RvK: Around 2000 it became clear to me that too few stakeholder were negotiating this paradigm shift. IoT literally is, without exaggeration, about global domination for whoever who ensures inter-operability through his standards, protocols and legal formatting. It must be a public IoT if we want to ensure the largest and most inclusive playing field of free men, women, animals and machines who through the best possible resource allocation and decision-making are able to live in harmony with each other and the environment.
For the past 10 years I have been talking to political and civil servant decision makers. My story was and is that this transparency and full traceability is not an attack on their system. In fact they played a vital role in providing democratic tools such as education, libraries, relatively open access to knowledge. Yet they have no more agency in this current age. A large majority in the previous Chinese government were engineers. The new Premier is a chemical engineer. The country is already run like Google (which has about the same ration engineers/non-engineers). In the West our politicians are fundamentally unable to grasp that their skills and toolsets (and ego’s) have become irrelevant. The civil servants I talk to understand they have no more managerial role in the (semi) autonomous grids they have build themselves, but do not want to let go for fear of losing prestige, a pension, a “position.” Throughout history such paradigmatic shifts have led to revolution, breakdown and loss of life and resources. It is the task and duty of the current IoT engineering community to help these forces understand that we can facilitate their skillsets to move over into more networked organizations.
TV: Describe the foundation of the IoT consortium? Why is it important for organizations in technology to map to these requirements ensuring such use-cases are adopted? What is the integral center-piece? Any rule of thumb such as aligning with Efficiency? Cost? Experience? Customer? or Multi-Faceted?
RvK: This is indeed a key issue. It is about the nature of value. No one is making money with IoT at the moment beyond the boring low hanging fruit of optimizing, efficiency and pre-pre figuring out predictive maintenance; nickles and dimes. These do add up of course on a global scale but even there at one moment every object is tagged with a barcode, QR code, NFC, RFID, monitoring device. Cisco has grasped the implications and is selling its hardware and is moving into output based business models, occupying the very moments where the data becomes meaningful to the customer entangling customer relation management of their client clients with their own formats of making the data legible to them in the first place. Imagine a giant like Cisco having to go through the nitty gritty of identifying 21 use cases (including the ‘smart toilet’) and imagine the savvy people trying to sell that to the Board as their only way of survival: trying to get through the next three to five years making pennies of these use cases, just to stay afloat in order to be the new hegemony in a world that has become fully traceable by then. Quite a feat I’d say. The real value of IoT will only be visible if it is embraced, trusted and really wanted by the people. One can imagine a business model of providing neighborhood servers, amassing all data anonymous, selling or auctioning it to providers who enrich it and play back scenarios that you might want to buy into on the full spectrum from housing to mobility, from food to health, from better sleep advice to matchmaking skill sets and providing work (not ‘jobs’).
TV: The appeal for IoT has taken the stage globally now. How are you involved in the IoT China Consortium and what are the drivers regionally? Do they have distinct differentiators across other regions for IoT?
RvK: I was asked to moderate the first IoT Conference in Beijing in 2010. In the conversations prior to that I realized from the questions how savvy the Chinese organizers were. No wonder given the fact that most top politicians are engineers. In 2005 a Whitepaper on RFID was published. It was released by 15 Ministries and Commissions, including the Ministry of Science and Technology. To build that level of integration between your Ministries means that the channels to communicate and understand a technological paradigm shift underlies the entire structure. The same might be said to be true of the US, but with a difference that in the US half your tax dollars go to the military which is building a similar structure (as we see now in the revelations of Manning and Snowden) but fully closed without any sense that this cybernetic harness could be used for something else then security and isolating data.
In fact, negotiating with the top military is what needs to happen fast by the top IoT US companies – Cisco, IBM, Google, Apple, GE, Microsoft, or else they will suffer greatly from the lack of trust that globally is beginning to take shape. And as we know, trust is the key to making money and adding value in IoT. Imagine if they could do what RAND did after WWII, take the entire field to a new plane: space in their case. Imagine that negotiations could start on how the entire USA, or maybe even the whole world, could benefit from opening up this military infrastructure and use it for sharing and cooperation?
For the past two years I have been involved in helping to program and shape the IOT China Conference in Shanghai and I have been struck by the enthusiasm and the positive attitude towards monitoring – and why should that not be? IoT can help clean the air, provide better food from farm to fork, solutions to the crazy car ownership notions, streamline energy from infrastructure to devices (why should you ‘own’ your washing machine? Is that what life is about? ‘Owning things?).
My point is very simple and I make it everywhere. If we want a better balance between humans, animals, resources and the planet we should take control of infrastructure that should be fully open, modular and public. All data coming from that platform should be open to the public to build better services and better iterations of the infrastructure. I think I can safely say that the Chinese leadership also knows that if it wants to make full use of the creative potential of this younger generation, that it should stop any kind of censorship on content level, but precisely open all data sets and allow all stakeholders to work in the public interest. If all is in the open, it is very difficult to be corrupt or to isolate data for a long time. Building the best balance between open and closed on a platform will be the biggest challenge. Whoever gets that right will have the hegemony in the 21th century.
TV: What vertical industry or player do you see playing a major role in fulfilling at least a major part of IoT concepts then reciprocating this back to the customer?
RvK: Given the current global crisis the focus is not so much on the home and housing, but I think about the Connected Car. The revenue streams are as solid as possible. The younger generation is buying less cars, but still sharing them. Fleet management is relatively stable. China and Africa are growing markets. Automotive is both a vertical as well as a horizontal. It makes it possible for Apple for example to sell hands free Siri across a range of brands. Google can sell its expertise of autonomous driving. Synching data from home, work, and even ehealth with the sensors in the car allows for the ‘seamless’ experience. People like driving cars, they won’t easily give up this sense of ‘freedom’ (even if they are in traffic standing still in most mega-cities).
TV: What are the differentiators between IoT, IoE, Industrial Internet? Do you see an overlap, is there a need to coin the evolution into a unified technological disruption?
RvK: Internet of Things is a term coined by Kevin Ashton that was timely and productive, and it still is. To the researchers doing ubicomp, pervasive computing and ambient intelligence it must be a bit sour that people start googling ‘Internet of Things’ and are not finding their work. So yes, there is a huge overlap between the cybernetics from mid last century, McLuhan, Mark Weiser, the pervasive and calm computing groups and AmI (ambient intelligence). The new terms coined by the big boys is just marketing. Smart Planet, IoE, Industrial Internet have the same roots. The focus might be slightly different. IBM sees the smart city as the business model for IoT (just lease everything in a gated community), Cisco wants to draw attention away from end to end connections only and focuses on intelligence at the edge of the network, in the devices (one can imagine routers that could be enhanced with robotic qualities; drone routers), therefore the ‘Everything’ and in a mail conversation I had with GE on the name, that I thought was retro leaving out all the DIY, Maker movement, Kickstarter, open hardware and bottom up qualities of IoT, I was informed that with that name they refer to huge and mission critical infrastructure and services thinking very little of that messiness on the ground. I think such thinking is a huge mistake. There is no more top, down, middle. We are in the network now and becoming a supernode means that you take each and every stakeholder (even to the level of one/the super-empowered individual/lone entrepreneur) extremely serious.
TV: We have seen how Social Networks changed things from all places. How does IoT affect culture, poverty, business, and earthly things such as humanity? What does it take for this to clearly show?
RvK: We see the effects most clearly in the fact that the creative elites are able to organize with cheap tools on the web now. In fact, Council too is just a website and I post everything myself. Membership is free and all the Knowledge Partnerships I have done so far are done without money, simply swapping logo’s. We see it in organized and semi organized networks such as Anonymous, Wikileaks and all kinds of new initiatives on Kickstarter, itself a good example of bottom up funding for those without resources like money, heritage or institutional power. The Internet and IoT is a meritocracy. All you need is time, intelligence, focus and perseverance, belief and hope maybe too. The cracks in the all old system power – banking, government and security agencies, hereditary forms of authority – are beginning to show because as a bright geek or activist you are no longer dependent on their ‘salons’, ‘projects’, ‘creative industries’.
You just start your own team and if you are good the brightest will find you, immediately or eventually, like in the Coolio song ‘I’ll see you when you get there’. What this means for the world? Only good things, a thorough shift from forces of competition, to forces of cooperation and sharing. Monitoring resources eventually eradicates corruption and mafia (this is already happening). There is no longer a role for the state, nor the current actors that make up states. The future is in ‘platforms’ and a Steve Jobs model of dedicated devices talking to particular platforms where citizens manage services, taxes and identities. Again it is our task to help the current actors to see this as a logical and normal generational and technical operation that they should not stall or perceive as a threat, but welcome as a joint responsibility of much more stakeholders.
TV: How can a business line manager, Executive for Engineering, CEO, or Founder take evolve a product or business in to IoT centric characteristics and IoT customer-centric experience?
RvK: For the past two years now I have posted a course on Internet of Things on a Dutch portal for courses where people that are working go to find out to learn about the latest trends. They flock to courses on social media and Twitter but so far I have no takers, none at all! After a while I realized that if you are working or running a business you do not see ‘IoT’, no you simply start to worry or be a bit surprised that you see clients you never saw before, new types of customers that come for a problem or a solution that does not fit your current business model. The trick is to go and talk to your competitors now as they probably experience the same issue with your service or product and jointly look for IoT type of solutions, taking it together to a whole new level.
From that point on you lower structural costs to a minimum as you share them and compete on issues tailored to specific needs of clients. It is for these kinds of situations, as well as for in house consultancy: talking to basically everybody in the company – that we set up IoP Limited in London recently with Lorna Goulden (ex Philips), Martin Spindler (specializing in energy) and Alex Deschamps Sonsino (ex Arduino and Tinker, now Goodnight Lamp and IoT Meetups London). We have learned that basically the major issue is the balance between good old fashioned change management and technical potential in every given business, that will determine the successful implementation of new business models.
This concludes Atmel’s 1:1 interview with Rob van Kranenburg. View Part 1 and Part 2.