Information Supply Chains and the Internet of Things

We’re finding the LINQ lens to be very useful in exploring how different players might be able to realise transformational opportunities…  by looking at those opportunities in information supply chain terms.

Communication Companies

So firstly, the communication company.  They are ultimately the only bearer for the information flow.  There is no other option.  Information must get from the device to the application and it must flow over the telco pipe.  So how do we represent that in LINQ?  The fact is that we don’t!   That’s because as much as anything, we take that pipe for granted;  it’s analogous to the separation between ISP and content provider.

That would suggest that there’s not a transformation opportunity for telcos.  That would be a wrong conclusion… and here’s why.   At the moment, the telco’s reach stops at the router or other terminating device.  But imagine if they start ‘owning’ the sensor device;  they’re suddenly becoming the owner of the complete pipe from sensor to application.  How is that transformational?  Because of the word ‘Trillions’ (as in the title of the book by the folks from Maya Labs)… which hints at the sheer scale of the device business.  Does this suggest that telcos will build these sensors?  Absolutely not… in exactly the same way that they don’t build the router;  they buy in bulk and lease to their customers (making a profit in doing this).  We see the telcos potentially become the customer support interface to these devices – for the individual, for the home and for the business.

But let’s return to the information supply chain context of this.  What would a telco do with the information?  Clearly, there are internal uses, particularly in terms of having a real-time view of mobile device locations for things like location-based advertising.  But that’s what Google, Bing and to a lesser extent Yahoo are far better equipped to do.  Will telcos want to invest to compete with these huge players?  I believe it’s more likely they will regard just the device leasing opportunities as transformational enough.

Information Companies

Let’s move on to the information companies;  Google, Microsoft (Bing) and Yahoo.  Of these, I’m tempted to dismiss Bing and Yahoo because they simply don’t compete with Google in that raw information space… but of course, that ‘transformation’ word implies an opportunity to change market dynamics.  So what does the Internet of Things mean to information companies?  Again, I’m going to turn to the information supply chain since it provides such powerful insights.  How do information companies gather their information?  The vast bulk of that information is built by crawling the web to index the flood of information being posted into the public web.  There’s immediately an issue since only 4% of the web is public.  The ‘deep web’ represents approximately 96% of the digital universe.  We’ve designed LINQ to be able to traverse between the public web and deep web;  tracing information supply chains as the information flows from the web to the enterprise… and deeper.

The deep web is going to get a whole lot deeper with the advent of the Internet of Things.  Most of those devices are going to need to be protected;  security is one of the hot topics that will make or break the Internet of Things.  But that’s a huge advantage of tracing information supply chains.   We only need metadata – the data describing the information and device in order to document the information supply chain.  The information itself isn’t required and we only need a minimum of metadata to represent that new source of information.  Moreover, the LINQ representation doesn’t need to be public; we can store information supply chains securely.

Information companies are already equipped to handle the extension of their information supply chains.  Indeed, by adding the supply chain context to indexed information, it becomes possible to expose the genealogy of the information, potentially giving a renewed sense of confidence about whether to trust information sources.  They also arguably have the most to gain since the Internet of Things moves Local Search to Individual Search.

The Societal Dimension

We don’t need to look too far back in the history of IT to recognise how fast growing new industries create change in society.  Using just three examples, Microsoft, Google and Facebook have each become vast companies that have changed our world  from office productivity to information access to social networking.  The societal impacts have been profound and have created new concerns about security and privacy.

We should anticipate that history will repeat.  Who knows what revolutionary new companies will rise on the back of the Internet of Things.  Microsoft, Google and Facebook might care to keep their eyes firmly in the rear view mirror as they contemplate how they might take advantage of the Internet of Things… a new player might just be emerging to conquer the Internet of Things.   In an earlier paragraph, I’d mentioned the Trillions book.   That book uses the analogy of scaling ‘Mount PC’ which represents the history of the personal computing revolution.  ‘Mount Trillions’ needs to be much bigger and involve a wide range of new computing paradigms.  Those who got to the summit of Mount PC might be ill-equipped to scale Mount Trillions…

Those concerns about security and privacy can only grow as the Internet of Things sees sensors in cars, homes, offices and even in (or at least on) people capable of reporting location, speed, home habits, work habits and personal habits to…  to where?   As I’ve embraced the Internet of Things in pushing my driving and health information into ‘the cloud’ I’ve been fairly relaxed about privacy issues.  But that’s only because my car insurance and health insurance companies have hopefully chosen not to base my premiums on a real-time view of my speed (probably a tad high for my car insurer; probably a bit sedentary for my health provider).  If they chose to abuse their power and snoop into my habits, I’d likely become a lot less relaxed.

We believe that transparency around Information Supply Chains can help to alleviate some concerns.  (At this point, I’m not trying to reach to the conspiracy theorists…  all we can do is alleviate rational concerns).  Information supply chains are interesting when we look at the transformation of information from source to decision support – think of it as the genealogy of information.  We can for example look at schemas as they change as information flows from source (my fitness sensor) to decision support (a potential insurance company application).

At source, that fitness sensor has a ton of information that is personal to me;  I want to see the information in MY decision support application (I must do more exercise).  I’m comfortable with some of the non-personal information being used to help society as a whole get healthier but what I want to see in that broader information supply chain is my personal information getting stripped out leaving just anonymised information for exploitation by health advocacy groups, public policy organisations and potentially even advertisers.  There’s no other view of IT which conveys that intuitive picture of how my personal information gets protected.

Clearly, in collecting just the metadata, there’s a risk of the recombination of information to re-personalise this anonymised data.   Again by exploring information supply chains, not only can we potentially understand how to aggregate information more powerfully, we can understand how to defend against this happening.

 The Enterprise Dimension

It is ‘the enterprise’ which offers the biggest return on investments in the Internet of Things.   For the private sector, the Internet of Things has the potential to increase profitability, improve customer experiences and become more agile.  By completing the decision cycle with more sensors providing feedback from people, vehicles, homes and offices, analysis of the resulting ‘big data’ becomes richer and more insightful, and strategy and operations can become grounded in a reality that has previously been unachievable.

But ironically, in our experience, it is often the enterprise which becomes paralysed in an inability to understand how transformation can be enabled by IT.  We believe firmly that the ‘languages’ used to describe the various aspects of IT create the paralysis that prevents transformation.  The CIO uses data modelling languages to describe information; the CTO uses enterprise architecting descriptions of the systems; the COO uses business process modelling to try and understand the processes (we refer to these as ‘actions’)… and HR uses various approaches to describe the people.  With the possible exception of the HR aspect, these are all highly technical languages that make absolutely no sense to the CEO or CFO.  When we try and cross the language barriers, the results are even more challenging descriptions.  So we’re left clinging to ‘business outcomes’ which can only ever be described in evolutionary rather than revolutionary terms; technology becomes the servant of ‘the way we’ve always done things’ instead of the enabler of transformation.

So we see organisations struggling to transition from yesterday’s Internet of Computers to today’s Internet of People.  In all too many cases, that transition has failed to realise the potential of people accessing intuitively presented information through a range of devices.  The notion that these organisations should begin to explore tomorrow’s Internet of Things is…  laughable.

We’re finding that LINQ is providing a new way of describing IT infrastructures.  It doesn’t replace any of the existing tools;  rather it provides a lens which exposes the relationships between information, actions, people and systems.  By describing these relationships in terms of information supply chains, we have a language which the CEO and CFO instinctively understand.

At the heart of the information supply chain is the notion that actions create information that is consumed by actions to generate derived information… and so on until the information is in the form of a decision support application.  Systems are used by people to perform actions;  systems automate actions; systems provide information.  But the role of systems and people is described in terms of enabling the efficient and effective flow of information.

A key implication of doing this is that a lot of emotion is taken out of discussions.  When people and systems are seen in terms of enabling an information supply chain, we find it kills off the emotive change resistance (this is the way we’ve always done this;  this isn’t the way our preferred vendor would do it) and conversations transition to opportunities to improve efficiency or eliminating risk.

We’re already helping organisations become reinvigorated to make that transition to the Internet of People… and to begin having informed discussions about the transformational opportunities of the Internet of Things.

We’d welcome your thoughts and inputs.  Please let us know how we can help you figure out the Internet of Things.

Download the LINQ White Paper