The internet of what?

At the launch of Orange Silicon Valley’s new IoT lab last week, Peter Marx, the CTO of Los Angeles, spoke about some of the challenges facing him as a he makes Los Angeles a smart city (one of his first fun observations was that no-one wants to live in a dumb city).
The city as a digital platform is going to drive the future. Even as we become more connected, more and more people are choosing to live in cities. The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide 54% of people live in cities (this up from 34% only a generation ago).
What improves?
One constant in the discussion of smart cities is a focus on end user experiences rather than technology itself. Working that through Marx raised an important question which a large number of IoT implementations will have to deal with. As IoT is inherently passive, and requires additional effort to implement, the questions of what are you going to actually do (switch traffic lights more efficiently, direct airport passengers to the shortest TSA lines, change power sources, manage toll pricing dynamically etc.), and how you measure improvement, become key. It’s much easier to feel excited about technology or new services if you can do something you couldn’t do before (share a photo with a single click, stalk your ex-girlfriend without having to embarrass yourself by talking to anyone else, monitor your health with a wearable and so on). These were novel experiences. For many IoT will incrementally improve things.
Marx commented that if he delivered a 14-17% improvement in traffic congestion, would people notice, and how would they think about it? Traffic is a moderately self regulating system. In gridlocked traffic, people who don’t have to go out in a car, don’t. As soon as a system improves people will go out. It’s entirely possible that a 15% improvement in performance will be reflected in 15% more cars per unit time, but not necessarily an overall reduction in journey time (i.e. more efficient packing of goods/people/things might reduce variability, and improve total system throughput). To be seen as a success the system likely needs to deliver clear individual value.
Autonomous and smart(er) cars being guided through the traffic congestion create another layer of connectivity challenges. You won’t want to get into a new car when you cross the border between the cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica. This is not so much about connecting things as connecting systems. The water system needs to talk to the power system, traffic has multiple systems (and more in geographies with toll roads and congestion charges). How can you ensure that an autonomous agent works in an optimized way across a route?
The internet of … trees?
It’s not the internet of things, or even the internet of everything, apparently it’s the internet of trees. Los Angeles has a surprisingly large number of trees, and strict rules about replacing them if repair work requires removing them. The city expects that in the next year there will be 200,000 new trees planted, all of which will be tracked with sensors. In comparison Los Angeles has 45,000 connected traffic signals, and another 28,000 pedestrian lights.
How do you connect the dots?
Connecting trees, traffic lights water systems and cars is driving new set of capabilities focused on lower bandwidth communications. Samsung and others have invested in Sigfox, with LoRa alliance presenting itself as an alternative. Of these two, Sigfix appears more focused on smaller messages, with LoRa, based on more traditional cellular technology focused on bigger and bi-directional messages (nice comparison of the two). It seems likely that these systems will be driving smart capabilities at the edge, so for example, traffic lights will be driven by algorithms at the light, fed by just enough overall system information, rather than relying on a central connection for every decision. That said the more interconnected the systems, the higher the chance that centralized capabilities and communications will be important- this will be an interesting area to watch. Data collection might work the same way, in a previous blog in this sponsored series my colleague Jon Collins discussions some of the issues relating to IoT and local data.
It was great to hear from someone on the edge (pun intended) deploying IoT capabilities in the real world. The challenges faced connected multiple interconnected systems in a smart way are becoming clear, and we are starting to see solutions. How big will those trees be by the time every city is smart?

IoT and the Principle of Resource Constraints

Technology may be fast-moving but some concepts have remained stable for decades. Not least the principle of resource constraints. Simply put, we have four finite variables to play with in our technological sandpit:

  • electrical power
  • processor speed
  • network bandwidth
  • storage volume

This principle is key to understanding the current Internet of Things phenomenon. Processing and storage capacities have increased exponentially — today’s processors support billions of instructions per second and the latest solid state storage can fit 32 gigabytes on a single chip.
As we expand our abilities to work with technology, so we are less constrained, creating new possibilities that were previously unthinkable due to either cost or timeliness. Such as creating vast networks of sensors across our manufacturing systems and supply chains, termed the Industrial Internet.
This also means, at the other end of the scale, that we can create tiny, yet still powerful computers. So today, consumers can afford sports watches that give immediate feedback on heart rate and walking pace. Even five years ago, this would not have been practical. While enterprise business may be operating on a different scale, the trade-offs are the same.
Power and end-to-end network bandwidth have not followed such a steep curve, however. When such resources are lacking, processing and storage tend to be used in support. So for example, when network bandwidth is an issue (as it so often is, still), ‘cache’ storage or local processing can be added to the architecture.
In Internet of Things scenarios, sensors (attached to ’things’) are used to generate information, sometimes in considerable volumes, which can then be processed and acted upon. A ‘thing’ could be anything from a package being transported, a motor vehicle, an air conditioning unit or a classic painting.
If all resources were infinite, such data could be transmitted straight to the cloud, or to other ’things’. In reality however, the principle of resource constraints comes into play. In the home environment, this results in having one or more ‘smart hubs’ which can collate, pre-process and distil data coming from the sensors.
As well as a number of startups such as Icontrol and (the Samsung-led) Smartthings, the big players recognise the market opportunity this presents. Writes Alex Davies at Rethink IoT, “Microsoft is… certainly laying the groundwork for all Windows 10 devices, which now includes the Xbox, to act as coordinating hubs within the smart home.”
Smart hubs also have a place in business, collating, storing and forwarding information from sensors. Thinking more broadly however, there are no constraints on what the architecture needs to look like, beyond the need to collate data and get the message through as efficiently as possible – in my GigaOm report I identify the three most likely architectural approaches.
Given the principle of principle of resource constraints, the idea of form factor becomes more a question of identifying the right combination of elements for the job. For example, individual ‘things’ may incorporate some basic processing and solid state storage. Such capabilities can even be incorporated in disposable hubs, such as the SmartTraxx device which can be put in a shipping container to monitor location and temperature.
We may eventually move towards seemingly infinite resources, for example one day, quantum sensors might negate the need to transport information at all. For now however, we need to deal in the finite — which creates more than enough opportunity for both enterprises and consumers alike.

As BYOD becomes standard will we see BYOMessaging?

There are approximately 2 billion smartphone users in the world today. On those devices, there are 3.8 billion active monthly users of one of the top ten over the top messaging service. Statista graph ott messaging usersOn top of that we have core SMS and iMessages as well, as well as consumer and enterprise email (half of all emails are opened on mobile devices). It seems reasonable to estimate that a typical user is working with at least 4 messaging solutions in a given month. Despite that we are continuing to see innovation and new offerings, and a renewed focused on enterprise messaging.
Samsung’s recent announcement about the opening of the beta of their Knox messaging service brings them into this space with an enterprise offering, built on their mobile security platform. As we noted in the first post in this sponsored series building security into features after the fact is a real challenge. Knox, Samsung’s security platform, is well supported by Good and others, but there seems some real rationale in having messaging being part of the containerized secure solution. Historically, once SMS became a key feature, messaging was very much a core part of a mobile operating system, though OTT messaging has to some extent broken that linkage.
Only one of the top ten messaging services is from a device manufacturer- why is Samsung entering this space? It took some for device manufacturers to enter this area. One of the usual explanations for that is that SMS was a cash cow for one of the device manufacturers’ main channels (the operators), so it wasn’t obvious that those operators would be willing to support this. It was a classic Innovator’s Dilemma (though to be precise the carriers couldn’t really be said to be the innovators here- Nokia has a better claim to be the originator of SMS than any carrier, but it was clearly the carriers who claimed the lion’s share of the value). Perhaps as important is that OTT messaging services require a service provider type infrastructure (or a pure peer-to-peer type solution). For many years Blackberry was the only integrated provider here with their BBM service. It takes quite different skills to manage cloud based services, especially ones which have multiple end clients and many different geographies.
At the same time that OTT messaging has become standard, BYOD (bring your own device) is also increasingly supported by businesses. Will BYOMessaging follow? Why not just Facebook message my colleague? One of the key aspects of messaging systems is identity. [email protected] might well be the same person as [email protected] but proving that, and enabling people to find each other requires systems to manage identity. In regulated environments this is even more important. It is as, if not more, important as any single messaging feature that the solution be tightly linked to the business identity system.
Security and messaging logging are also extremely important here. The early design promise of what has become Skype for Business was around secure enterprise messaging on the PC, especially for finance. As mobile becomes the default working mode for more and more people and businesses securing mobile messages has become critical- “in today’s world mobile is an inescapable interface for collaborative communications,” said Barry Castle, CMO of Symphony Communications, a secure messaging and productivity company, backed by 18 buy- and sell-side financial services companies who are deploying and using the service today.
samsung multi platform graphicTo be enterprise-ready a solution also needs to be cross platform, and realistically cross device platform. There is more to this than simply providing multiple clients- having messages sync across devices, from mobile to PC to tablet and web, is going to be critical for usability.
For many businesses it is also important that messaging, whether independent or part of the mobile OS, integrates with third party applications, and not just enterprise mobile management solutions. Mobile is the way users work today, so making sure mobile business apps integrate with business communications is going to be critical to ensuring individual users, as well as their managers and Chief Security Officers, are getting value from the solutions. In consumer services messaging can be very single purpose, for business users it’s much more important that it be integrated with other applications.
BYOD is a reality today, and many of these mobile devices will have multiple messaging solutions. Security, business identity, management and application integration all mean that BYOMessaging will take longer to emerge.

Mobile payments go mainstream – is it time to say goodbye to the plastic?

2015 will go down in history as the year in which mobile payments became mainstream. From first forays by the main mobile players (Google, Apple and Samsung) as well as payment providers such as PayPal, online services including Facebook and, indeed, financial institutions in preceding years, it was the incorporation of Near-Field Communications (NFC) into payment readers that released the flood.
The precedent has been set with contactless cards. Quite suddenly, it appears, people are moving from adamantly swiping and pushing their credit, debit and cards across and into readers, to looking confused and even frustrated if hovering an NFC-enabled card across a machine does not immediately result in a transaction. It is only a short step for the same to be done with a smart device, a phenomenon that is also moving from exception to norm.
This is not the place to get into the plusses and minuses of the different mobile payment devices and platforms — sites such as Tom’s Hardware have done an extensive job already. Though it is worth mentioning that Samsung has the benefit of offering MST (magnetic stripe technology) as well as NFC. To the lay person, this means that cards will be able to be used on traditional ‘swipe’ readers which widens the market considerably.
It is, however, worth comparing mobile payments with the traditional alternative, which is plastic. Smart device-based payments have the advantage of being just that: if a device can connect to the Internet and perform ancillary processing, this means the resulting transactions can also be smarter. For example, this enables security tokens to be generated on the fly on a per-transaction basis, creating a closed loop which makes fraud more difficult than with traditional cards.
It also means more straightforward recourse in the event of problems. If you forget your PIN for example, the traditional model means you may wait several days for a replacement. By post. With smartphones equipped with fingerprint recognition and other authentication, PIN problems become a thing of the past. Such smartphones also have greater protection against theft or loss; it is perhaps only a matter of time for an enterprising insurance company to offer a 24-hour global replacement service, onto which an entire mobile wallet can be restored from the cloud.
Mobile payments are highly popular in many parts of the developing world, even for people who do not have bank accounts (and who make use of ‘currency’ based on mobile phone top-ups). Right now the majority of mobile devices in emerging economies are traditional handsets, but as this picture looks set to change dramatically over the next 5-10 years as mobile internet growth follows the same path as mobile telephony.
While it is likely that we are at the beginning of the end for wallets stuffed with plastic cards, we are still at the start of mainstream adoption. Geographic roll-outs are still underway and mobile payments currently only work with smaller transaction sizes but no reason exists why things should stay this way as people, and indeed providers, become more comfortable with the technology. Already it seems strange that I can use my phone, via a banking app, to conduct quite sizeable transactions, yet until recently I couldn’t buy a coffee without hard cash.
The bottom line is, we are starting to feel the vibrations of a seismic change in the way we transact. As we make more use of our mobiles for financial transactions, it becomes highly likely that we will see new models emerge, such as exchange of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. For now we simply have to get used to the fact that the highly valuable, yet all too fragile piece of plastic upon which we all currently depend will soon be assigned to the past.

Mobile normal hits the workforce

This is the first post in our sponsored series with Samsung Business. In this series, we will be looking at some of the key areas in mobile today and into the future. This includes:

  • How businesses are simultaneously adopting mobile technology and adapting to a mobile-normal world.
  • How the internet of things is poised (perhaps) to disrupt everything, and certainly to disrupt some important industries.
  • Some of the key enabling capabilities behind these shifts, including security, data storage and display technologies.

I am starting by looking at some of the areas that Samsung discussed at the Gartner Symposium earlier this month: how enterprises can most effectively move to a mobile first strategy and some of the security and other challenges that presents.
Not mobile first, mobile normal
It’s hard to argue with a mobile-first strategy in 2015, but isn’t it time to go further? The word “mobile” is soon going to be one of the words in the famous Fresh Fish Sold Here story. A product named something like “Secure Mobile Enterprise System” from vendor X has the same problem in 2015. Of course your product is secure, it’s for a business, it’s some sort of system, and – because it is today – how could it exist if it is not mobile?
We have often talked about “mobile normal” as a new way for companies to think about their communications strategy. In a world where consumer apps, even thoseSamsung work chart which are not “mobile-only,” are routinely seeing more than 70% usage on mobile devices, it is increasingly clear that mobile is the way information is consumed, and content created. It has been exciting to watch the introduction of mobile into the workforce at scale – from the first Windows Mobile devices, Blackberries delivering mobile email to initial BYOD strategies (driven in many cases by workers wanting to use their personal smartphones for work email), and the introduction of tablets into the work force. Perhaps reflecting this, we are close to 50% of employees working outside a traditional “head office” even during the 8 hour work day, never mind how much work happens outside that time.
This needs to come with an important mind shift. Mobile, when part of a secure cloud environment- pushing data and intelligent capabilities to workers wherever they are- is not a for-purpose tool, it’s the everything tool. It used to be that you could think of a mobile solution as solving a point problem, now it is the default experience. This comes at several costs, and one, that of security, is starting to loom larger in mobility strategies.
Security and management
Enterprise mobile security has come a long way from a time when Blackberry essentially ran the world’s mobile email from nuclear bunker-level secure data centers in Waterloo, Canada. As Galaxy S2s and iPhones started appearing in businesses, BYOD was the next challenge, but these were still essentially seen as device level challenges. As a full suite of enterprise capabilities hits the mobile how does a CSO manage multi-end point Sign-On and Access Control, what happens if you need to integrate with a third party mobile app on multiple different devices and mobile platforms? Nothing is calculated to more quickly disrupt the beauty and elegance of the mobile experience (well described here by a former colleague from Nokia) than a clumsy, after-the-fact security layer.
While most won’t get to a perfect world, starting from the point of building secure into applications, rather than trying to secure after the fact has a higher likelihood of success. That comes from having a well thought through BYOD, device strategy, and ideally the right application development platform and partners in place.
If we can secure this, what are the applications delivering the mobile-normal experiences?
How are we moving beyond dashboards?
It has been a little frustrating watching enterprise mobility to see how far we have not come in terms of delivering real “applications,” rather than dashboards and visualizations. For far too long the typical demo of a mobile system was some sort of sales dashboard. That’s great as far as it goes, but doesn’t integrate mobile into work flow, it makes it a display at the end of that.
In a recent Gigaom discussion, Larry Hawes made a very relevant set of observations:
“The current mobile experience made up of numerous, functionally-focused applications … works well for consumers. In some cases, it can also be highly beneficial to workers who want to quickly accomplish a well-defined task in isolation. The challenge in the work environment (that makes it different from consumer computing) is in getting information to flow between applications.
“We typically use workflow technology to accomplish that … Yes [for example], Slack can use IFTTT to push information between integrated applications, but IFTTT isn’t considered an enterprise-ready technology by most IT professionals. Unfortunately, there is not [yet] an equivalent, lightweight enterprise workflow tool, so the IFTTT style of rules-based information flow can’t be easily replicated, with added enterprise features, in organizations today.”
The work that Samsung discussed with Red Hat at Symposium is focused on this challenge. One example is by focusing on APIs to allow businesses to think in terms of assembling apps in days vs engineering them in months. While there is still some way to go to get beyond visualizations, Salesforce’s mobile platform announcements at their Dreamforce in September point in the same direction.
As a closing thought in this initial post, the world has moved very quickly past PC-centric digitization to ubiquitous mobility, which assumes and requires secure data and connectivity. There is still a way to make sure businesses maximize their opportunity here. Increasingly the tools are available, and leading businesses are enabling their workforces to be as productive and connected as possible no matter where or when they chose to work.