Why CIOs Need To Think About The Internet Of Things – Forbes
In a stunning example of provincialism, the Washington Post hosted a live forum entitled “The Next Next Phase of Internet & Connected Things” Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. local time, accommodating east coasters and Europeans and ignoring the fact that those of us in Silicon Valley haven’t even had our first cup of coffee that early. But because I’ll be covering the topic for Computerworld later this year, I got myself up from bed and sat down at the computer to listen in.
I’ve previously questioned where we are with the so-called Internet of Things, but the WashPo webinar exposed issues that CIOs will need to think about; especially, as we’ve noted, as they begin to pay more attention to their company’s customers. Because it was Washington, much attention was paid to privacy, security, and consumer protection – Maureen Ohlhausen, head of the Federal Trade Commission, also spoke – but the webinar frequently alluded to CIO-specific issues.
The webinar launched with one of the best explanations of the Internet of Things I’ve heard, from Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist, Progressive Progressive Policy Institute. He described the Internet of Things as the “extension of the Internet to the physical world. The Internet has transformed digital industries, while the Internet of Things will transform physical industries.” The former represent about 20% of the GDP, Mandel said, but physical industries – manufacturing, transportation, public service, health care – represents the other 80%. That in turn represents a huge impact to the economy.
In terms of CIO impact, however, there was an undercurrent of “it just has to work” among the speakers. Dave Icke, CEO of wearables manufacturer MC10, said, “We want wearables that are virtually invisible.” His words were echoed by Brian Markwalter, the head of research and standards for the Consumer Electronics Association, host of the Consumer Electronics Show. “There’s a whole generation of people who will expect to just do things. Connectivity is part of how that happens. Young designers can’t image designing a product that doesn’t communicate,” said Markwalter.
The “it just has to work” argument was buttressed by the experience of Alex Hawkinson, CEO of SmartThings, a manufacturer of home automation and security devices. He related that the inspiration for his company came from a regrettable situation where the water pipes in a mountain cabin froze, broke, and then thawed, flooding the interior. “It struck me that I have information about my kindergarten friends on Facebook, but not my residence,” he said. But that scenario means that sensors would have to function properly under extreme weather conditions.
Translation? As any user interface designer knows, the simpler the interface, the more complex the device is underneath. That means CIOs will have to think more about better design, simpler design, and reliability when it comes to the products their companies design or support.
Furthermore, as CIOs take on the role of digital transformation, the Internet of Things is something to watch out for. Hawkinson predicts that it has the ability to rewrite business models. “Insurance is based on actuarial risk, but if you perfect information from the environment, that changes.”
Most important, while most speakers talked about the value of the Internet of Things to individuals, Icke pointed out the grander value. “The exciting part about the Internet of Things is closing the information loop and providing insight and feedback. Consider a medical device collecting information with high sensitivity, and comparing the data with other patients, and thereby being able to deliver personalized medicine. You can do that with machines, planes, and automobiles as well. You have to make the connectivity bi-directional for a more automated system.”
From an IT standpoint, that scenario spreads into a variety of areas: networking, wireless connectivity, big data, privacy and security, analytics – everything that CIOs should be working on getting good at. The maximum benefit only comes from the data when it’s networked together.
This may be one situation where the technology issues are manageable, but the issues regarding privacy and security may be less so because they’re so closely tied to cultural reactions. As Jules Polonetsky, executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum, so aptly noted, people have been worrying about this for a hundred years. “People were upset [about privacy] when photographers started taking cameras out of their studios and into the street. One man’s creepy is someone else’s cool gadget.”
Email CIO Next Community Manager Howard Baldwin if you’re a CIO who wants to spout off in an opinion piece about the idea of dealing with even more data than you have to deal with now.