Q and A: The Current State of IoT With Michael Morton, CTO, Dell Boomi
IoT is getting woven into both our personal and business lives.
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I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Morton, Dell Fellow, and CTO of Dell Boomi, where he drives product direction and innovation. Dell Boomi is an independent business unit of Dell and a leading provider of a unified platform for the connected business upon which many IoT initiatives will be built.
Being disappointed with the lack of progress and use cases around IoT in the past four years, I wanted to get Michael’s thoughts on the current and future state of IoT.
What are you coaching your clients on as the steps to a successful IoT strategy?
What we generally start with is to put the technology aside, just for a moment, since people are very anxious to talk about devices and data and gateways and networks. The very first thing you need to talk about for IoT is business value.
So, I'll give you an example. A very popular scenario is around routine maintenance and real-time detection of a mechanical issue. Now, what is the business value of using data coming from mechanical things? One is, if it's predictive for maintenance, what is the cost to your business by doing maintenance to avoid a shutdown?
The other one is real-time detection that lets you know when you have a problem so you can get it addressed.
So, we find that when we talk to clients about this, they get it, they understand why they want sensor data from a machine. But the piece that's missing is now that you've detected it, how will you efficiently address the situation? And that is the sign of maturity when we coach clients.
Here’s an example: it’s time to do predictive maintenance; you've detected that an engine has run 50,000 hours— what do you do next? Do you send someone an email? That would be a very, very inefficient. Why are you not communicating your maintenance contractor directly through technology like a CRM system?
You are initiating an efficient process to communicate with the people that are responsible for doing the maintenance or solving the problem. You need to automate that process. That's the piece of maturity we coach customers on. And that's the beauty of using a solution like Boomi. We are that last mile of optimizing the actions that need to take place with people to solve a problem.
Over the course of four years, I'm frustrated by the lack of progress I see companies making with IoT. Is that a function of companies trying to boil the ocean of not having a process of not automating? Do you see those challenges with the companies you're working with?
Yep, sure do. And I'll tell you it is a little of all the above. I'll always come back to business value, but it is the lack of understanding to equate justifying the investment in equipment, and storage and whatever technology to basically be ahead of where you want to be in your investment, aka generating the business value. That's number one.
Number two is not technology related. It's a culture. You're trying to blend a culture of IT people with a crowd that's typically operational, and you're trying to get them to work together for the good of the business. And so a lot of it is, is defining a well-formed understanding of getting the most of your investment and continuing to get more out of your investment in technology.
But the other is actually driving the collaboration across the company culture; that is also very, very important. And those are things that we see all the time still, which probably attributes to exactly what you're saying is, come on, we’ve got the technology, we’ve got the data. So why are we not seeing more benefit and a lot of it actually comes down to culture and people.
What's been the biggest IoT changes that you've noticed in the past year or two?
What's changed? It seems like everywhere we turn there's no physical object that's not being monitored by a sensor. I even have a sensor in my mailbox — I know when my mail arrives, it just seems like everywhere we turn everything has a sensor. I think we as humans are expecting everything we interact with to be connected.
But the other statement I like to make is the phrase of IoT, which has really been used as a label to describe where we are with technology and sensors and devices, is slowly slipping away. Because we expect that device data is woven into the fabric of everything we do, whether it be our business or personal life. You could think of this analogous to the cloud at one point. The cloud was a little bit nebulous. People know what it is, but now, when people say cloud, you know what it is and you move on, and the same thing is starting to happen with IoT. It's just a label; no one's really trying to figure out what it means anymore. It's just being woven into the fabric of the business.
What are a couple of use cases you'd like to highlight where Dell Boomi has been able to help clients be successful with their IoT initiatives?
Digital Angel makes medical devices to improve the quality of life for senior citizens. They set out to improve the quality of life for seniors living senior care living centers to avoid infections due to bedsores. The first thing they did was introduce a smart mattress that measures movement, temperature, and pressure. They know infections from bed sores are caused by a lack of frequent movement. Since you can measure this, you can send a staff person to move the person to avoid infections. You’ve improved the quality of life of a person, which is a great way to think about applying technology to better humanity. But the business value of that it is more cost effective to use technology than it is to treat those interactions. The bottom line from a healthcare standpoint, it is actually more cost effective to use that technology than it is to treat infections.
The second use case is the town of Cary, North Carolina, using IoT to improve the quality of life for its citizens. They have a system where they can detect traffic signal anomalies. In this case, Boomi is listening for this event. One is you're minimizing the disruption of commerce. You need to detect and address the situation as quickly as possible so that everything starts flowing again. That's the obvious one. We all see publications where cities want to be recognized as the best city to live, right? There's a reason for that. It's economics driven, it brings people in, it grows a city, it brings a bigger tax base, and bigger tax base more people, it's greater funding for projects, from government, state and local government. So using technology to sell your city about why it's a great place to live, whether it be for free-flow of traffic, or for less crime. The town of Cary has a great strategy of how it's applying technology and device data to improve the quality of life and citizens and make it more attractive to live here.
What are some of the more common failures you see with IoT initiatives? And then, how do you suggest clients get past those?
The absolute number one is don't throw technology at a problem just for technology's sake. One is business value, but the other failure is skill. I find that when I talk to people in companies and businesses, it is more challenging to grow the internal skills of a team to build and execute on an IoT strategy.
I consider this very similar to the cloud. If you think about a company that was very progressive and let's say 10 years ago. Companies that had SaaS applications generally started looking for the skill to bring in house that understood what cloud meant. And I think that's one of the failures that you see today. There is enough skill now available in the world that understands how to come in and help a business build, define, and execute on a proper IoT strategy. And so I think moving forward, just like you will see a need for people with cloud experience, you will also see an increase of hiring and people on the market that know how to help a business deliver on IoT, and I think that's how they're going overcome it.
Would that also be one of the biggest opportunities in the evolution of IoT?
You bet. Yes, no question about it. You can look at a number of categories when it comes to opportunities. One is stimulating the job market — both advancing the skills of people and the marketability of people. Just like you see this transformation of data scientists really being popular. You also see IoT-skilled people and skilled leaders being popular.
But the other category of opportunity is how do I apply the technology? I will come back to things like human health; you're seeing great advances with even wearables that can detect glucose monitoring. So, I think that you'll also see the biggest opportunity, the evolution of our IoT to be humanity, health, efficient living the environment, efficient living through autonomous transportation, for example, the environment, where's plastic ending up? It could be anything. But yes, I think that probably, if I had to just off the cuff think, the biggest opportunities are skills as well as the continued impact of applying technology to living in an environment with planets — you name it.
What skills do developers need to work on to be more successful with the IoT projects?
My philosophical answer is it will be people that can decode the relationships between devices and people through data. Those will be the winner of a development.
The understanding of what it means to correlate device data with the people — that's what I think is going to be how developers need to think now, and in the future, on IoT projects.
The successful person is going to be the one that can most fluidly move from software to hardware to data and bring all this together to solve business problems.
So, the people aspect of it is this is if you think back to improving the quality of life of a senior citizen or improving the quality of life for a citizen of a city. It is going to be that person that understands how to take the data produced to detect these situations and translate that into humanity and into people. How does it actually help people? I think that's going to be the secret of you think to yourself, well, that's not really a developer. But what I would contest that a developer, a successful developer, not just the person that sits down and writes code, it's the developer that's actually going to probably be a hybrid developer data scientist or work with a data scientist that sees the relationships between devices, device data, and people.
Do you have any concerns with the current state of IoT today?
I am very passionate about technology, but at the same time, I always try to be acutely aware of problems, and my number one concern is data privacy. It's data privacy because we now have so much data being produced from devices that actually are a reflection of how people live.
You think of how many connected devices you have in your home: it could be thermostats, it could be cameras, it could be the garage door — could be anything. It could be wireless headphones as well. I mean, you hear so many things. But where is that data going? I really think that there's so much data being produced from a device that's a resource of your business, how you're doing business.
And a reflection of correlating that to you as a person how you live. And so I think an invasion of privacy, I think that data privacy is a huge concern right now. And I think our existing policies and regulations are very antiquated and not keeping up to protect us as people and to protect businesses.
I can tell you right now that if you did a little forensics, you will find there are a number of outstanding lawsuits today against companies that are producing a product that is network attached and by doing profiling they are selling your data that's being produced. It is the wild, wild west right now with all your data.
Is there anything we haven’t touched on with regards to the current and future state of IoT that our audience will be interested in?
In my opinion, the biggest impact is going to be the rollout of 5G. People take for granted 4G today; they stream whatever they want on their phone; they don't think anything of it. But the rollout of 5G is going to be another significant advancement and impact IoT because of the speed. When we go to a world of 5G, because of that technology, and it's 20 times faster than 4G, you can think of it as the ability to support 1000 streaming devices, 1000 devices, streaming data per square meter. To think that 1000 devices streaming data could now be supported over the air in just a simple one square meter is going to be a significant impact on the industry.
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