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Smart Grid Part 2: What is a Connected Product?

  
  
  

It’s four days post Hurricane Irene. Here in Foxboro, MA, we have trees down everywhere and the town is still without power.  I have to admit, I assumed that the storm was a big non-event once it went west and weakened.  WRONG!  One of my neighbors had four trees fall down – all on his house.  What are the odds of that?   As bad as it was around here, it was nothing compared to what happened in Vermont – Massachusetts is counting itself lucky.

In my last blog, (Is the Smart Grid Dumb?) I talked about a consumer centric approach to smart grid that is built on the concept of a Connected Product.  In the conclusion, I talked about how Connected Products could serve a world of applications, even ones such as smart grid.  This blog digs further into that concept.

WARNING: This section may get a little technical – I’ll try to keep it English.  

Background:

Computer scientists use a term call “Services” to describe capabilities that a particular application provides that can be utilized by others. In the past, this was called an Application Programming Interface, or API for short. Services have been around forever. When you run an application, like word, on an operating system like Microsoft Windows, the application is using the services provided by the operating system to do its job.   

The word-wide web is comprised of many sites. Each site has an address, like Amazon.com and Weather.com. Many of these sites expose little pieces of functionality that can be leveraged by the developer of another web site. For example weather.com has a full set of services that can be used to find local weather. If you expand the concept across the entire world of web sites, there is a site that does almost anything you could possibly want to do that can save you tremendous amount of time and energy. Want to send a text message notification to someone? Twitter can do that. Want to send them a voice message? Try Twilio. These sites perform useful functions that can be accessed programmatically as well as via a traditional browser.

To facilitate easy utilization of these services, standards have evolved that govern the way that services are published and consumed. These services are called, appropriately enough, Web Services.

A modern web site will have an architectural stack that looks something like this:

modern Site architecture.emf 

You put a bunch of the sites together, all doing their thing, you have the Cloud.

Still with me?

Extending Cloud Architecture to Products

Now lets take the cloud architecture of modern web sites and extend it to everyday products. One way to do this would be to take the architecture of the cloud down to the product. The old website in the toaster guys though this way. It never took off!   
The better way is to bring the products to the cloud and enable each and every one of them to start acting like a major web site. The picture below shows the general idea…

connected architecture.emf

The general gist is that each product gains a virtual representation of itself in the cloud. That virtual representation can be interacted with via web services just like a major site. In effect, each product becomes like amazon.com – a fully functioning element in the cloud.

In the Cloud? Now What?

Once that product is in the cloud everything is possible. It is now a Connected Product. Connected Products are publishers of services. Want your product to participate in the smart grid? It publishes a series of services that manage it’s power consumption. Want it to play well with others in its operational environment? It publishes services to interact with its operational behavior. Once these services are published, standard web tools can be used to develop applications that interact with the product and extend it functionality. Those applications can be developed to run in the cloud – web site like, a smart phone like Apple’s iPhone or Google’s Android. You name it, it’s possible.

In effect, we have taken a humble product in the wild and brought it to a place where its power can be harnessed.

Not Finished Yet!
Next comes the tricky part – user logins and product security… How does a vending machine become MY VENDING MACHINE!

To avoid potential brain melting – that will have to wait for another day…

Worlds First Cloud Telematics Platform

  
  
  

Yesterday Axeda and Walsh Wireless announced an alliance for Cloud Telematics Solutions.   Quoting from this release:

“Through this collaboration, enterprises now have access to a flexible cloud platform that enables them to layer value-added applications on top of the real-time data coming from vehicles.”

In the past enterprises had two choices:

  1. Pick a pre-canned point solution that did one thing and one thing only
  2. Write a complete solution from scratch

With this announcement, Axeda and Walsh have provided a third & better choice:  A solution that combines the ease of deployment and consumption of a point solution with the flexibility and fit of a solution built from the ground up.

Today’s enterprise is a complex labyrinth of business processes.   Each business processes enables the organization to perform a key task – both reliably and at scale.   The biggest challenge for traditional telematics solutions has been plugging into that labyrinth of business processes.   With the Axeda/Walsh alliance, that challenge has now been overcome!   What was once impossible is now EASY.

In my title, I called the product of the alliance a Telematics Platform.   For me platforms make hard things easy, impossible things possible, and provide leverage throughout the entire technical solution stack.   I can’t wait to see the type and scale of solutions are enabled by this collaboration!  What are your thoughts about the possibilities?

 

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M2M Point Solutions are “Pointless"

  
  
  

The general problem with point solutions is that they are point solutions.  

Point solutions, as a rule, do a good job solving the specific problems they were designed to solve.   The flip side is that they do nothing else.  Point solutions just aren’t designed to look beyond their silo.Moobella

For a modern enterprise – that’s a big problem!

A modern enterprise could contain hundreds of M2M point solutions.   These point solutions represent islands of information that will prevent full organizational efficiency from being achieved.  

Remember how hard it was to get your sales force automation system to talk to your financial system.   A million dollars, a bunch of high priced consultants, and maybe you’ll get a simple integration.   (Oh by the way, it will break as soon one of the systems is upgraded.)

Now what happens if you want your fleet management system to integrate with your vending management system and both of them to interact with your supply chain automation system -> sounds like a problem.

A better solution for M2M is to base all of your organization’s device (or product) interactions and applications on a single M2M platform.   An M2M platform acts as a system of record for all real-time device communication.  It provides shape to those real-time data sources and gives them a web-orientated programmable representation.   In effect, an M2M platform normalizes an organization’s device interactions and provides a hub for organizational optimization.  

The real power of M2M is using one real-time source of information to automate a myriad of business processes.   A single source of M2M data will likely touch many aspects of your business – the last thing that you want is to go to the trouble instrumenting your devices - only to find their use is limited.  

For M2M - think platform.

The "Key" to M2M

  
  
  

After the demise of my wife’s last car (shot transmission at 99,800 miles - sad but true) – we purchased a new Toyota Highlander Hybrid.   Aside from the very cool hybrid technology which provides for silent driving, my favorite part of the car is its key.Wireless Key

The key mechanism on the Highlander is completely wireless.   With the key in your pocket, walk up to your locked car, put your hand on the handle, and then open.   Sit down in the car, press the start button, and voila - the car springs to life.   I find this key to be a great example of rethinking a function that we all take for granted – for the better.  

BUT … There is always a but … 

I really don’t want an additional wireless gizmo to carry around.   The “real key” in my life is now my smart phone.   I get into the same car and magically my phone pairs with the car and enables hands free phoning.   I can browse my address book, place and receive phone calls, with no additional steps.   

The key unfortunately reminds me of a car I purchased in 2002 that came with its own phone.   The car integrated beautifully with that phone – unfortunately, that phone was horrible and was years behind what I was already using.   I ended up with two phones, neither of which gave me the experience for which I was actually looking. 

Consider this: have you ever misplaced your keys?   I personally have left them in every corner of my house.   I have washed them, thrown them away, chilled them, locked them in the car & even jumped into the ocean with them – you name it, I’ve done it.  I am willing to say that in the grand scheme of things,  the amount of time that I have spend hunting for the various keys in my life  is dramatically worse than the inconvenience that I have experienced by not being able to use my car phone.   

What I would really like is to nix the key and replace it with my smart phone.  I already know that my phone can talk to the car – why can’t it do just a little more? 

Furthermore, I can now grant access to my car for other phones in my family – no more $300 keys!   If a phone gets lost or stolen - I’ll disable it.   I can’t do that with the hardware key.   Let’s take it one more step … Let’s imagine that my car is wirelessly enabled – now I can use my phone to start and heat up the car without going outside. All the administration associated with my keys I’ll do in the cloud.   In short - no more key chains - just my phone …

Now if you take this to the next level, think about all of the things that we carry around today that could and should be replaced with my smart phone.

  • Loyalty cards
  • Credit Cards
  • Garage door openers
  • TV, DVD, Cable remote controls
  • Pictures 

Frankly, anything in my wallet could and should be replaced by my smart phone.  I see a future where there are no more wallets, no purses, no keys, no cash, no change …  Paul Jacobs, the CEO of Qualcomm, calls the phone the remote control for our lives.   If I can use this remote to spend less time searching for the way to start my car in the morning – I’m all in!

2 Billion New Voices!

  
  
  

Live from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona …

2  Billion New Voices!

I was blown away by a comment that Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, made in his keynote yesterday at Mobile World Congress.   Eric said “Over two billion new people will join the Internet in the next two years” … He went on to add (this one I’m paraphrasing) “think about the possibilities - two billion new voices that have never been part of the conversation:  What will they say?   What will they contribute?   How will the planet change through their participation?”

I found this thought amazingly exciting.  Think about it … through the mobile Internet, people living in areas without modern facilities, sewers, roads, and even schools will have the opportunity to access a world of information.   They will have an opportunity to have their voices heard.   They will be hard to ignore!  Will people rise up and change their condition …  think Egypt …  

I was traveling in India a couple of years ago and I remember seeing a young child standing in an alley - just watching the traffic go by.   The child was school age, but was not attending school.   The look on his face – hopeless…   kid

I’m excited to think that Eric’s comment could help bring a world of information to that young child.   What will that child have to say?   Could he be the next Gandhi?   The next Einstein?   A diamond in the rough just needing an opportunity to shine?

Improving the human condition - this is the real value and purpose of the Internet.   I for one – want to hear what that child has to say!

 

Live from Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona, Spain

  
  
  

Live from Mobile World Congress … 

Topic of today’s session: “Biggest hurdle in the transition to the mobile cloud – User Trust (59%)”

OK, I am blown away by Fabrizio Capobianco, President of Funambol’s opening statement. Remember that this is a cloud forum, but, and I quote, “I will not put my baby pictures on the cloud because I don’t want someone to make money on me.” It was an ultrasound picture.

Did someone just drop me onto Mars? Do people really worry about this? Perhaps it is because many of us are in Cloud Central in the U.S. and we understand the benefits of having places to share our photos, movies, and activities with our loved ones and friends. For that value, we are willing to sacrifice some level of control on our personal activity to fund the very services that we utilize. Hmmmm…

OK, now Huawei is talking about clouds. David Bernstein is observing that we have many clouds, such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, plus many, many more. David notes that consumers want only one cloud—not many. He is drawing the analogy that having multiple clouds is equivalent to the days when CompuServe, Prodigy, and America Online were alive. The general consensus is that new protocols are needed to enable cloud interoperability. Hmmm…I’m thinking that Web Services (RESTful with JSON for you techies in the audience) is the answer to this. Wow! A lot of people are working on this problem, but is it really a problem? There are hungry people out there, guys.

OK, moving onto Microsoft and Richard Ang, CTO of the Communications Sector. Richard is talking about the cloud trends that we would be familiar with in the U.S. One phrase of his that I like is “Digital Turns Social.”  Sharing our information is only the first step. The consumption of that information by others creates a social context. Ultimately, it is the social experience that is overpowering all our other fears, particularly privacy.

OK, I’m off to Google. Stay tuned for more posts…

We Have Seen the Light – and its Name is CLOUD!

  
  
  

Microsoft Pickets Salesforce.com at Cloudforce

It made me think!   Why is Microsoft picketing salesforce.com.  Could it be that they don’t like what the cloud is doing to their business?  Could it be that cloud computing will demolish IT as we know it?   Could it be that Microsoft has figured out that they are a dinosaur?   Hmmm…

Today millions of people and an entire ecosystem of companies selling billions of dollars worth of goods are involved in an activity that history will paint as the rough equivalent to “sticking a needle in your eye.”  

 Picture this:

  • You allocate a significant percentage of your people and dollars and have them work on things that are out of your core competency
  • Once you have done that, start buying parts that you have to put together, operate, and be totally responsible for
  • And for the cherry on the top – you will have to pay the companies that sold you the bag of parts just to pick up the phone when you call

Sound like a good deal?

No way! Yet, I would say that is a fair description of the global IT market as it is today – and it’s painful!      

Benefit can be derived, but high costs, risks, and distractions to your core business are CRAZY OUT OF CONTROL!

The way I look at it, IT in its current incarnation is going the way of the dodo bird.   The global pervasive network called the Internet allows us to consume our IT in a better way – hosted and operated in the cloud by companies who make it their business to do it well.  And the best part, if you don’t like it, you change.   No bag of parts, no big capital expenditures to hold on to, no regrets.  You can even call them without having to pay something extra.   It’s all good.

Over the next 10 years – the “old” tech companies will either completely reinvent themselves or perish!   This is their buggy whip-to-automobile moment.   Cloud is it – it’s cheaper, better, and easier.   

So to Microsoft – I am sorry – we will not go back to the old ways.   We have seen the light – and its name is CLOUD!

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