Tag Archives: IoT

Co-optition, The Quest for Access, or, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

27 Feb

Narayana Heart Centre at M S Ramaiah Memorial Hospital

We moved houses a few months ago, and I needed to go to a completely new hospital for a check up. Imagine my surprise (and relief actually), when I saw the Cardiac Care department at M S Ramaiah, a large, old and reputed Hospital and Medical College, run by – Narayana Hrudayalaya, also a large, reputed and old Cardiac Care Hospital started by the eminent Dr. Devi Shetty! Now, this was a hospital I was very familiar with. It was hugely reassuring to get my check ups done there – and even see the familiar blue saree for the customer service folks – almost like being home. 

It set me thinking about the world now collaborating in newer ways, even with erstwhile competitors, in a bid to win access to customers. (I saw later that the Oncology centre at Ramaiah was run by HCG, a cancer specialist).

Narayana itself, from being headquartered almost outside of Bangalore in a large “health city’, has of late started smaller branch centres all over at least south and south east Bangalore. And now, this shop in shop in Ramaiah!

So this is smart business, right, exemplifying a few business imperatives:

A) Core competency specialisation 

B) Outsourcing of non core work to other experts

C) Competition changing to Co-optition (or, everything being fair in love, war and business)

And right then, I saw pop up on my screen, an ad for a sale at Nykaa, an online turned clicks and mortar retailer of beauty and personal care products (a retailer that my teenage daughter had first told me about some 4-5 years ago as her friends were all buying discounted toiletries and make up from there), of products by Fable Street, another online retailer that sells very attractive work wear clothes and accessories (this one run by an IIM alumna). 

It kind of messed with my brain for a bit (I mean, I understand cross usage of channel, but direct competitors using each other as channels?), till I reasoned that this was the true value of the market place model that Amazon had pioneered. (An article I read recently put the figure of third party sales from Amazon at 58% of total revenue). This is Amazon’s stated intent of “helping independent retailers meet the needs of Amazon customers around the globe”. I think Amazon really made the transition from an e-tailer to a channel provider to a technology company very very smoothly and logically.

So what scenarios work best for this co-optition, or collaboration amongst competitors:

A) Multi party Industry nature collaborations

This is normally for Big Problems – setting standards/ fighting common causes like climate change/ defence and security/ energy/ epidemics/ education/ poverty. 

For example, at the recent NRF 2020, one of the biggest panels featured executives from Target, Chipotle, and Best Buy who discussed the power of cyber security industry collaboration. 

Similarly, Facebook, Amazon, Google and more met with WHO recently to figure out how to stop misinformation on the dreaded Coronavirus. 

Or, in 2013/14 post the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, consortiums were formed between Walmart, H&M, Zara, Nike, Adidas to ensure safety and better working conditions for their workers 

Open source was probably the earliest version of this co-optition – where varying competing organisations would come together for development. 

IOT is a great area nowadays which needs to see, and is slowly seeing, collaboration between competitors to develop platforms and utilities for seamless customer experiences. Recently, Google, Apple and Amazon, probably the most acrimonious competitors amongst tech giants, unveiled a smart home collaboration, Connected Home over IP. This is inviting device manufacturers, silicon providers and developers across the smart home industry to join and develop new connectivity standards. 

Another area is self drive cars – the trio of Ford, GM and Toyota has formed what they are calling the Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium

Ofcourse, when competitors work together, data security/ patent protection become critical areas, and most companies work well on solving for those. In case of any leaks, these collaborations dissolve.

B) Collaboration between select parties to develop new technologies/ products; to address client needs, or to fight a common competitor: 

Probably the most celebrated example of co-opetition success is the 2004 Sony-Samsung JV to develop and produce LCD panels for flat-screen TVs.  “Bravia” and “Bordeaux” came out of this collaboration, more than doubling the combined market share of these two companies.

In 2012, Harvard University and MIT formed EDX, a non-profit organisation that provides free online courses, each investing $US30 million. By end 2019, there were about 20 million students that it had served. 

In 2017, a consortium of automakers including Ford, Toyota and Suzuki, planned to develop standards for in-vehicle car telematics as an alternative to Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay. 

In 2016, Facebook, Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft came together to create a historic partnership on AI. Apple, Google, Facebook, participated in a twitter data sharing project in 2019.  Google supported Mozilla (Firefox web-browser), a rival to Google Chrome, in order to limit the expanding influence of Microsoft Internet Explorer and Apple Safari. At Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event in Aug 2019, the company announced four partnerships – of which Microsoft was one, to bundle its Android apps on the Note 10.

Even in the B2B world of tech services that I was briefly a part of, one has seen big competitors work together to win a large contract. TCS in 2018 was in talks with Wipro and Infosys to market its automation software Ignio, though nothing really fructified as Wipro ran the AI platform Holmes and Infosys its Nia.

In tech industries, the need for co-opetition is felt more due to the pace of evolution of technology, shorter life-cycle and high R&D costs. The cost of introducing new technology can be prohibitive for one company. Another perspective could be that these partnerships are short-term co-branding and marketing opportunities.

Pharma sees a lot of these in a bid to discover and trial new cures – In 2014, Pfizer and Merck collaborated on a study evaluating a novel Anti Cancer regimen. More recently, in 2019, Pfizer and Merck KGaA, joined BioXcel Therapeutics in its clinical collaboration with Nektar Therapeutics, creating a partnership to assess a triple combination therapy in pancreatic cancer. And then in 2020, Genome & Company entered into a clinical trial collaboration and supply agreement with Merck KGaA, and Pfizer to evaluate the safety, tolerability, biological and clinical activities of some combination therapies, in multiple cancer indications.

The risks of collaborating with rivals might seem huge but a study by the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute found that co-optition, when it lasted from three to five years, had more than a 50% chance of mutually reducing company costs.

But co-optition is not really new – There have been enough examples in History, as well as in ancient legends, mythology and fiction of strategic collaboration between enemies to defeat a rival enemy.

In India, the Rajputs occasionally united against foreign invaders – once under Bappa Rawal, then under Shakti Kumar of Mewar and Jaypal Tomar roughly in the 11th/ 12th century. Once the foreign invasions stopped, the Rajputs fought each other.  Then, the rajputs under Rana Sanga managed to defend their confederation against Sultanates of Malwa, Gujarat and also Ibrahim Lodi, Sultan of Delhi.

Some historians think that Rana Sanga also invited Babur to fight against Ibrahim Lodhi, plotting that he himself would move over to Delhi after both warring sides were weakened. As it happened, Babur was very strong, he defeated Rana Sanga, and started the Mughal Dynasty. 

Globally, while the US and the Soviet Union had not exactly been friends in the times before the WWII, it was their collaboration as allies that had a large part in defeating Nazi Germany. 

Hagrid Looking at the Giant Colony

Hagrid Looking at the Giant Colony

Pic Credit

Recent popular fiction e.g. Harry Potter, saw both the Dark Lord’s side and the Order of the Phoenix wanting to ally with the giants to defeat the other side (this despite a fair degree of mistreatment accorded to the giants ordinarily by both sides). Ultimately, the Giants joined the Death Eaters. In the famous Game Of Thrones, Starks, Arryns and Targaryens allied with a few key House of Lannister members like Tyrion and Jamie and fought against the White Walkers, the army of dead in the battle of Winterfell.

Why go so far – Indian Politics sees a lot of co-optition – in 2018, the Karnataka state assembly elections saw a farcical situation when the party with the majority (BJP) first claimed the right to form the government, but then had to resign as its two competitors (The Congress which actually had the least votes, and the JD(S)) formed a post poll alliance and staked claim – it is another matter that the government didn’t last very long.

Apparently, in the NASCAR world, co-optition means one racer helping another by working together to go faster until the last lap, before they start competing against each other.

In teen patti/ cards, one has side shows with a competitor in a group to ensure the larger enemy gets slain.


Side Show in Teen Patti

 As the iconic Godfather line said, “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”

C) Cost Optimization/ Capacity Sharing 

Don’t even get me started about this – the hardware guys want to make software and vice versa, the gaming guys are making voice assistants and so on and so forth. And competitors supply parts and components to direct competitors while their finished goods are fighting for share of wallet! It’s all over the place, and hugely incestuous! 

Apple and Samsung for heaven’s sake! While Samsung’s Galaxy and Apple’s iPhone are arch rivals, Samsung at the same time continues to be one of Apple’s main suppliers of screens.

Microsoft and Intel were “married” to each other for ever it seemed (their Wintel alliance) till the advent of mobile technologies created a split. 

The Star Alliance network of competing airlines, which included Air New Zealand, Thai, United, Air China, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines, to name a few, was established to save on logistics, marketing and ticketing costs . But we travellers benefitted also as can share loyalty points :).

Peugeot Citroen and Toyota used to have an arrangement to share components for their city cars to the extent that critics said it was one car with three names.

And then there is branding/ white labelling in retail, and actually tech services. Essentially everybody plays happy families in order to lower the burden of capital intensive businesses.


Happy Families / Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

D) Arising from a partner eco system  

Then there are the companies who are building entire eco systems – Salesforce was one of the earliest. Now there is Amazon Web Services. And the participants in these eco systems are competitors but benefit from the network. I mentor an AWS / cloud computing consulting services startup called Rapyder – they do good work, have a solid client base, and are growing excitingly. Obviously helped on by AWS. Don’t yet exploit the advantage of co-optition – but could very soon. 

In the social impact sector, there are platforms like Lets Do Some Good run by my ex business partner. Her concept when she started was to weed out the inefficiencies of “random acts of kindness” (e.g., too much funding and CSR efforts going to a school close to many corporates, and none going to one a little distance away), and give small NGOs and ISR folks the ability to synergise their efforts. Cooperatives and marketplaces are other such instances – Social Alpha, as an example, has incubated a farmer cooperative called Farmveda, that has enabled better market access and profits directly to a network of farmers in the South of India. Similarly, a market place called Habba, run by RangDe, that enables artisans to sell and reap the benefits of their crafts. Many countries do this, e.g New Zealand enables its wine growers export their products  – all constituents can be viewed as competitors, but in the cooperative model, they leverage a common entity to come together for “the greater good” and enjoy the benefits. 

(As an aside, while the greater good, also known as win -win is a really praiseworthy ambition, it can have very dark results as we know – after all, Hitler convinced a vast population that homophobia of various kinds was for the greater good. In recent times, a good metaphor for Hitler has been Grindelwald of the Fantastic Beasts/ Harry Potter franchise. Anyway, this is a deviation…)

Grindelwald giving the Greater Good speech

Grindelwald giving the Greater Good Speech

E) Access to a whole new world

This is the pure commercial/ channel play, cross sell to allow mutual benefit, ensuring ubiquity of a familiar brand. The online world made this possible – when instead of customers needing to go destination shopping (including for medical services – a la me going to Narayana), they expected manufacturers and service providers to come to them. The battle for access became fiercer – with players realising the benefit of selective partnerships to ensure visibility across forums – the power of decision then lay in the customer’s hand, influenced less by “location”, and more by other factors – it really became survival of the fittest.

Vimeo, a competitor to youtube one would have thought, allowed publishing of its videos to youtube (as well as others like Facebook/ Linkedin etc) via its “publish to social” feature  – this maybe underlines Vimeo’s shift from a video content making company to one that is making tools for content makers and publishers.

Microsoft offers Xbox games via Xbox live – on Nintendo Switch – its a partnership that is mutually beneficial, though there are claims that it may be ending soon. (It started with Minecraft, and post that, despite ongoing “exclusives” for each platform, the gaming companies started collaborating for better access. Sony has less incentive for this partnership, but there is certainly cross play gaming going on).

SAP used to run Oracle database  and  Microsoft Office is available on Apple computers (Macs and iPads). Similarly, Apple and Amazon combine for Kindle – Apple has a kindle app for iPads, which one would think is counter intuitive. But this is because Apple needs content for its devices, while Amazon needs people to buy more and more (e) books. In this case, it is because the strategic imperatives are different for the competitors for the collaboration.  

Samsung and Apple have tied up for TV services, an area where both have been slow to grow.  

This cooptition also helps small scale companies scale up by pooling resources too (a bit like the cooperative model, but not wider/ multiparty). It’s a rising tide, that raises all boats. 

Overall, there is a time, place and reason for competition, and then one for collaboration – and increasingly, as we are seeing, the same two people can be competitors or collaborators. The world is becoming one large happy family – the Upanishads called it Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. 

As Abraham Lincoln said, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”, and (not to be outdone), Sigmund Freud said “an intimate friend and a hated enemy have always been indispensable to my emotional life…not infrequently…friend and enemy have coincided in the same person”

And as my daughter would say, Ma, duh! Frenemies! 


Healthcare in India – still Miles from the Internet of Things Vision

28 Dec

My 81 year old dad has been having a rocky couple months.
It started with weakness and giddiness; then a feeling of numbness in his limbs; then incidences of blurred vision and slurred speech – classic stroke symptoms.
My brother and I started the usual merry go round that all caregivers of senior citizens go through – emergency-neurologist-cardiologist-nephorologist-endocrinologist-back to emergency-repeat cycle. Threw in sessions with a GP, and then a couple operations of the eye at the ophthalmologist.
Went to two hospitals, and 4 branches of one of them.

Was completely appalled at the isolated nature of patient information access and diagnostists available, even at the best hospitals, in the Silicon Valley of India. And this, when we are debating the use of Wearables, Internet of Things and Big data all the time!

Lets look at the possibilities for the Healthcare IoT first:

– At the individual/ patient level –

The ultimate beneficiaries, patients (both current and potential/ future), will basically create and consume larger amounts of data than ever before – due to wearables (e.g. Tempo from CarePredict) / implants/ other gadgets and devices owned.

This will enable better monitoring of behaviour, and, when coupled with context – facilitate hugely improved diagnostics. Diagnostics that are derived from integrated data – multi disciplinary, as well as omnichannel/ source. (So, no more – “your sodium is low, eat more salt – says nephrologist — uhhh, but BP is high, reduce salt says cardio”! )

These diagnostics will then not only treat any emergencies or negative incidences quicker/ more competently, but also act proactively – thus alerting users and discouraging them from harmful behaviours (too much smoking/ not enough walking/ too many carbs/ not enough sleep….)

This personalised patient care, is after all, the raison-d-etre of the wearables market, which, according to a recent IDC report, is set to reach 45.7 million units worldwide in 2015, and 126.1 million units in 2019.

The IoT approach can then be taken a step further – and use gamification techniques to reward compliant medical behaviour. (My constantly sudoku playing dada and candy crushing mom I’m sure will be very vulnerable to these approaches!)

– At the macro/ aggregated level –

Obviously, when taken as a large body of data, analytics organisations can develop and fine tune personas and segments, making them richer and more detailed. The way to do this would be to combine biomed research using life sciences databases with aggregated patient behaviour and symptoms. This should ideally ultimately result in predictive models, thus leading to better treatment. Basically, a higher emphasis on real time monitoring and intervention combined with traditional lab work becomes the new clinical research methodology! In long term vision, companies and nations get a jumpstart on reducing burden of disease in the overall population.

– At the enterprise level –

Many studies are saying that providers may be able to save up to a quarter of their business costs with the Internet of Things.  This would be done by integrating new technologies into their operational strategies. Think about it – a vast, dynamic mass of wearables, biometric sensors, smartphone add-ons, and other medical devices and implantables – all growing, shifting, and ripe for an IoT approach


– Miscellaneous –

The serious side of Healthcare IoT is only one side of the picture actually – the wearables landscape is fairly glamorous even from the early adopter tech consumer’s Point of View! Think Ping, a social networking garment developed by designer Jen Darmour; Smart socks that tell you when to change, and where the pair is; Electrozyme or Motorola digital tattoos (that always remind me of the Bourne Identity series); tweeting bras (to remind one of breast exam monthly); dream inducing headbands; Peekiboo, a cap that lets you see the world through your baby’s eyes; smart pajamas that help you with bedtime entertainment when your kids are ready for bed; i-Grow income hair growth helmet; Drumpants which is Multiple touch pads sewn into a pair of classy jeans give drummers a six-piece kit; and, the coolest of all, Necomimi, a set of feline-like ears that strap on to your head, supposedly measure brainwaves and then move and flick based on how you’re feeling at a given moment!

The Flip Side

But the real truth, atleast in India (as experienced by my dad and me) is a far cry from the vision. At the moment, there is NO healthcare Internet of Things – maybe just a random collection of medical devices and consumer monitoring technologies that don’t quite know what to do with each other! 

Treatment is isolated – diagnosis is gut and experience based (which actually is not necessarily a bad thing – since, given India’s huge population, doctors do get to practice a lot and so see a wide variety of patients); there is very little digitisation even in the best hospitals. (In fact, in the hospital where we treated our dad, even within the 3 buildings in the same health city campus, there are different degrees of digitisation – the newest, the Eyecare hospital introduced EMR maybe 3-4 years ago, and so it’s all modern; the next oldest Multi Specialty Hospital now scans the written prescriptions of the doctor after you come out of the treatment room, (so, atleast keeping some records – though I’m reasonably confident nothing is being done with those scans yet); and the oldest, the Cardio facility I think still does nothing digital)

To answer the question – “why” – I think it really has to do with a basic question of population – in our country, we are too busy solving the Maslow’s Hierarchy lowest rung questions of food, clothing and shelter to spend too much money and time on other stuff. Coupled with legacy systems and old habits dieing hard, it’s a tough combo to beat!

And then there’s the question of reliability – many medical practitioners suspect non manual devices and gadgets – I have met with scepticism on the results of digital BP monitors from all doctors and nurses! (and my 10-times-a-day-BP-measuring dad’s experience shows significance differences between same time readings of manual/ analog BP monitors and the digital ones. Despite repeated calibrations!). So, reliability is suspect.

And, as yet, I’m not even stepping into the whole compliance/ medico-legal/ security aspect of the data

I think this is a bit like the “obvious” steps in customer centricity across functions and kind of business that are visible to everyone now with Big Data, but the fact is that no one is exploiting them – due to lack of vision, corporate lethargy, or even mal-intent in the form of vested interests! (watch out for the next blog on that topic in a few days). The good news – In a PwC study, 95% of healthcare CEOs said they were exploring better ways to harness and manage big data. The bad news – this is not confined to India alone – Read this article on how this state of affairs sadly seems true globally :(.

Maybe it’s just a matter of time – the question is how much time! Meanwhile, for my dad and me, it’s onwards and upwards to the next “o-logist” – this time the ENT specialist for new hearing aids! Yawwwnnnn….

The Internet Of Things: State of Maturity in India

21 Dec

Digital India Smart Cities

With all the hype about Digital India, and Prime Minister Modi’s Smart City initiative, one question that keeps getting asked is the state of maturity of the Internet of Things in India.

Well, first of all, let me give you my take on the state of maturity of the IoT in the world – like most revolutionary waves that arise because of supply and not demand, at this stage a lot of the work on the IoT is more conceptual/ background building than application oriented. As a corollary of this, the real benefits haven’t trickled down to the end consumer – mainly also as the last mile connectivity applications are still being built. Early devices that purported to be based on the IoT were more bought than used (it is said 70% of fitness trackers bought are not used now); Google Glass is currently resting in a graveyard; IoT revenues are growing at 20-25% for even the top players in the space/ the facebook’s internet.org is getting into all kinds of hot water.

The eco system of companies in the IoT is still hyper fragmented and interoperability is still an issue (standards and protocols are still being worked upon – in fact, that’s where a large body of work is being done).

One of the big roadblocks to progress is miniaturization – specially of batteries. For ultra small sensing devices, either fitted into large industrial buildings, or on small wearable devices, the level of miniaturization requiredd of batteries is not funny – our smallest batteries are still how big

Having said that, there are many heartening examples of work that has been done – after all, ever since 2008, there have been more connected “things” than people in this world! Not the least of this is evident in Smart Cities. Songdo in South Korea has been one of the oldest cities to get ‘smart” – they have a smart energy grid which matches power supply and demand. They have no garbage – their waste gets automatically sucked into Sewage Treatment Centres.

Glasgow has recently announced a budget of 37 mil $ for its project. Their street lights will automatically switch off; they will map routes for easing traffic congestion; footfalls can be monitored, noise and air pollution levels are monitored; Delivery services are prioritized per criticality; there is CCTV coverage of the whole city to ensure higher safety levels.

When it comes to India though, 100 smart cities at a Rs. 7060 crores investment plan notwithstanding, there are a few further hurdles to quick penetration of the Internet of Things.

First of all, we need indigineous/ low cost hardware. Even now, some 65% of hardware that India uses is imported. Then, our bandwidths need to improve significantly. With a $ 12 – 15 billion IoT market revenues expected by 2020, we cannot make it happen with the current pathetic internet speeds. We need low cost/ low power devices that are pluggable into wi-fi. We need the basic infrastructure required for any technology to work. And finally, we need a thriving eco system of vendors building off the Internet of Things.

But maybe the biggest issue facing IoT development in India is that of usability – essentially, the Big problem to be solved/ prioritized still needs to be defined!

I think the first few areas that need/ will see IoT solutions, much like the rest of the world, will be: Utilities/ Smart cities; Agriculture and Healthcare. On the business front, it could be logistics and supply chain – with a newly booming e-commerce industry driving usage.

The overall/ global perceived risks of security threats still exist – as much in India as anyplace else, but I think at an overall level, this fear is becoming slowly marginalized. A higher risk is a more social one – on the one hand, tha of “de-humanization” – machines talking to machines/ robots and AI devices will slowly delimit human contact even more than the current whatsap culture is doing. On the other hand, there is a real “social apartheid” risk – these technologies, atleast till the time they focus high end customer acquisition, may just polarize the haves and have nots even more.

All in all, though, the IoT is coming – earlier in some places than in others, but the advance is real! One statistic said that by 2017, 50% of IoT solutions will come from companies that are less than 3 years old. So, get ready all, action stations!

The IoT Ecosystem – A Beginner’s Guide for Benefiting from It

17 Dec

Last month I was at a panel discussion. The Topic was – “The Internet of Things; Leveraging Technologies in Business”. As I was thinking about what I would say to a room full of entrepreneurs, I came across a startling statistic – 87% of people in this world have not heard of the IoT!!! There bursts our collective IT/ Valley type bubble, which gets so wound up in the latest tech thing that it forgets to demystify even really applicable stuff to the real beneficiary!

I decided therefore to begin my talk with a very simple eco system clarification graphic – one that would explain to each of us our place in the Internet of Everything / Internet of Nouns whatever you want to call it. Here it is:

IoT Ecosystem


What it means is basically, that as Consumers, of course, our lives will be made easier due to the Internet of Things. But that happens in essentially 3 ways:

a) The environment becoming more efficient/ optimised/ user friendly and hopefully cheaper. Think smart cities; urban lighting i.e. street lights auto switch off; transport management including traffic congestion easing and smart parking; smart energy grids; city and waste management; agriculture produce optimisation…..in effect, the Gotham city of the future without Batman! 🙂


b) Better Health and Welfare – All the fitness meters and wearables will enable better quality healthcare for most of us; things like remote tracking for senior citizens; and better compliance and adherence in treatment administration. Not only that, security for kids/ adults/ everyone in fact will be much better with tracking devices and sensors.

c) Customization – What the plethora of things stuck on any and every monitor-able membrane will do, is enable micro modules of data – every action, behaviour, and even possibly thoughts and emotions will be tracked for everyone. This will enable better mapping of individuals (not just segments or clusters), thus making daily lives more efficient and easier. This is where the standard use cases of the thermostat enabled warm home before you enter from office (Google’s Nest acquisition); the pre-ordering fridge when eggs stock gets depleted (Whirlpool, Electrolux); the erstwhile Google Glass, and the pre determined shopping selections at retail play. This is also where much of the glamour and hype around the IoT exists – after all, the early adopters consumers will really be looking at these ‘cool/ quirky” gadgets to show their “with-it-ness”.


But when it comes to businesses, the interplay changes a bit.

Most of the thought leadership coming currently on this space is from businesses participating directly in the Internet of Things – these are (largely) technology or data type firms – and they could be either manufacturing devices (the last mile therefore); or operating in the standards and protocols arena – therefore providing the platforms for all to operate; or working on applications on and around the IoT; or be working with the data arising out of the petabytes of data (erstwhile BI/ Big Data processors).

In all these avatars, the companies are providing products and services directed related to creating, harnessing and delivering the Internet of Things – whether to other businesses, or to end consumers. Also, as in most modern technological playing grounds, everyone is collaborating with everyone else (or, well, should be!). There are large interdependencies, and companies have realized that it is better to work on their chunk of the whole. Cisco, IBM, Intel, Google, Facebook, Salesforce, Amazon, Samsung and GE with their Industrial Internet are the primary large names that pop up when this category is discussed.

The balance of the businesses, will essentially participate in the Internet of Things to harness and derive the benefits it delivers. Hence, this is about exponentially bettered customer centricity – about really hyper personalized, context driven products and solutions. The insights gleaned from processing the oodles of data generated by all the sensors will enable one to one customer dialogue in a multi channel environment, and therefore real time, event based marketing and service to customers.

But also overall, the Internet of Things will create a smarter, more efficient Enterprise Eco System (that both kinds of businesses will benefit from).

Think more predictable weather conditions bettering disaster prevention; better Industrial Automation, Logistics, shop floor management and supply chains (including traffic/ fleet management); better utilities; better buying procedures; better infrastructure at lower costs!

What this really implies is that, beyond the hype, there is something in the IoT for everyone, the only thing to do is to figure out your place in that sun, and to be able to monetize it (if you are a business), or use it (as a consumer).

Viva IoT!

Not Musk, Bezos, Zuckerberg, Page & Brin, But Nora Roberts! (Or, the state of the Internet Of Things)

21 Jan


I lead a very “must not do” lifestyle – I am retired from active corporate life; I snack on unhealthy junk almost everyday; I drink gallons of fattening beer every weekend; I don’t sleep all that much; and, most importantly, I read almost NO elevating/ informative/ educative stuff – all I read is some news on the web on technology, and LOTS of trashy fiction – specifically, romance and who-dun-it novels.

My current favorite author is Nora Roberts, maybe because she combines the above two genres really well! In reading avidly her futuristic cop thriller series, written under the pseudonym J.D. Robbs, I begin to see a strange similarity between her world of the 2050s and 60s; and what is going on in the Internet of Things/ Connected Device world.

Quick summary: the Internet of Things is essentially nothing but a world in which all devices are connected, and many of them are wearable on the human body, to enable use of the data generated in one place in order to predict actions in another! This means a world of tiny embedded “sensors” all over – on highways, in thermostat boxes, glasses, bras, beds, wind mills….you name it….that then allow seamless living!

Look at how some parallels exist between Robb’s world and the current endeavour of most of the technology world, with leaders being Zuckerberg, Bezos, Benioff, Musk and many many many other smaller/ niche players:

Virtual RealityCredit

1. Virtual Reality:
Arguably, one of the stars at this month’s CES was the Oculus Rift Crescent Bay prototype with Spatial Audio feature. It seems to have excited people, specially VR enthusiasts all around, with the advancements it shows over previous versions. A look at some applications – driving simulations and Gaming excites even boring ole’ non-gamer me!

But hey, in the JD Robb world, VR and Holo videos are very much par for the course! Not only can you program VR headsets in the gym to give you the real experience of whichever setting you want, HoloRooms are like Star Trek Holo Decks and owned by the wealthy, and can be programmed for interactive vacations at the beach, street scenes for training in fighting techniques, or rescue missions, or jogging along a path, or dining in a mountain chalet, etc. HoloGlasses provide 3-D life-like scenarios, similar to the HoloRooms, but worn on the head. And, to me, the extreme use was very very evil! In the book I last read, “Fantasy in Death”, a gamer whizkid actually injected reality into virtual reality – and as a by product killed a couple people!

“Roarke took another sip of coffee – “Let me understand you. You are suggesting that a holographic image, which is essentially light and shadow, attempted murder and committed it…Neuro and nano-tech have advanced, and the images produced in holo programs act and react, according to that program. They appear 3D, appear to have substance. The player’s senses are involved and engaged……found a way to enhance wave front, increase the power stream of the light….to create a kind of current that is an electronic replication of the substance….that could, cut, slash, sever….or could replicate an impact where the currents could inflict the same damage as they have been programmed to inflict”

2. Customized Talking Billboards:

Talking billboards are now old hat. Even a lot of the motion/ temperature triggered ones. But, essentially in that they use sensors to activate a series of actions that could be customised depending on you/ your location/ your preferences, they are very I0T!

Then, ofcourse, google glass is (was) the ultimate in customized billboards in a way – plus much much more. Despite its lukewarm performance in this round, Google is sure to get it back with a bigger bang …soon!

And, in a J D Robb parallel, Eve Dallas, the main protagonist, is forever catching customised billboards looking down at her on her drives/ airlifts through crowded noisy New York streets:

When she caught a familiar face burst across one of the animated screens…over the street at thirty fourth….she..whirled…jiggled, spun, in a few sassy and amusingly placed scraps of electric blue. With each revolution, her hair changed from red to gold to blinding green…her oldest friend…

3. Robotics/ Artificial Intelligence:

From Super Mario’s latest AI induced self aware tricks, to Facebook’s intense use of AI, the world of AI is definitely here. (After all, what was Siri, but an early version of AI). In fact, this is becoming a controversial area, with recently, Tesla’s Elon Musk coming out in strong opposition of the potential evil fallouts of AI!

amazon drones Credit

Then there are drones, which have been used for military purposes (e.g. in Israel and Afghanistan) for a while, and infact are now being advanced, e.g. with mind controlling technologies. Amazon also created news a couple of years ago with their pilot of deliveries using drones (Amazon Prime Air).

In J.D. Robbs’ world, there are “Droids with human characteristics that can be programmed to cook, clean, man office desks, physically fight and wrestle, watch over children and the elderly, teach, bartend, waiters and waitresses and even be programmed for sex. There are also droid animals – dogs, cats and birds.”

“The droids were well represented as well- mechanical looking household and yard droids, cheap mini droids, and a number of the human replicas lined up like suspects….”This model’s top of the line. She’s designed to exactly replicate the character physically, and she has top-flight programming capabilities””

“They were droids..you couldn’t even smell them…she swung back, slamming her knees into the droid behind her…catching him by the ankles as he deployed the weapon….he didn’t buckle as a man would, but teetered back, arms pinwheeling for balance.”

Then there are AutoVehicles that can fly and zip around, but also be driven like normal cars and buses.

“Three cars ahead of her, two rapid cabs shot into vertical lift at the same time…airlifts hovered above, shooting out their streams of light…..”

nest-labs-google Credit

4. Home Automation

With Apple’s Smart Home project, Google’s Nest and the earlier versions of the IoT which almost always had a pre programmed refrigerator ordering eggs when you ran out, Home Automation was one of the earliest applications of the IoT. And, lets face it, its also the sexiest/ most widely adoptable one; hence catching consumer eye balls far more than windmills, gas meters and smart highways! (Marc Benioff had addresses the Dreamforce 2013 attendees with a case on his Philips toothbrush!) It is also the app where a lot of work is being done without suffering reverses (like the glass). Companies like Philips, Logitech, Nokia and many more are working flat out to address and dominate their respective inches of the home automation turf. This article is a nice look at the news on home automation.

At the centre of everything – most things consumer IoT atleast, is the ubiquitous smartphone – that device that most other devices link to, that very soon 1 in every 4 earthling will possess, that works as your personal friend, philosopher guide, but also has millions of app developers working day and night on, that you use to talk/ email/ measure sleep patterns/ order cabs/ check restaurants/ listen to music and watch movies…in short, everything…And now, the smart watch


Cut to Robbs. She has the AutoChefs that can deliver home-cooked meals and coffee.

“He walked to a large Autochef “What is it then – Pizza or Burger”….Took a large bubbling Pizza out…headed to the AutoChef, programmed coffee….He’d already programmed their meal in the recesed Autochef – I thought we’d have ham and eggs today”

The Drying Tube that senses your temperature requirements and then dries you up.
“…Like the warm, clean scented swirl of air in the drying tube…”

The biometric scanning device, that tells you where anybody in the house is (Roarke has programmed all answers to Eve such that it always starts with “Darling Eve!”, a fact that really irritates the heroine!

“Where is Roarke”?.. Welcome home, darling Eve!..As usual the recorded voice using that particular endearment had slivers of embarrassment pricking up her spine”

Links that are a modernized video cell phone that can hold and transfer data besides making calls – both audio and video; Memo Cubes that are modern, electronic Post-Its, without the sticky paper, Wrist Units that combine most functions!

“Nice wrist unit…“Serviceable.” Eve turned her wrist to admire the simple band, the flat, silver-toned face….“It‟s got a couple of nice features,” she added as she fiddled with it. “It‟s nice,” Peabody said again, then drew her beeping communicator out of her pocket. “Give me a sec, I . . . hey, it‟s you.” Mouth dropping, Peabody jerked her head up. “It‟s got a micro-com in it? That‟s pretty mag. Usually they‟re all fuzzy, but this is really clean.” “Nano-com. You know how the vehicle he rigged up for me looks ordinary?” “Ordinary leaning toward ugly,” Peabody corrected. “But nobody gives it a second look or knows that it‟s loaded, so . . . same deal?” Automatically Peabody dug out her ‟link when it signaled, then paused. “Is that you? It‟s got full communication capability? In a wrist unit that size?” “Not only that, it‟s got navigation, full data capabilities. Total data and communications—he programmed it with all my stuff. If I had to, I could access my files on it. Waterproof, shatterproof, voice-command capabilities. Gives me the ambient temp. Plus it tells time.”

IoT Security
5. Security:

This is clearly the foremost concern in the IoT! The WEF has gotten a report together recently advising caution! Top executives similarly feel that the biggest risk of the IoT is security!

But, this article shows that despite security concerns, IoT is definitely growing.

J.D. Robb has her own version of the security issues – all data devices are controlled by the federal mother computer – the CompuGuard. This is very big brother-ish, and supposedly can track everything going on in any computing device. (Ofcourse, Mr. Know-it-all, ex criminal, richest man in the world Roarke can get past the Compuguard – and often does, thus, often aiding Ms. Dallas in her investigations, much to her irritation!)

“Compuguard monitored all e-transmissions and programming on planet and off….I’m obliged to caution you that this transmission is being traced through CompuGuard, and it’s being recorded.”

J.D. Robb has a few other interesting gadgets strewn about her books – Skids are high-tech sneakers that can float above ground and there are skateboards that hover a few inches above ground instead of on wheels; Glide carts are moving food carts on the street; Credits, which are tokens used instead of coins…

At the end, a lot of it is illusory and advanced stuff – both in the IoT world, and the JDRobb one. As an example, the much touted wearables have abysmal penetration and even worse usage figures for consumer devices (at an average, all wearables get discarded after 6 months). This article is interesting too.

Having said that, there is no doubt that some if all all of this, is coming, and coming sooner than later! Most pundits say the world should focus on “real” applications with substantial impact – healthcare/ infrastructure/ utilities, rather than consumer products – but, if consumers didn’t show an interest, a lot of the glitter and shine wouldn’t be there!

In my opinion, the question is no longer – “will it come” but ‘when will it come”….Maybe, some of the companies in the arena should consider hiring Ms. Roberts as strategic advisor.

In the meanwhile, interested in reading some of the JDRobb books? Here’s where you can download some free – enjoy!