Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Internet of Thinking: No More Fat Cats (or Dogs)

54% of the dogs and cats in the United States are overweight or obese, according to The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. One of the key reasons for this is that owners fail to recognize obesity.

I was introduced recently to a guy who is applying the principles of Internet of Thinking (IoTh) to solve this problem. If owners can’t recognize the problems that could shorten their pets’ lives, then why not teach a food bowl and a pet collar to perform those tasks?

This is a good example of Internet of Thinking (IoTh) logic, using new capabilities not to manufacture devices you don’t need, but instead to solve a pervasive problem about which people care deeply.

Bill Stewart is the founder of PetTrax, which is focusing on solving this – and similar – problems. He is knitting together sensors, networks, data storage, and analysis to create meaningful business value.

For pet owners who want to understand and improve their pets’ overall health, PetTrax promises to help owners remotely monitor and manage their pets’ nutrition and health habits.

While currently operating in stealth mode (he’s not ready to give away product details quite yet), PetTrax is developing connected products and data analytics services that will help pet owners keep their loved furry friends healthy and happy. The offering will provide convenience and peace-of-mind to pet owners who live busy lives and cannot always be at home to care for the on-going needs of their pets.

The PetTrax solution collects and analyzes data about pet behaviors and eating patterns. Connected products ensure that pets stay within their proper daily calorie allowance and, when appropriate, will alert the owner to potential health issues based on industry and veterinarian-recommended best practices for the breed, age and current health condition of each pet. The ability to operate in multi-pet homes is another key capability.

This is a great example of innovation through thinking differently. IoTh will produce new solutions to age-old problems. With a U.S. population of over 94 million cats and 83 million dogs, Bill has identified a valuable market – last year, over $58B was spent on pets in the U.S. and of that about $55B was categorized into food, vet care, supplies/meds, and pet services – and a persistent problem.

Bill’s venture has a distance yet to travel in order to succeed as a business proposition, and there will surely be others chasing this same market, but I love the use of varied technologies to create a solution where none existed previously. PetTrax unifies sensors, mobile devices, cloud-based processing, and relevant analytics.

Beyond the benefit of improved pet health, the economic potential comes from food waste avoidance and the lowered risk of obesity related diseases (resulting in savings associated with veterinarian and medication costs). His way of thinking is to create an entirely new capability, rather than merely automating an existing process.  That’s the IoTh come to reality.

Peter Allen has many years of operating experience as a top executive and strategic advisor for companies of all shapes and sizes, with focus on technology-enabled business services. He is now a Boston-based Managing Director at Alvarez & Marsal.

Image: ramsey everydaypants/Flickr





Monday, August 10, 2015

Internet of Thinking: Beyond Clean Restrooms

Internet of Thinking: Beyond Clean Restrooms

Why would you want to connect a public washroom to the Internet? Is this nothing more than an overly complicated way to get the janitorial staff to do their jobs? After all, if they just check the paper towels every two hours like they are supposed to do, can’t we just move on to a more important subject?

Yes, using sensors to detect low stockage of paper products or soap products in public restrooms is pretty basic. It sounds rather mundane as an Internet of Thinking (IoTh) use case, doesn’t it? 

What if such application could do far more than help schedule tasks for the workforce? What if it could provide value well beyond the automation of an otherwise manual process?

Let me offer two examples of a different, more robust approach:

1. Pathogen detection: What if we use washroom sensors to detect pathogens, and report those findings to public safety organizations?  In New York City, an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease has killed 10 and sickened more than 100. DNAinfo reported that “the city’s Health Department never inspected a South Bronx public school after a teacher there died of Legionnaires’ disease in April while hundreds of students were attending classes.”

Even better, what if the city had long ago installed sensors on the water towers suspected of being responsible for this outbreak?

2. Insurance compliance: What if operators could provide insurance carriers proof that restaurant staff are practicing good hygiene habits and following protocols? This could reduce insurance claims, allow top operators to save money on their insurance, and allow consumers to make better judgments about which restaurants to patronize.

Some might view this as an invasion of personal privacy, since the restroom experience is among the most private moments of our normal days. We need to decide whether the public good outweighs a modest intrusion on personal privacy.

The current focus of washroom Internet of Things initiatives is to enable efficiency in the servicing of commodity products that are dispensed in those locations. That’s not thinking big enough.

The same IoT infrastructure might also help us detect public health threats and drive down the costs of hygiene-related food service industry insurance.  And, all of this new capability can be brought to market “As A Service” – with the purveyor of the technologies unifying all of this into a neat package of defined services. The data collected, and correlated, is truly valuable. Think of a “command center” coordinating the monitoring of restroom quality and service availability as part of a broader public safety network.

There will be non-trivial cost to internet-enable such fringes of the information eco-system as restrooms.  If it’s a worthy thing to do, then there must be a social and/or economic case to be made. Efficiency in deploying janitorial staff won’t be a sufficient source of economic benefit. The thinking needs to be expansive around the return on investment in multiple dimensions.

Big opportunities come from thinking beyond the customary use cases … creating capabilities that do not exist today. They come from applying the Internet of Thinking logic.


Peter Allen has many years of operating experience as a top executive and strategic advisor for companies of all shapes and sizes, with focus on technology-enabled business services. He is now a Boston-based Managing Director at Alvarez & Marsal.


Image:  kokopinto/Flickr








Sunday, August 2, 2015

Internet of Thinking

The Internet of Thinking

For more than a decade, people have been talking about the Internet of Things (IoT). But many “use cases” have been a victim of limited imaginations, perhaps because so many possibilities are way beyond our experiences … until now.

By connecting people and devices and everything else, we open up tremendous new possibilities for human thought. The primary opportunity for the IoT is not to tell you when your laundry is done, but rather to unleash your best thinking.

Thanks to these new interconnections, we will increasingly understand reality, instead of a crude approximation of reality.

Wild new applications are taking flight (think drones) because of a few fundamental breakthrough capabilities that are being knitted together in elegant ways.

There are five core requirements that must be addressed to bring any IoT application to reality:

1. Data from Sensors and Controls: IoT is all about enabling remote collection and activation of otherwise “dumb” devices. We must specify what those devices are, and how we want to interact with them. Yes, we want those devices to provide us with data. But we also need to decide what data we really want. We risk being overloaded if we aren’t purposeful in knowing what we want, and why.

2. The Access Network: You must position properly the pathways that control devices and retrieve the data they generate. An IoT application requires that information be collected for post-process interpretation and analysis.  Collection requires movement, and that’s the need for a network strategy.

3. Data Storage: Once moved, IoT application data has to be organized and deposited in a logical repository. The sheer volume of this data stream presents an immense challenge to the orderly indexing, storage, and retrieval of information.  We can store all of this data on high-cost spinning disks, or in memory, so … we need a tiered storage strategy.

4. Correlation: The most clever IoT applications will be those that combine data from one system (e.g., farmland equipment) with data from various other sources (e.g., weather monitoring).  Call this “Big Data” if you must, but some innovative companies will create immense value by combining one system’s data exhaust with others.

This will give rise to a new discipline around protecting data rights in systems that combine data to draw conclusions. Data will be a monetized asset. What data does your company generate that might be of value to someone else in the IoT ecosystem? This is the domain of innovative thinking! IoT brings access to new sources of information that can be used in new and exciting fashions.

5. Business Model: Finally, all of this technology must come together in business models that work in the real world. That means that they must create value for consumers and businesses as a result of the combinations of devices and services. Monetizing IoT can take many different forms, but it’s important that the economic outcome be part of the design.

A recent client dabbled in IoT for a commodity product … automating the process of monitoring supply levels for a consumable consumer item.  The CEO was unimpressed.  The business case was shallow.  Technologists, left alone, can deploy clever sensors but lose sight of the bigger picture of value creation.  There was data to be harvested … and monetized!

The Internet of Things is the fulcrum for the Internet of Thinking (IoTh). We can reach beyond our historical limitations by embracing new ways to control devices and to collect information.

IoTh is about thinking differently, but not just to create some cool new app. It’s about enabling people to think differently about the world around us, and in doing so to better understand it.  There’s gold in the hills of IoT, but not without IoTh.

Peter Allen has many years of operating experience as a top executive and strategic advisor for companies of all shapes and sizes, with focus on technology-enabled business services. He is now a Boston-based Managing Director at Alvarez & Marsal.

Image: karola riegler photography/Flickr