. He also wrote a post on an HP SW blog about: Why the IT Value Chain is your blueprint for strategically regaining control of IT that also contains the start small but think big concept.

 

Even if we’re coming at the problem from different perspectives, the fact that much of what we’re talking about ends up at the same result is reaffirming. 

Will the Internet of Things lead to passive oversharing?

 

security compromize.pngLast week there was a twitterChat by CIO magazine and the Enterprise CIO forum on ‘the Internet of Things and the effect on the CIO’. During this discussion someone asked “Are there security issues (particularly for the consumer)?” Everyone can probably agree that there are significant concerns that everyone needs to be aware as they strap on more and more devices.

 

One of these concerns relates to a story from a few years back. Then, there was quite a bit of discussion about Super Cookies. This techniques uniquely identified computers by their software versions, installed software… the kind of thing that can be gathered via JavaScript. Nothing had to be stored on the computer itself, like a normal cookie.

 

A similar technique can be applied to uniquely identify a consumer. What devices are they carrying…? Essentially, tracking people by what emissions they are emanating or consuming. Like the Super Cookie, this technique can track and record user behavior across multiple sites. Devices like cell phones are always transmitting "here I am" infromation. BlueTooth and WiFi can also be set to respond to external emissions.

 

Once you can track individual’s movement and interests, you can use that to predict future behavior and act upon it – much like what was demonstrated in the site pleaserobme.com. This site used individual’s social site usage to understand when they were away from home -- except in this case it is passive oversharing by our IoT devices that is the concern. Right now people view this as just a retail experience enabler so they are not freaking out.

 

But this passive surveillance is one area that will likely be scrutinized very closely in the coming years. Those who create devices need to be very aware of what is shared and utilize as much of the security capabilities that are available to keep passive sharing to a minimum.

 

It is not just about recognizing people who come into a retail area. For those who own devices, we need to be aware of what they emit, when and what controls are available to limit them. If it is possible to drive down a street and know which houses are occupied and which are not just by their IoT emissions, there are definitely people who will take advantage.

 

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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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