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Disrupting with AI & IoT: Who owns the data?

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IoT & the data it will generate is going to disrupt businesses – both in a good and a bad way. CNN Tech covered how a tomato grower is leveraging sensors, IoT and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to increase yields, eventually, as much as 20%. When you are growing millions of pounds of tomatoes a year – this is a significant number.

NatureSweet has six tomato farms in US and Mexico. They have deployed AI technology from an Israeli digital farming company Prospera. Prospera uses imaging to detect issues related to farming such as insect infestations or dying plants. Prospera technology has enabled 24/7 monitoring of the plants in contrast to once a week manual inspection.

Undoubtedly as time goes by the Prospera system is going to improve with real world plant data, and NatureSweet would benefit. However the ownership of the plant data being obtained by the Prospera system could also benefit other tomato growers.

I posit that contractual ownership of data, and the resulting gains in algorithmic efficiency would be key to either disrupt or be disrupted. In the beginning NatureSweet would have an advantage over competition – improved yields leading to increased profitability but as the Prospera solution enhances it could enable NatureSweet’s competition to benefit.

Note – the video that autoplays is for another digital farming company – Bowery and NOT for NatureSweet or Prospera.

Written by Ashu Joshi

August 13, 2017 at 3:04 pm

Can AI & IoT save retail?

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Image Credit: Bloomberg / Credit Suisse

Late Q1 2017 saw a spate of news on the coming “retail apocalypse”:

Business Insider: The retail apocalypse has officially descended on America

Bloomberg: America’s Retailers Are Closing Stores Faster Than Ever

The Atlantic: What in the World Is Causing the Retail Meltdown of 2017?

Bloomberg research indicates that 2017 could see up to 8,640 store closings (extrapolated) in contrast to the peak of 6,200 in 2008. Some of the retail chains such as Payless are declaring bankruptcy and closing many stores, and many others are just closing to stay ahead of bankruptcy. And there is class of retailers such as Kenneth Cole trying to reinvent themselves as e-commerce brands.

BI has a nice chart on store closings by retailer:

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The Atlantic attributes the decline of brick and mortar to three reasons:

  1. Growth of e-commerce – more people buying online
  2. Glut of malls – just too many malls especially in the US
  3. Rise of the experience – American consumers shifting habits from materialism to experience

And per BI the decline in the fortunes of brick & mortar retailers is not because of the rise of Amazon:

“It’s mathematically impossible for it to be Amazon’s fault,” Stephens said.

Online sales are growing rapidly — up 15% in the most recent quarter compared to 4% for total retail sales.

But total e-commerce sales account for just 8.5% of overall retail sales in the US. The other 91.5% of purchases are still made in brick-and-mortar stores, according to the US Census Bureau.

The same article outlines the three reasons as above (the Atlantic post) for the decline and closings.

The bottomline from all of these reportings is that for retailers to compete, and grow – they have to improve the customer experience both online and offline. It is the offline part that could stand to benefit from both IoT & AI.

At the beginning of the year at the NRF there were a slew of announcements by technology companies – dominated by how IoT – specifically technologies like RFID can improve the in-store experience for consumers. Intel, JDA, Honeywell, Zebra, IBM – and many others made a push for IoT to improve retail business – top and bottom line.

Intel & Honeywell announced a collaborative solution to:

“To succeed in the e-commerce world, retailers need to invest in connected solutions and harness the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) to track inventory and gain insights into customer shopping habits,” said John Waldron, president and CEO, Safety and Productivity Solutions business, Honeywell. “The collaboration between Honeywell and Intel will provide a platform for future technology developments to leverage both firms’ expertise in capturing and analyzing enterprise data. We look forward to working with Intel on industry-leading solutions this year.”

In an interview with Forbes, ex-CEO Baljit Dail of JDA had to say this:

Given these business trends, the things that we focus on, from a technology perspective, are things like machine learning, predictive analytics, trying to understand what the demand is in the market place. We spend a lot of time on IoT, working with a variety of different folks to get signals from different devices. A good example is our partnership with Intel on something called store optimizers. Intel has technology that is sprayed onto the label like an RFID tag. We can put in the chief RFID reader in the store, and then using our in-store technology, we can figure out what is happening to the inventory and direct the store associates.

We work with a some apparel companies. One of their big issues is that they have out of stocks on the shelf, and it is not because the inventory is sitting at the back of the store, and it is not a case of they did not get the shipment from the distribution center. The issue is that the inventory is sitting in the fitting room. What happened is, if people try it on, but they do not purchase it, they leave it in the fitting room. We have the RFID reader talking to our in-store systems, and we can send a note to the store associate and say, “Unless you are serving a customer, you need to go to the fitting room and get three of the green, large sweaters, pack them up, and put them back on the shelf because you are down to one on the shelf.” That’s another example where we’re leveraging IoT.

JDA has had a change of leadership but if you look at their new team – they come extensive IoT-oriented backgrounds – and I believe JDA would continue to look upon both IoT & AI to deliver better retail software solutions to their customers.

Other companies are also foraying to cater their products with IoT-centric solutions for the retail industry. For example, lighting companies such as Acuity Brands are trying to improve the consumer experience as well as help the retailer with proximity solutions:

Acuity Brands delivers embedded Indoor Positioning technology within wirelessly controlled LED luminaires, allowing retailers to save considerable energy and maintenance costs, while deriving highly accurate, real-time location of loyal customers, employees and critical assets. Acuity Brands has leveraged the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to deliver an affordable, scalable and secured IoT infrastructure to address multiple business needs.

Virtually every article, tweet, opinion you read on the future talks about enhancing the consumer experience as a strategy to grow the retail business. Smart Lighting companies such as Acuity are trying to leverage proximity sensing, data analytics to do both – improve the in-store shopping experience and help the retailer things such as stock outs on the shelf.

Other technology companies are helping reduce cost by optimizing their supply chain – solutions from Intel and Honeywell fall into this category. And these solutions are being driven by IoT and Big Data / AI.

Yes, IoT & AI can help retailers but it’s a Catch-22 situation. Retailers need to invest in technology – and with shrinking revenue & profits they have limited funds to do so. This, of course, puts the investments being made by technology companies in jeopardy.

 

Written by Ashu Joshi

August 13, 2017 at 10:49 am

Big Consulting Cos and IoT Platforms

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Platforms dominate the conversation when it comes to the IoT.  Consulting companies, who thrive on providing their expertise and analysis on all things technology, have weighed in on the advantages & disadvantages of IoT platforms.

These companies have limited information available publicly. Here is an overview of what the three of the big consulting companies think about them:

Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

In a blog post titled “Who Will Win the IoT Platform Wars?”, BCG outlines key factors in selecting the IoT Platform:

Select a fully capable platform – According to BCG’s definition of an IoT platform, most IoT platforms are not really platforms – they are partial offerings. And hence the need for selecting a platform carefully.

Evaluate your risk appetite – given that majority of the platforms are provided by startups – BCG warns about stability and security of the platform provider.

Match the platform to your developers’ skills – BCG recommends that careful attention should be paid to the programming environment of an IoT platform and how it matches or not the software skills of your own development team.

Consider openness and ease of integration – whether the platforms supports modular and easy to use APIs, and easy-to-integrate framework to fit with existing IT architecture

Select the platform business model that fits your needs – BCG gets into the ability of platforms to provide more than horizontal services and addressing specific vertical use cases.

The blog post (even though it is dated June 2017, months after several important Edge related announcements) has a glaring omission around Edge Processing and Compute or Fog Computing.

McKinsey

McKinsey in a blog post titled “Making sense of Internet of Things platforms” outlines 10 questions to ask before choosing an IoT Platform. 3 of these questions are centered around Applications, 1 of them is on Infrastructure and 2 of them around Edge process/control.

Application environment – stresses on the importance of applications provided with the platform – in some respect this identifies with vertical use-case factor outlined by BCG – because applications are typically use-case specific. This factor includes integration capabilities with the Enterprise IT.

Data ingestion and wrangling – this factor stresses on ensuring that the data management and processing capabilities match the needs of the companies use cases.

Ownership of cloud infrastructure – in summary this factor delves into ensuring that the the company’s cloud strategy is aligned with that of the IoT platform.

Data sovereignty and security – this factor is somewhat related to the cloud infrastructure but is listed separately – this delves into where the IoT data is stored, and how does that relate to the data protection, privacy and security requirements of your company.

Edge processing and control – the importance of distributing the application code and data between the edge (closer to the devices and things) and the cloud.

Accenture

Accenture’s approach is different from McKinsey and BCG – they have built their own IoT platform. “IoT Platforms – The engines for agile innovation at scale” document published by Accenture outlines the following three important factors of an IoT platform:

Component library – a curated library of interoperable components that allows for rapid prototyping

Component capture – a semantics-based method for capturing new components or adapting existing ones so they are interoperable

Component configuration – a mechanism that simplifies the user’s ability to compose, configure and deploy components to create a new application.

Accenture has built several apps that are vertical specific on top of their platform. The PDF gets into how they built these apps on the platform.

Bottomline – each approach has a certain degree of overlap, however it is clear that all three of them have ensured that there strategy and recommendations on IoT platforms are unique & differentiated from other consulting companies.

12 Thoughts on the Eclipse IoT Developer Survey

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The Eclipse IoT foundation published results of IoT developer survey – this is the third annual installment. Eclipse IoT, under its umbrella, has several significant open-source IoT projects. And if you have not looked at it – it is definitely worth checking out and to be considered for your IoT development strategy.

I would strongly recommending reviewing the survey and also signing up for a virtual meetup that they are hosting to discuss these results. It has very good insights into the state of IoT from a developer perspective. I must admit that I kept intending to fill in the survey myself but despite several reminders ultimately never filled it!.

I would certainly be leveraging the trends in this survey in formulating my strategy with the following thoughts/observations:

  1. Distributed Software: IoT applications are distributed across Sensor (Device / Thing etc.), Gateway (Edge/Fog/Hub) and Cloud. This year’s survey has the feedback split across the above three. And that’s the right way to look at it because each aspect requires different approach, perspective and strategy.
  2. Stats 101: Note that the percentages do NOT add up to 100, keep that in mind as you look at the look at them. This is, probably, because it reflects reality – there is no single correct answer. This also, probably, points to a trend that there are multiple projects going on or multiple products being worked on by the same set of developers.
  3. Javascript is #1 in Cloud: I came to a different conclusion than the survey. Javascript, NOT Java is the #1 language used for IoT for the Cloud. I expect that trend only to accelerate. The reason I claim that is that the survey results are split in Javascript AND Node.js. Node.js is a framework (for a lack of better word in the context of this article) – Javascript is the language. The only discrepancy I can think of is that Javascript may refer to pure User Interface or Web Interface development?  The numbers on Gateway are also split into JS and Node.js – and when you put them together – it is higher than C/Python/C++.  And by that token – Javascript is #2 as a choice of programming language on IoT Gateways.
  4. Linux dominates: Raspbian and Ubuntu are winners. Canonical would be very happy or probably already knows this since they are ditching the smartphone/tablet focus and switching over to IoT. I am pleasantly surprised that it dominates constrained devices as well. Reading between the lines – the popularity of Raspberry Pi as a prototyping devices drives Raspbian?
  5. IoT HW Architecture: The percentages do not represent device or gateway volumes. This is important to bear in mind especially when you look at the results for IoT Hardware architectures. For example 32.9% of developers use Intel x86_64 for Gateways – to state the obvious – these are not 32.9% of gateways but the number of developers.
  6. Cloud Programming: Ruby On Rails is missing? No mention of RoR in the IoT Cloud. (May be the option did not exist in the survey).
  7. Machine Learning (Slide #32): Interesting to note that 29.5% of developers claim that they are building machine learning.
  8. Cloud Services for IoT: No IoT platform other than GE Predix made this – e.g. no PTC. (this is a blog post in itself given the huge number of IoT platforms out there).
  9. Connectivity Protocols: This actually mixes both – transport or medium of connectivity and also the ‘data’ protocol. To give an example – Cellular, from a developer perspective, is IP (Internet Protocol). Same with Wifi & Ethernet yet TCP/IP is broken out separately. Zigbee & Thread are mapped to IEEE 802.15.4. This is important to keep in mind because you can’t easily split IoT into black and white categories. There is shades of grey all around.
  10. Messaging Protocols – yet another sign – there is absolutely no point in trying to get to one standard – the use case should drive if you want to use HTTP, MQTT, XMPP, CoAP etc.
  11. Industrial Protocols – this is a great slide. It would be interesting to dig into what “None” really implies – does it imply that it is proprietary?
  12. Leading Indicators – these results are leading indicators – of things that are to come. The survey is what the developers are working on (presently or in recent past). And that makes them more interesting because they are indicators of where IoT is heading.

 

 

Written by Ashu Joshi

April 21, 2017 at 3:46 pm

IoT drives strategic diversification, growth & differentiation

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The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to be a game changer for companies to transform their businesses. Here are two great examples:

Insurance

A 150-year old provider of speciality insurance company – Hartford Steam Boiler (HSB) has acquired Meshify last year. HSB is owned by the reinsurance company – Munich Re – which was ranked as the #1 reinsurer in 2015. HSB Ventures is an active investor in the IoT space with investments in Augury, Slice, Helium, Waygum etc.

CEO Greg Barats of HSB has said(just a month before the Meshify acquisition) that “insurers must be ready to embrace the disruption through IoT – or risk being made obsolete by hungrier technology companies”.

Meshify was founded in 2012, and had raised seed money, followed by debt financing (Crunchbase info). It is an interesting strategy. HSB has chosen to acquire and own an IoT platform that aids in critical issues of remote diagnostics, predictive maintenance and equipment monitoring. Meshify is part of HSB’s IoT business – yes an insurance company HSB has an IoT business.

Smart Water

Xylem is a water technology company, spun off originally from ITT in 2011. Their current CEO Patrick Decker (3rd since the spinoff) has been growing Xylem through a series of strategic acquisitions. Last year Xylem acquired Sensus and set the stage for an IoT-driven diversification and growth.

This is a bold move for a company that is not a software or a digital company. It proves the point that IoT can be a strategic differentiator for companies dealing with the ‘physical’ world.

Sensus brings a wide spectrum of “smart” solutions to the Xylem brands (Sensus sales are dominated today by Smart Metering for Electric, Gas & Water utilities). The Sensus division will now be the home for all things ‘analytics’ for all Xylem brands (see link to investor deck). Xylem has a bold vision on how to transform the company with IoT.Xylem also has acquired Visenti (a Smart Water analytics company based out of Singapore) following the Sensus acquisition in November 2016. Sensus in 2015 had acquired a Smart Grid analytics company called Verdeeco.

Bottom line IoT is going to disrupt industries, and visionary companies are getting ahead of the curve by making IoT a key part of their future strategy.

Further Reading

HSB/MunichRe/Meshify & Insurance:

6 Charts Breaking Down How Insurers Are Investing in Tech Startups

HSB Internet of Things (IoT) Vision

Why Hartford Steam Boiler is investing in IoT start-ups

The Startup & Accelerator Moves Of Reinsurance Giants Munich Re & Swiss Re

Xylem/Sensus & Smart Water Resources:

Xylem Transports Patrick Decker From Harsco To Be New President And CEO

Xylem Investor Day Presentation (April 4th 2017)

Written by Ashu Joshi

April 5, 2017 at 5:30 pm

Connectivity and Protocols in IoT: Thoughts on picking the right one

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There’s lots of ways to move from Point A to Point B: trains, ships, and planes. We instinctively assess the logistics of travel by basing our decisions on factors like distance, cost, and urgency.

If we have to ship goods, similar logic comes into play. It is cheaper to plan in advance if you are importing goods from China to the US. If the delivery of a good is important enough, you would have your product air-shipped.

Barring specific nuances, the same approach needs to be taken for picking up IoT protocols and connectivity options.

  • Range between the communicating nodes – for example between the sensor and the gateway.
  • Reliability of signal between the communicating nodes – range alone is not enough.
  • Latency (time it takes from one to another)
  • Throughput/Bandwidth – how much usable information (not the raw rate) can you send through at a time
  • Power Source: is it battery powered or not?
  • Security: while security is extremely critical – it needs to work at a system level based on the rest of the parameters
  • Ease of use, installation and maintenance: these translate to cost, and impact profitability

 

Note – ‘Node’ above implies all types of physical entities involved in interacting and communicating with each other – devices, sensors, gateways, cloud etc.

Things to keep in mind:

Don’t be myopic when making decisions! For example when addressing the cost of the solution – evaluate more than the COGS (cost of goods). Address, for example, costs associated with installation, provisioning and subscription for data network. To quote a British saying – “don’t be penny wise, pound foolish”.

Do make your decision with eyes wide open – tactical business pressures may prevent you from making a strategic decision – do make a note of the reasons and document them. For example if you are reducing requirements to meet a deadline – make a note of it. Be clear on the reasons you are making so as to adapt the architectural evolution of your IoT application.

Don’t get stuck in an analysis / paralysis. This is a counter-point to the first one. Don’t be stuck in an endless cycle of analysis. Take a decision. Ensure that your system design and development approach is in sync with decision. Make sure trials are rapid, especially in real world environments.

Written by Ashu Joshi

December 5, 2016 at 8:11 pm

6 Resources to get started with Web Mapping

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Smartphones and all kinds of GPS-enabled devices are enabling highly accurate location for everything. As consumers with Smartphones, we leverage Web-based Mapping frequently especially for navigation with apps such as Google Maps or Apple Maps.

Location is becoming a critical context to both consumer (e.g. geo-tagged photos) and enterprise applications (e.g. tracking your fleet & assets). Visualizing this information on a map is necessary, and by token understanding Web Mapping is critical.

I have been involved in building a asset tracking solution and personally wanted to delve deeper into the technology behind Web Mapping over the last 4 weeks or so.

Here are the resources I discovered and learnt:

  1. Programming Technology: This is more of a pre-requisite. Javascript is virtually a necessity to get into Web Mapping. You could potentially avoid Javascript by sticking to using SDKs on Smartphones but you are better off with Javascript (and also HTML/CSS as well).
  2. Primer: Study through this excellent set of slides hosted by Maptime.IO. This is the best place to get started. Don’t worry if you have a hard time understanding the first time. Come back to it after sometime if the first going is rough.
  3. The gold standard for web mapping, by far, is Google Maps. Google provides both free and paid developer API services. Google provides APIs for calculating distances, getting directions, and the tiles they have are tremendous source of information. Here is a link to get started with Web Mapping & Google Maps APIs.
  4. Open Source & Crowdsourcing has been at work in the world of Web Mapping as well. Open Street Maps (OSM) is a crowd-funded movement to map the world. The primary challenge for using OSM is that there are places for which the data is still lacking so when you attempt to zoom-in – the information coming is going to lack details. However it is open source, and free. And digging deeper by using OSM will make you an expert at Web Mapping.
  5. The primer would have mentioned about Google Maps and OSM, also something known as Leaflet. I think right after you have gone over the Primer material listed in #2 above, and if you know HTML/CSS/JS – you want to hop over to the Leaflet Tutorial site and start building maps. Leaflet was created by Vladimir Agafonkin – he works at Mapbox.
  6. Mapbox defines itself as – an open source mapping platform for custom designed maps. Check out their site, and I would recommend start with the Mapbox JS Library.

I have built, as a tutorial and learning experience, a web map that leverages Leaflet and OSM to show an interactive map of the US. You can select different overlays on the map for US Population Density, State-by-State Renewable Energy goals and Earthquake data from USGS. You can check it out by clicking the image below or going to https://ashujoshi.github.io/leaflet-maps

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US Interactive Choropleth Map

 

 

Written by Ashu Joshi

November 28, 2016 at 10:02 pm