Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Value of the Internet of Things

On June 18, a crowd gathered at Bentley University for MassTLC’s first Internet of Things Conference, “The Value of Things.” The day-long event featured many examples and ideas around the Internet of Things (IoT), a summary of some of which follows:

Jim Grubb, VP of Emerging Technologies at Cisco Systems opened with his keynote, built around Cisco’s idea of the Internet of Everything. Grubb pointed out that we are now at a similar point to where we were in 1993, staring down the barrel of a new, market-changing technology called the World Wide Web. From computers to phones to tablets and other devices, we are now just beginning to check off the other 99% of objects – shoes, engines, streetlamps, waste barrels – that are, little by little, being connected to the Internet, increasing 12 billion connected objects today to an estimated 50 billion in 2020.  The potential market opportunity? $19 trillion by 2022 (via

Grubb also stressed that the data companies glean from the IoT means a competitive advantage, as predicting consumer behavior and finding new efficiencies means untold revenue and cost savings opportunities. His final admonition? “Do it soon.” If companies wait to long to embrace IoT, it is an opportunity cost for them. He left the stage with an example of a model ”smart city:” Barcelona.

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Mary Beth Hall, Director of Connected Solution at Verizon, provided a number of use case examples of IoT within the connected world such as: security, transportation, energy, retail, and m-health, and the connected city.

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Later, a panel moderated by Woody Benson of Prism VentureWorks talked about the “Value” derived from IoT. Michael Campbell of MachineShop stressed that we need standards in order to simplify the ability to build on these new platforms.  Leo Koenig of Woo Sports spoke about the need to layer automated services on top of data collection to derive meaningful actions: for commerce, or even in the case of extreme sports, the ability to compile competitive data for athletes. The panel was rounded out by Brian Elolampi at MC10 talking about how they have spent a great deal of time honing in on the best technology and how they have chosen to target and succeed in niche markets and then to expand out.

The second keynote came from Sanjay Sarma, Director of Digital Learning at MIT and founder of the university’s Auto-ID Center. Aside from realting the story of how “Internet of Things” was coined by the Auto-ID Center’s Kevin Ashton, Sarma wondered aloud about the aptness of the term. He spoke of IoT really being about “cloud things.” In a proper hub-and-spoke model, he continued, things talk not to each other in a distributed manner, but to a central server (or series of them) – in the cloud.  One thing holding back IoT in these early times, said Sarma, is that lack of a dominant architecture, that IoT is too distributed as it exists now.

Next, Chad Jones of Xively and Christopher Rezendes of INEX advisors discussed what has worked when engaging business prospects in discussions of IoT. The main thread of the conversation was that discussing the technology itself only gets you so far, while placing the benefits of IoT in a business context – and discussing specific ROI over softer terms like “business transformation” – is more effective in convincing business leaders. Another concept that came up was the idea that “Big data ain’t a big deal yet,” while there is lots of “little data” in IoT that contains the real value (Woody Benson had said something similar in the earlier panel on Value).

In the panel “Analyzing Data to Get Actionable Intelligence,” moderated by Wikibon’s Jeff Kelly, the panelists got down to what to do with all the data that will be collected in the IoT.  Poul Peterson of BigML pointed out that IoT is providing more helpful data, data that can overcome the errors that occur from relying on intuition alone. As his example, Peterson said that intuition tells us that more people would buy sunglasses in Los Angeles than Seattle because it’s a sunny area; however, data tells us that more pairs are sold in Seattle, because people wear them less in that rainy city and lose – and replace – them more often. The panel also explored privacy and security implications; Nicholas Arcolano of Runkeeper described the need for a process to strip user-identifiable information so that hackers cannot “reverse engineer” to usurp privacy. Javed Jahangir of Oracle spoke specifically of the medical industry, where Internet-connected objects need to rigorously adhere to compliance regulations before being put into use.

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Another lively panel explored the role of software in the Internet of Things. AS moderator Jeff Kaplan of THINKstrategies put it, “We wouldn’t be talking about any of this stuff if it weren’t for software.” The panelists then gave several examples of how the IoT can save through creating efficiencies and cost reduction. Bill Zujewski, of Axeda Corporation spoke of applications that can monitor after-hours industrial dishwashers so that staffing time can be reduced to emergencies only. Colleen Smith of Progress Software described how sensors can not only prevent waste management vendors from letting dumpsters overflow, but can know when dumpsters are full enough for a nearby truck to empty on its route, rather than coming back later. One point of difference with earlier panelists was stated by John Canosa of ThingWorx; he talked about the advantages of  the distributed nature of connected things, in apparent conflict with Sanjay Sarma’s “hub and spoke” statement. 

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Finally, the event concluded with notes on security and privacy. Michael Curry of IBM laid out two laws relating to “Cybergeddon:” the first is that everything connected to the Internet can be hacked; the second, that everything will be connected to the Internet. Rather than preach gloom-and-doom, Curry relayed his six tips for security in the age of IoT:

   1.  Design for zero trust- assume you will get breached, and test;
   2.  Focus on detection and isolation;
   3.  Control the edges - don’t assume a firewall will solve your problems, but still protect that layer;
   4.  Know your data - selectively apply policy based on the type of data and its associated risk;
   5.  Encrypt end-to-end; and
   6.  Strip out personally identifying info and design for opt-in

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Andy Thurai referred to IoT data security as a “disaster waiting to happen” and warned of coming cyber-terrorist attacks, both to disrupt the economy and to cause chaos. However, he, too, was confident of a solution; he left the attendees with an admonition on IoT security, twisting an old phrase made famous by Ronald Reagan: “Don’t trust but verify.”

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Thank you to our Platinum Sponsors: Cisco, Oracle, PTC, and Progress Software.

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