The Internet of Things: Welcome to the Global Computer

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April 2014
In This Issue:

"Of all the different types of technological change we have experienced in the last 1,000 years, it is the technologies of information and communications that seem to most capture our imaginations."

-- Joseph Feller, Editor

At the moment, the Internet is buzzing with folks who are disappointed that the year 2015 (in which the late 1980's film Back to the Future: Part II is set) is upon us, and there is not a single flying skateboard in sight.

I'm not too upset myself; after all, futurists often get the little details wrong. However, they just as often get the "big ideas" right. I'm not talking about Back to the Future now, but rather about other future thinkers, such as Richard Buckminster Fuller who coined the term "Spaceship Earth" in the late 1960s to capture the reality of you and me and the rest of our fellow "astronauts" living together in a tightly interconnected, physically confined, and resource-limited vessel hurtling rapidly through space. 1 Fuller's ideas have had widespread and diverse influence, from environmental conservationism to nanotechnological engineering to the holistic systems thinking that is so important to the world of information and communications technology.

Fuller's ideas would also later influence Disney in the development of Epcot Center's iconic attraction: that enormous golf ball-shaped ride, Spaceship Earth. Importantly, the ride (a time-traveling journey through humanity's technological evolution) was originally sponsored by Bell, then by AT&T, then by Siemens. I say "importantly," because it suggests to me a critical human tendency. Namely, of all the different types of technological change we have experienced in the last 1,000 years, it is the technologies of information and communications that seem to most capture our imaginations.

Which brings me to my point: flying skateboards or not, the future is indeed upon us. Specifically, two recent trends in the IT world convince me that we are now -- more than 40 years post-Fuller -- doing some truly radical reengineering to the onboard systems of Spaceship Earth.

The first trend is augmented reality (AR). A few years ago, I wrote a series of Executive Updates for Cutter's Data Insight & Social BI practice exploring the phenomenon of AR, 2 in which I argued that augmented reality posed us with the enormous challenge of learning "how to program the world itself." But AR is only half of the picture, focused largely on the "software" side of the equation and concerned with the layering, integration, and embedding of information and interactivity over, with, and within the "real" world. The other half of the picture -- and the second key trend -- deals with our new global "hardware": the ubiquitous rollout of interconnected devices and smart nodes that we call the "Internet of Things" (IoT). In short, AR and IoT seem ready to convert our home, metaphorically at least, from a spaceship into a giant computational platform.

So, as the title of this issue of Cutter Benchmark Review proclaims, welcome to the global computer. In this installment of CBR, we explore current attitudes toward the Internet of Things as well as adoption of, and activities within, the IoT.

As always, this issue of CBR relies on a combination of fresh-from-the-field data (a survey of Cutter's clients and the wider business community) and diverse perspectives (the experiences and insights of our authors, who are all expert researchers, analysts, and practitioners).

Our first article comes from my academic colleagues Dr. Rob Gleasure and Dr. Simon Woodworth, both lecturers in business information systems at University College Cork (UCC), Ireland. Rob is a first-time CBR author and, in my experience, an incredibly versatile thinker and scholar. Both his teaching and his research cover a wide range of topics, from electronic business models to software engineering, and from the intersection of neuroscience and information systems to the power, wisdom, and wealth of crowds.

Simon is cut from a similar cloth. Simon spent the first 15 years of his career in the telecom sector before taking up the academic path, and has proven himself to be an effective teacher and researcher in a variety of areas, such as mobile programming and development (he has written some excellent articles on the topic for both CBR and Cutter IT Journal [CITJ]) and software architecture. He is a Senior Researcher in UCC's Health Information Systems Research Centre, and it was the implications and applications in the health and medical spaces that first attracted Simon to the Internet of Things.

The main focus of Rob and Simon's article examines the relationship between knowledge and value on the one hand, and action and value on the other. They present an insightful account of "paralysis by analysis" in the IoT context and propose three pragmatic strategies for overcoming the same: experimentation, extension, and observation.

Complementing their article, although offering a slightly different take on the IoT, is our practitioner article from Cutter Senior Consultant Claude R. Baudoin and Matt Ganis, an IBM Senior Technical Staff Member within the IBM CIO organization and a member of the ibm.com architecture team.

Claude needs no introduction to the Cutter community, which has benefitted the last several years from his insight into social media, knowledge management, service-oriented architecture, cloud computing, and many other subjects. At the start of 2014, along with Cutter Senior Consultant Giancarlo Succi, Claude helped kick off a new volume of CBR with an article about our application programming interfaces (API) survey. Both in that issue and this one, his decades of experience in consulting, analyzing, and writing about technology and business is clear to see.

His coauthor this time around is new to CBR but not to Cutter. Matt has written articles in the past for CITJ on social media analytics (in fact, he is the Chief Architect for IBM's internal social media analysis initiative) and also on Agile methods (he is a Certified Scrum Professional). Matt is an accomplished writer and editor, and we certainly benefit from his insights in this issue.

Claude and Matt open with a discussion of terms and definitions, a key part of coming to grips with any emerging space (we're still not in agreement on what we mean, for example, by "open innovation" or "Web 2.0"), followed by a quick look at how much our respondents said they knew about, and spent on, the IoT. The rest of the article digs deeply into the data, presenting a rich picture of what respondents think about the usefulness of the IoT, the value its applications create, and the challenges associated with capturing that value. I walked away from their article with a keen understanding of our survey panel's general attitudes toward this disruptive technology space.

Both articles present an excellent mix of observations, analysis, and advice that CBR readers have come to rely on. Enjoy the read!

ENDNOTES

1 Fuller, R. Buckminster. Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. Southern Illinois University Press, 1969.

2 Feller, Joseph. "Programming the World: Parts I-III." Cutter Consortium Data Insight & Social BI Executive Update, Vol. 12, No. 18, 2012; and Vol. 13, Nos. 7 and 15, 2013.

ABOUT THE EDITOR

Of all the different types of technological change we have experienced in the last 1,000 years, it is the technologies of information and communications that seem to most capture our imaginations. In this installment of CBR, we explore current attitudes toward the Internet of Things as well as adoption of, and activities within, the IoT.