It All Starts with Use Cases
IoT is an outcome of the drive to amplify everything useful. While building network solutions that reduce energy consumption of commercial buildings, data centers and cities, I learned early that successful solutions require a sound understanding of the customer use case. Without this, success is accidental—and rarely achieved. Though this lesson is obvious, in the history of product development, use cases are used less frequently than you would think.
Use cases are a necessary step because they allow product and solution developers to understand “what” must be achieved. Use cases are then examined for attributes that can be addressed by new technologies or processes. Only after having a thorough understanding of what the customer is trying to achieve can a development team decide “how” to address the problem. Again, in the history of product development, this process is used less than you would think. Hence the old expression, “when all you have is a hammer—every problem looks like a nail”. And let’s not forget the other classic (and often implemented): “a solution in search of a problem.” A conventional phrase should not be confused with a viable product development strategy.
What’s in a Name?
Good use cases have descriptive names. They enable readers to form expectations about the problem without reading the entire document. Often times, trends have descriptive names (SDN-Software Defined Networking); sometimes they’re prescriptive. Sometimes the name describes the flow of a trend (the applification of everything). Sometimes it’s temporally neutral like IoT-The Internet of Things. It’s simply a name. It does not describe a process, flow of a trend, or a business case.
As a solution developer and market creator, it’s important for the Platformatics’ team to translate trend names into appropriate action descriptors. In the case of IoT, it’s a label for an outcome of a process. I think of that process as the Applification of Things. The name is descriptive, but it’s not a use case. The use cases and their names are defined by customer needs in the domains where we work. This is an important distinction because this exercise is required to focus development teams on actionable activities. Just as customers want to learn more about a new trend that may affect them, so too do product development teams observe emerging trends for clue about new revenue opportunities. By participating early, the product development organizations believe they can have a larger impact and accelerate the opportunity. Don’t mistake the name of a trend for the way it develops.
IoT is an Outcome
Let’s dig in to IoT. It describes the output of a process to connect the previously unconnected. As I noted above, I call this process, the Applification of Everything Useful (and sometimes not).
Note the word useful. It is possible to IP enable everything—but not practical. It will be done where it’s justified. I’ve had people tell me that every piece of sheet rock and square meter of carpet will have an IP address. While I’m skeptical, I won’t rule it out. 10 years ago light bulbs would have been on that list. But from experience, I can say that an IP enabled light can be used in such a way that it provides more incremental value than the cost to innervate it. (When I say “innervate”, I am implying a process used to add a central nervous system to the device or system. It may include a network connection and a micro-processor). In short, the use cases for an IP addressable light are supported by a number of viable business cases. This is the key to understanding the Internet of Everything. It simply names the result of thousands of innovative projects underway that are creating new applications that connect the previously unconnected. These applications allow users to interact with products in new ways. As an example of this process and for fun, let’s review a few innovative applications that relate to human senses.
The Applification of the Senses
The home entertainment industry has provided video viewing platforms for years (color TVs with sound). In an effort to sell newer kit, the industry has evolved to add “surround sound” for your aural pleasure. More recently, they’ve added 3-D video to enhance the visual experience. In certain theaters, these sense stimulating applications are supplemented with smoke generators, vibration systems, and flashing lights or strobes. Each of these solutions was developed through the documentation of a use case and business plan.
Sight and Sound
The next generation of sense applications includes more advanced room based scene lighting that matches a video program or music. AMbx, a UK based company, is one example (http://ambx.com/). Lights are also being used for human communication through the use of color patterns and flashing/dimming rates. These light patterns are symbols; symbols are the basis of communication.
What’s missing? If the basic human senses include sight, sound, feel (touch, temperature, vibration, pressure) smells and taste, I would argue, that in the technology application arena, smell and taste are missing. But not for long—because we are living through the Applification of Things.
ScentAir offers scent generators http://www.scentair.com/why-scentair/solutions/index.html and applications to control emitted scents that are stored, blended and distributed from several sources. Their use cases focus on developing “the right aroma for your brand”. I suspect the range of possible use cases is very broad and could cover business applications in retail, wellness and education. The deployment possibilities are only limited by imagination.
Though I’m not aware of a shipping Star Trek “replicator”, other advances in LED lighting are helping technologist grow more nutritious food at lower prices and closer to consumers. Using LED lights that use energy only for the color they emit it’s possible to grow food indoors. The “farmers” tune LED lights to match the photosynthesis needs of a particular plant. Using growing optimization algorithms, farmers can create the ideal plant growing conditions. http://plantlab.nl/
Imagine creating an indoor green house in your garage or basement. You could run the LED lights from the network. You would load an app on your phone that collects growth data, soil moisture, and CO2 level and sends this to a “Plant Lab” cloud server. As new growing techniques are developed, this information can be pushed to the individual growers to adjust their inputs.
To illustrate the process of the Applification of Things I’ve only covered a small subset of applications created to stimulate human senses. From this limited view it’s apparent that the Applification of Things will continue to grow exponentially. As advances in one area are digested by others, new use cases will emerge that can be solved with information and communication technologies. I look forward to experimenting with new applications as the Internet of Everything drives subsystem innervation.