Things are NOT People

Enterprise software built to service Internet of People (IoP) applications will not necessarily work servicing an industrial Internet of Things (IoT)

Things are NOT people.

This may sound a bit obvious, but read on if you're a buyer or supplier of industrial IoT products or services, because the ramifications can mean the difference between success and failure in your IoT deployment or offering. And if you’re a software developer of enterprise applications, this means an incredible opportunity for you.

Probably like many of you, I’ve worked in and around IoT for years. For instance, in the late ‘90s at Sun Microsystems, I managed the “.com home” of the future at the annual CEB conference, demoing cool, connected Things like networked coffee makers and washing machines. So when I’d read yet another article predicting the billions of devices that would be connected in the near future, I would think: Okay, IoT—somewhat facetiously speaking—means that Cisco is going to sell a whole lot more routers and switches to connect this increase of network-connected Things.

Then my company, Crowdstory.com, began working with Timothy Chou to publish his new book on industrial IoT titled, Precision: Principals, Practices and Solutions for the Internet of Things. We also deployed techniques developed at Crowdstory to gather and tell 12 stories from the IoT crowd, which are included in the book. Then finally after reading Precision, the light turned on for me: IoT, and the building of a precision planet, means so much more than selling networked devices. And indeed, Things are NOT people.

Let me explain further.

A vast majority of the enterprise or consumer applications we’ve developed to date are for people—the Internet of People (IoP). Whether it’s CRM, ERP, HR, e-commerce or Facebook applications, they are all IoP applications.

But Things are NOT people, so could it be that enterprise software developed for an Internet of People might not work as desired for an Internet of Things? Here are a few important differences to consider:

Things can tell you more than people

People talk to applications primarily though a keyboard. Likewise, many applications use some kind of form to collect simple amounts of data from each of us.

Things, on the other hand, can be equipped with many sensors, each generating data. A wind turbine, for instance, can have 200 sensors, delivering information such as wind speed and direction, blade-rotation, speed, power generated, component temperature, vibration, noise levels and more. Even the smart cellphone you carry can have more than 10 sensors.

Things share data faster than people

The average person can type at 200 characters per minute. A coal-mining machine called a Longwall Shearer has artificial roof sensors that send data at 10,000 times per second. A phase measurement unit in a power grid can send data at 60 times per second without ever needing to take a coffee break.

Things can be programmed

Unlike People, Things can be programmed to do precisely what we’d like them to do under precise circumstances. This means that not only are Things generating a lot more data, but also this data could be something we’re very interested in collecting and learning from en route to doing new behavior.

Things can exist in places where people don't

Whether deep in a coalmine shaft, in the ocean attached to an oil platform, or sitting in the desert, Things can exist on a 24x7 basis where people cannot. Things can generate data about entirely new environments, whereas IoP enterprise applications are stuck receiving human-entered data typed in one character at a time.

So what are some of the ramifications?

If I was the CMO of an IoT company I’d make sure the industry understood that Things are not People. If you understand this distinction then you understand we need to deploy technology built for IoT—not IoP—applications. Likewise, a buyer of an IoT solution might want to ensure the technology being bought was developed for IoT and not IoP applications. And if I put on my developer hat, I’d consider updating my skills for the building of the next generation of IoT applications.

For instance, new industrial products built for IoT will be upgraded with new ways to make them smarter, not only about how they’re operating, but also about the environment in which they’re deployed. There will be new ways to connect these Things, as Things can be many places where people aren’t and many of these Things will need to be very stingy on power usage. We’ll have to come up with new ways to collect the data, as most of the database technologies in use today were developed to process transactions from people, not, for example, time-series data sampled 60 times per second. For the first time we have the ability to analyze and learn from the data before we decide what to do with it. In the world of IoP, we had to build apps to entice people to buy a book or recruit a person. In the world of IoT, all of our machines are willing to tell us a lot of information more frequently. And finally, the middleware and applications we developed for IoP will be completely different in the world of connected Things. As an example, we have the opportunity to engineer security into IoT solutions, not add it on at the end.

If you’re in sales or marketing for this next generation of IoT technology, help me tell the story—Things are NOT People and People are NOT Things. If you’re buying an IoT solution, consider the relevancy of this when making your purchase decisions. And if you’re a developer, learn more about industrial IoT because there is a whole new generation of enterprise software waiting for you to write.

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