Seek­ing solutions to the IoT chal­lenge

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Andile Ma­suku

THE IN­TER­NET of Things World Fo­rum 2017 (2017 IoTWF) went down in Lon­don last week. The event was hosted in what is widely con­sid­ered Europe’s fastest grow­ing tech hub, af­ter pre­vi­ously be­ing held in Barcelona, Chicago, and Dubai.

Global IT and net­work­ing gi­ant, Cisco, con­vened the in­vite-only in­dus­try gath­er­ing to fa­cil­i­tate dia­logue among key stake­hold­ers and in­no­va­tors in busi­ness, gov­ern­ment, and academia, and to “bring in­dus­try lead­ers to­gether to col­lab­o­rate, net­work, part­ner, and solve the chal­lenges fac­ing IoT”.

In true Bri­tish fash­ion, the event went ahead de­spite the tragic Manch­ester bomb­ing tak­ing place that same week, and mer­ci­fully, the fo­rum wrapped a cou­ple of days be­fore Bri­tish Air­ways’ dread­ful IT col­lapse, which would have oth­er­wise left me and at least seven hun­dred other 2017 IoTWF del­e­gates stranded at Heathrow Air­port as we made our way home.

To the or­gan­is­ers’ credit, 2017 IoTWF fea­tured a bal­anced mix of speak­ers and pan­el­lists who did a great job of de­scrib­ing the global IoT scene from var­i­ous an­gles.

Case stud­ies

Se­nior ex­ec­u­tives from ma­jor tech firms like In­tel, Di­men­sion Data, Rock­well Au­toma­tion, IBM, GE, and of course, Cisco, took turns shar­ing dozens of po­ten­tial IoT use cases and un­pack­ing real-world case stud­ies that re­vealed some dra­matic wins be­ing made cour­tesy of IoT de­ploy­ments in com­mer­cial and non-com­mer­cial set­tings.

There were also in­de­pen­dent voices, like those of ac­com­plished au­thor, con­sul­tant and speaker, Don Tap­scott, as well as ac­claimed fu­tur­ist, Gerd Leon­hard. Both men’s ideas cut through the con­fer­ence’s “we are the world” façade to its cap­i­tal­ist core, pro­vok­ing deeper think­ing into some of the more se­ri­ous so­ci­etal im­pli­ca­tions of the IoT move­ment.

In a column I wrote sev­eral weeks ago, I wrote about how IoT ba­si­cally refers to any ob­ject that al­lows for net­work con­nec­tiv­ity through em­bed­ded elec­tron­ics, soft­ware, sen­sors, or ac­tu­a­tors.

I ex­plained that such gad­gets are of­ten dubbed “con­nected de­vices” or “smart de­vices”. By that def­i­ni­tion, even in the con­text of the de­vel­op­ing world, where the adop­tion of this trend trails more af­flu­ent mar­kets, it isn’t too far fetched to imag­ine a not-too-dis­tant fu­ture where the term “IoT” be­comes re­dun­dant ow­ing to pretty much ev­ery­thing around us be­ing “smart” or “con­nected”.

While in the­ory con­nected ob­jects are de­signed and de­ployed by well-mean­ing in­di­vid­ual and cor­po­rate users, as I write, the busi­ness in­ter­ests that were rep­re­sented at 2017 IoTWF are no doubt tire­lessly strate­gis­ing around how best to com­mer­cially ex­ploit IoT as its adop­tion goes main­stream.

It would, how­ever, be un­fair to con­clude that such com­mer­cial in­tent is in­her­ently prob­lem­atic. I be­lieve that if han­dled with in­tegrity, the de­ploy­ment of, and the col­lec­tion and pro­cess­ing of data by IoT-en­abled de­vices, will not only de­liver busi­ness ef­fi­cien­cies and macroe­co­nomic ben­e­fits, but also lead to un­prece­dented lev­els of con­ve­nience and im­proved qual­ity of liv­ing for the cit­i­zens of the world at large.

One of the more jar­ring points made at 2017 IoTWF came via Cisco’s vice pres­i­dent of enterprise solutions mar­ket­ing, In­bar Lasser-Raab, who re­vealed that a re­cent in­ter­na­tional cross-in­dus­try study they con­ducted shows that only 26 per­cent of IoT projects, launched as part of broader or­gan­i­sa­tional dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion ini­tia­tives, are com­pleted suc­cess­fully.

Many hur­dles

It ap­pears that while C-suite ex­ec­u­tives the world over are con­vinced of the vi­tal role IoT will play in mov­ing the world from, as Don Tap­scott puts it, “the in­ter­net of in­for­ma­tion to the in­ter­net of value”, there are many hur­dles in the way of act­ing suc­cess­fully on that con­vic­tion.

Speaker af­ter speaker at the con­fer­ence touched on the need to over­come the com­plex­i­ties of in­te­grat­ing the vast myr­iad of soft­ware regimes pow­er­ing the lit­er­ally mil­lions of new and ex­ist­ing de­vices.

Cisco is look­ing to help or­gan­i­sa­tions lower their IoT de­ploy­ment fail­ure rate by launch­ing a hy­brid trans­ac­tional plat­form that will al­low for IoT data to be tapped and an­a­lysed at any point within a com­pany’s soft­ware ar­chi­tec­ture.

Doubt­less they are hop­ing that their solutions will even­tu­ally con­sti­tute the de­fault uni­ver­sal in­te­gra­tion stan­dard and bring the global in­dus­tries one step closer to seam­less IoT in­ter­op­er­abil­ity.

But I have a hunch that enterprise soft­ware big­gies like Or­a­cle and SAP aren’t go­ing to take that ly­ing down. De­spite the sur­pris­ingly co-op­er­a­tive vibes I picked up flow­ing back and forth be­tween Cisco and ri­vals such as Mi­crosoft and IBM at 2017 IoTWF, I am cer­tain that any soft­ware gi­ant worth its salt is dis­creetly plot­ting a coup in terms of aim­ing to be­come the world’s enterprise part­ner of choice as IoT takes hold.

An­other fac­tor cited is the dearth of tal­ent. It does ap­pear that while the prom­ise of IoT is real, bring­ing solutions on­line is more chal­leng­ing than many com­pa­nies as­sume. Of­ten the penny drops only af­ter they’ve sunk mil­lions into ill-con­ceived, un­der-re­sourced or poorly man­aged IoT projects that leave them smart­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Prathap Dendi, gen­eral man­ager for emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies at the ap­pli­ca­tion per­for­mance man­age­ment and IT op­er­a­tions an­a­lyt­ics startup, Ap­pDy­nam­ics, cor­po­rate lead­ers would do well to take the time to as­sess the IoT-com­pe­tency of their in­ter­nal hu­man re­sources be­fore div­ing head first into ex­e­cut­ing IoT-led ini­tia­tives.

Un­rea­son­able

Dendi ad­mits that it would be un­rea­son­able to ex­pect a firm to out­source projects en­tirely and forego the op­por­tu­nity to de­velop in­ter­nal pro­pri­etary ex­per­tise, but he does say that has seen some of his more suc­cess­ful clients ben­e­fit from lever­ag­ing ex­ter­nal ex­per­tise by en­gag­ing niche ser­vice play­ers such as his com­pany, as well as many other rep­utable soft­ware and hard­ware spe­cial­ists.

Un­der­lin­ing the value Dendi’s com­pany seems ca­pa­ble of adding when en­gaged, is Cisco’s sur­prise ac­qui­si­tion of Ap­pDy­nam­ics for $3.7 bil­lion (R48.5bn) in March 2017 – a deal which hap­pened just as the Ap­pDy­nam­ics was all set to go pub­lic in the US.

I gleaned a use­ful nugget re­gard­ing suc­cess­ful IoT-de­ploy­ment dur­ing a quiet con­ver­sa­tion I had with Alan Grif­fiths, an in­dus­trial IoT and cloud com­put­ing an­a­lyst at Cam­bashi.

In his ex­pe­ri­ence, com­pa­nies that de­velop a cul­ture of treat­ing in-house IoTled in­no­va­tion as a se­ries of mea­sured, busi­ness-hy­poth­e­sis-driven ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, rather than all-or-noth­ing, makeor-break un­der­tak­ings, are not only more likely to suc­ceed at fig­ur­ing out how best to ex­ploit the IoT op­por­tu­ni­ties pre­sented in their in­dus­tries more quickly and more cheaply, but also more likely to en­cour­age re­source­ful, out-of-the-box think­ing and a gen­er­ally more open at­ti­tude to­wards change within their work­force. Andile Ma­suku is an en­tre­pre­neur and broad­caster based in Jo­han­nes­burg. He is the ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer at AfricanTechRoundup.com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @Ma­sukuAndile and the African Tech Round-up @african­roundup

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

In­bar Lasser-Raab, Cisco’s vice-pres­i­dent of enterprise solutions mar­ket­ing, says a re­cent study shows that only 26 per­cent of IoT projects, launched as part of broader or­gan­i­sa­tional dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion ini­tia­tives, are com­pleted suc­cess­fully.

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