Home > Visions > James Brehm

By James Brehm, Founder and Chief Technology Evangelist at James Brehm & Associates

I’ve had a strong relationship with the team at MultiTech for over a decade. I’ve conducted strategy presentations onsite with them in Minnesota, I meet with them at conferences and trade shows, have had their best and brightest join me on panels at conferences and regularly receive phone calls from their executives asking tough questions about the industry. So it really came as no surprise when MultiTech’s VP of Marketing, Sara Brown asked me if I could type up a few thoughts on the future of the Internet of Things (IoT), on this their 50th anniversary in business. 

I think it was 2009, when I was quoted by a major news outlet as saying “We're entering a new era where every device that can benefit from being connected will be connected to the Internet and other devices.” Well, we’re there. And MultiTech is squarely in the middle of this era, which the industry has dubbed “The Internet of Things”.

But what did I mean when I made the statement?

And what does the future hold for industries, enterprises and consumers in this hyperconnected world?

How can vendors plot a course for success from where they are now, and where they need to be in five, 10 and even 15 years? What does the next 50 years hold for MultiTech?

IoT Growth Drives MultiTech

The Internet of Things (IoT) can mean many things to different people. But a simple definition is: “IoT is a network of interconnected things/devices which contain sensors, software, network connectivity and necessary electronics that enables them to collect and exchange data making them responsive.”

Note, I said “simple definition”. Because at the end of the day, it is the data and information from the connected things that offers value. It is other complex and transformative technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), machine learning (ML), robotics, data analytics and others are growing out of the IoT and adding nearly incalculable value to society. (Incalculable in the sense that oftentimes exponents need exponents.)

But what uses for IoT will drive MultiTech in the next half-century? Here are three big ideas driving us into the future.

Servitization

What does the future hold: first and foremost? Servitization (…or anything as-a-service).

Moving from one-time device sales, to an OPEX economy of service-based industries.

Gillette and Schick make their money, not from the razor, but from the razor blades that get thrown away once dulled. They make their money from shave-cream and skin balm.

And the new Gillette’s of the world could be companies like Nespresso, Ecolab, and Ingersol Rand.

While Mr. Coffee wants to sell you a coffeemaker, Nespresso wants to market single serving pods of coffee, in countless varieties and flavors. They want to gather usage data like amount of consumption, time of use, flavor likes and dislikes…and once they have your buying habits, they can proactively provide a better customer experience.

Ecolab, like Nespresso, sells refillable solutions of industrial grade products. Embedding IoT technology into their commercial products can improve the quality of service by dispensing the correct amount of detergent in a commercial dishwasher and automate the re-ordering process. Likewise, measuring the optimal levels of detergent, bleach and fabric softener in commercial laundries (like hotels and hospitals) can improve customer satisfaction by providing brighter whites and softer sheets and towels as well as reduce overall costs by increasing the longevity of their laundered goods. On top of that, monitoring usage and automated ordering of consumables can reduce waste and ensure proper usage. 

Collaborative Consumption

The second big thing is the idea of “Collaborative Consumption”. Often called the “Sharing Economy” can be defined as a way of distributing goods and services that differs from the traditional model of corporations hiring employees and selling products to consumers directly or through retail channels. 

Uber and Lyft, AirBNB, Turo, Neighbor, RVshare, LEVELD… users are drawn by ease of use and the simple economics of zero capital outlay, while the participants tend to be motivated by a combination of factors including a greener society through sharing, economic gains, more efficient use of resources and social factors. Some participants are simply drawn by the trendiness or novelty of the platforms. But beyond the novelty and the pull of new technologies, value of an investment can be redistributed across the supply chain to producers and consumers and away from “middlemen” of retail.

No matter the utopian outcomes—empowerment of ordinary people, efficiency, and even lower carbon footprints, human factors still come into play. Asset tracking and monitoring of shared products needs to happen. Locks, cameras, geofences, and tracking devices all powered through IoT are a necessity.

Personification and Identity in IoT

And the third big idea is the essential need that is not being addressed today is the personification and identity around IoT because “I am the sum of my connected things”. Today, most makers are trying to address this problem through the use of silo-ed platforms, and that just doesn’t cut it.

Think about it. Your connected car should link to your connected ceiling fan, should connect to your calendar on your iPhone, should connect to your frequent flier account, should connect to your connected home automation and security system, should connect to your everything!

When I get to the airport to leave and am parked in long term parking, my car and home automation system should communicate with each other. My home locks should be engaged, my thermostat should go into energy savings mode, and my ceiling fan should shut itself off. You see, I am my car, my ceiling fan, my home automation system, my calendar, my handset and many other things. I am the sum of all my connected things. That’s my digital persona. And having a holistic digital persona is valuable.

Is there Commercial Value in the Digital Persona?

Consumers have an explicit idea of the economic value of their digital persona and expect companies to give them something in return for using this personal asset. Consumers not only value their digital persona, (and it is the perceived value that makes it an asset) but they also expect companies to allow them to make the determination on what, if any, of their data is shared and to handle it with great care.

Corporations can also create new revenue streams by making data the product itself, providing high-quality identity information to enterprise customers as a service, and offer end-user customers a way to manage and control their persona information. Corporations understand that real identity data has a value. And anonymized data is nearly useless. Real identity data is valued by corporate advertisers in the hundreds of dollars as compared to pennies on the dollar for aggregated, anonymous data.

Final Thoughts

To get to this utopian level of connected nirvana, many things need to be addressed. Ettiquette in sharing of data, opt out vs opt in databases, a sort of “Data Federal Reserve”, data quality, falsification of data and identity theft…the list is long.  

By practicing the right kind of etiquette, companies will ultimately get better, more realistic data from their customers. And business models are only possible when the user is given transparency, choice, and control over their data, and they trust the company to honor their choices.

In the end, I want the Papa John’s oven cooking my pizza to know my buying habits and intentions. I want my Outlook Calendar to be influenced by real-time traffic. I want the ambulance to be in route before I know I’m having a heart attack. And I want to see a new economic system emerge where television, print and Facebook advertising gives me something back.

That’s the future with IoT. Let’s go make it.