My Endless Journey to Ithaca Reflecting on the IoT Vision and the Role of Analysts

My experience in Beecham Research is coming to an end. The decision lies in a desired moment of reflections and to explore other angles of the IoT world. I have been an analyst for 11 years. Sometimes, I have thought that my work was too much theoretical. Other people in Beecham used to take that theory and make it applicable to business problems. During those moments, I felt the need of a direct touch with businesses, seeing with eyes what that theory was used for. Therefore, my next step will primarily revolve around experiencing that. But, the decision of leaving is not only dictated by that. As I said, it was a good time for reflections, reflections on the IoT space (once was M2M), which I covered for some time now and on the role of analysts.

On the IoT side, the reflection lies on the opinion that the IoT vision can have a truly impact on problems we face as human race. But, unless the problem has a revenue generation angle, the industry has struggled to put the right attention to it. The justification revolves around satisfying stakeholders, which, holds, but, recently, not much with me. I see the value of technological creativity when it leads at solving problems for us all. During these years, I have seen moves aiming at revenue generation only forcing products and services that were not really demanded or needed. And, I am aware that this is a very personal sentiment. But, that sentiment leads me to look at areas of research that explores the role of IoT vision for facings human challenges. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are an interesting way of seeing that and I am glad that organisations like GSMA or events like the IoT Week have embraced those strongly. But, the all topic needs more exploration. The various approaches aiming at “democratising everything” sometimes they appear to be just marketing hype. Making the IoT a vision for all is far away from us. The directions are dictated by where the flow of money comes from and goes to. Diverting those directions, or even taking some parallel ones, seems to be difficult. In that, which is the role of the analyst? If the analyst is an influencer, how can he or she influence the directions of development of the IoT?

That million dollar question leads me to a reflection on the role of the analyst in the IoT world and, more generally, in the technology markets. Who is an analyst? There is a good portion of the industry that has the view of the analyst as a sort of magician, who takes numbers out of the hat and put them into a Power Point presentation and Excel file. That magician is also a good actor because he or she always has a good way of justifying those numbers. That is a view that has irritated me a lot during those years. Probably, analysts have fed this view a bit with their eternally growing forecasts, but, the irritation is not disappeared. Behind forecasting activities, there is always a forecasting methodology and a research methodology. It is against the interest of the analysts behaving like a magician! I doubt there are analysts thinking to go away with magic numbers. There are weak forecasting approaches and strong ones, for sure, but, there is always reasoning behind forecasts. But, the worst thing is believing that the analyst is a simple producer of forecasts. Forecasting is a part of the exercise. The analyst is someone, who explores knowledge, make sense of it, and create a view on the matter under analysis. The industry players need that view for a variety of reasons, for example because they do not have time to create an informed view on which design their strategy and/or they need other views in order to validate theirs and design their strategy consequently. And, the industry players need views from different analysts because the knowledge creation and analysis exercise is affected by the analyst’s background and expertise. Each analyst produces a valid view. There is not the best view as there is not the best analyst. Stating “to be the best analyst” is simply arrogant because knowledge is so vast for human capacity. Perhaps, the AI-based robot analyst will do better than the human analyst, but, let’s see that after AI hype has set for real considerations.

But, despite my thinking on the nature of the analysts, I still do not have the answer on how the analyst, seen as an influencer, can drive directions of developments. I guess that is difficult because the overall output of the analyst’s work is providing revenue-generating directions. The challenge is then making the IoT community more aware of their capability of challenging human problems, while pursuing their stakeholders’ objectives. Easy to say, very hard to do. But, I think this blog will try to explore that direction. I know it will be an Odyssey and I will never arrive to Ithaca! But, the Greek poet, Cavafy, comforts me.

“Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.”

 

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The IoT platform is the compass of your IoT journey

Developing an IoT solution is a journey, which destination is not often the ultimate one. The destination becomes a moment of appreciation of the achievements and the instigation for a new journey. The destination is the output of the IoT solution. The appreciation of that output is the result of what the data gathered has revealed for the objectives of the organisation. And, that data is also the instigation for exploring something better or, even, something completely new. At the end of that journey, the traveller has changed. He or she appreciates enormously that change and he or she feels that more can be achieved. But, this concatenation of journeys is not a solitary experience. It requires several tools and those tools are provided by different travelling companions. Those tools are all unique and necessary, but, there is one that enables the travellers to move from one journey to the others. That tool is the IoT platform and its various services. Due to the various services needed, there could be not just one IoT platform companion, but, different of them specialised in different services. Probably, a companion able to integrate the different contributions is also necessary. You are not travelling alone! But, how do we select our fellow travellers? There are many ready for the quest, some of them offering sophisticated specialisation, others offering solutions able to sustain the entire expedition and the needs of that expedition. Probably, the latter will bring friends with them, simply because a solitary journey is difficult for them too. All those promising fellow travellers will interest you because they all present various degree of innovation and valuable capabilities. But, all of them have elements or weaknesses that can be unsuitable during the journey or making the journey a bit more difficult. You cannot perform the optimal choice, but, certainly, the sub-optimal one that will guide you along the journey. But, even the sub-optimal choice requires knowledge of the potential partners and what they offer. The creation of that knowledge is a step-by-step process. Your IoT solution journey requires the exploration of the landscape of IoT platform partners to see who will help you reaching the destination. The first step of this investigation is reducing a landscape of more than 450 potential partners into a short list of candidates. The short list is made of organisations that can support you because they offer the technological tools you are looking for and they have experience in your application domain and sector. A deep technological assessment and business evaluation is then necessary to identify the final candidate or final candidates. In fact, it is important to bear in mind that, even, at the end of the journey, you could still have several companions. That is perfectly fine. That is called ecosystem and without that, developing an IoT solution could become an endless Odyssey. Despite representing the human curiosity and travelling as a way of satisfying that curiosity, also Odysseus at some point wanted to reach his destination. Certainly, adopters cannot allow years of travelling for reaching the final  destination just for satisfying curiosity, but, selecting the IoT platform is an important journey to take. It should not be a plug and play exercise. It should require time and thinking because the IoT platform will become the compass of your future IoT journeys.

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Today, Is Satoshi Nakamoto Happy or Preoccupied?

This morning, Satoshi Nakamoto should be happy. His or her creation has entered the door of finance through the quotation at the Chicago Boards Option Exchange. Probably, he or she feels accomplished looking at the sea through his yatch knowing that can now buy more yatch. Or, instead, looking himself or herself at the mirror is raising some questions like: is Bitcoin today what I envisaged about at the time of my famous paper? How would I like to see Satoshi Nakamoto, today? I would like to think that he or she is the second one. The one who has doubts about the current situation. The one who thinks that the cryptocurrency fever has moved the attention from the enormous potential applications of blockchain technology towards an exclusive tool for making money for very few skilled individuals. I think the second Satoshi Nakamoto sees technology as an experience to face and solve human problems. And, blockchain technology, and also the cryptocurrency part of it, has some tremendous potential for that. But, the Bitcoin fever has overshadowed that. Very few are interested in blockchain technology for Electronic Medical Records! A lot of people are interested in investing and return! I was the Chairperson at the Blockchain Summit in London at the end of November. There was a member of the audience asking a presenter from Bosch, discussing his experience with blockchain technology, if those projects were associated to a specific ICO. That tells a lot about where the attention is. At the Summit, the most attended sessions in my room were the ones about cryptocurrencies a part from a session on regulation. There was very little mentions on privacy. No one expressed concerned about cryptocurrencies in the hands of organised crime. There was a sort of general dream about the yatch I can buy next summer for cruising offshore in the Aegean Sea looking at the beautiful Santorini with my fellow friend, the first personality of Satoshi Nakamoto!

Motor Yacht Katara

Perhaps, I am just envious because I do not have the courage to embrace this new wave. I hide myself behind excuses and conjectures. And, probably, the second personality Satoshi Nakamoto has never existed. Satoshi Nakamoto is only and only one and he or she wanted all this and he or she has it now. Tomorrow,  in the sea of Santorini, he or she will take sime time to think at what else to do with the blockchain technology!

Long term NB-IoT success tests service providers’ innovation efforts by Yiru Zhong

 

Another provocative view from Yiru Zhong on NB-IoT, Chinese telecommunications and implications for the global telecoms market.

 

During the 5th China Mobile Global Partner Conference on the 24th November, China Mobile announced a RMB2bn (US$300mn) subsidy fund for use in 2018 to support the development of IoT infrastructure, specifically of NB-IoT and 4G modules.   Considering that NB-IoT deployments are expected to have a lower total cost of ownership to enterprises to run, its move could be generously considered as a desire to grow the market or as a more commercially minded strategy to capture first mover advantage and win market share against its peers in China. 

Despite this occurring in China, this subsidy has relevance for mobile operators globally too. 

1.       It is only a very small step from giving something away for free.  In the traditional perception that connectivity is a commodity, the reliance on price as the sole differentiator gives a false impression to enterprises that connectivity is easy to do.  IoT connectivity is complex to deploy and manage; operators rely on managing different types of connectivity and ability to offer carrier-grade IoT connectivity for guaranteed reliability, availability and security. 

2.       The subsidies suggest this is one of many options towards encouraging the scale of connections needed to compensate mobile operators for migrating some 2G IoT connections to NB-IoT technology.  For example, China Mobile revealed that they expect to charge a 2 tier tariffs; RMB20/connection/year (US$3) for up to 55 pings per day and another RMB20/connection/year for the 56th ping per day.  If we assume a 2G connection yields US$3/connection/month average revenue of a 2G connection, the volume of NB-IoT needs to be 12 times more than that of 2G’s to yield the same revenue per year.  I am not certain all the water metering and agriculture monitoring connections will reach the volumes needed to avoid a temporary dip in IoT connectivity revenue.   

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3.       Another route to enjoy longevity in IoT connectivity revenue is to cultivate the eco-system that yields new services and data monetisation opportunities because of having a greater number of NB-IoT connections in the field.  This means funding for innovations projects, involving small and medium sized enterprises across all walks of life, to identify the use cases and revenue models. 

Overall, the tendency to drive down prices to encourage adoption often leaves scarce room for enterprises to innovate.  More importantly, economic inefficiencies from subsidies that distort market prices make society as a whole worse off.  The alternative use of that funding to support innovation efforts that yield new use cases and revenue models offers a more hopeful and sustainable route for IoT. 

Discovering the Beauty of Python with Patrick Arminio, Chair of Python Italia

I belong to the generation, who learnt coding using Fortran and C. I was not that bad as a developer, but, I cannot forget the headaches! Today, there are a number of tools for learning coding and a number of very versatile and easy-to-learn programming languages. Currently, Python is one of the most popular programming languages becoming extremely relevant among developers involved in IoT solution projects. We are going to explore the “beauty” and the benefits of Python with Patrick Arminio, Chair of Python Italia.

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Saverio: Why is Python so relevant for the current software development scene?

Patrick: I think Python has become a popular language over the last few years especially thanking to web programming and more recently data science and machine learning. It also seems to be one of the most friendly languages for beginners. In fact, it is a lot in educational contexts, from university to coder dojos. I started using Python from a friend’s recommendation a bit more than 10 years ago, I then started using it for almost all my side projects and finally integrated it in my daily job. Something that struck me of Python is definitely the community, and I’m sure I’m not the only one that has the same feelings. The community is super supportive and open. I think I really owe a lot to this community.

Here are some references:

https://stackoverflow.blog/2017/09/14/python-growing-quickly/
https://wiki.python.org/moin/SchoolsUsingPython
Saverio: Which are the most important application areas for Python?
Patrick: Well, right now AI is huge, thanks to frameworks like Keras and Tensorflow. Same thing for data science, with libraries like Pandas, Scipy and others.
I come from a web background and frameworks like Django and Flask, very user friendly and useful when creating back[end applications. Also having python supported on AWS Lambda is really good since it allows us to play with this new paradigma that is taking over the backend world.
Saverio: The market needs more software developers and more Python developers. How do we create them?
Patrick: We, with Python Italia and other organisation (like Fuzzy Brains) are trying to bring more people into programming organising Python Meetups all over Italy (we started this year) and also organising DjangoGirls events (thanks to Fuzzy Brains) in many Italian cities as well. We are also translating the official python docs in Italian eliminating a barrier for Italians trying to learn to program in Python.
Patrick Arminio was born in Switzerland, but grew up in Southern Italy. Patrick started his journey with Python during high school when a friend convinced
him to try it after chatting for a while on IRC. I then started going to all the 
Italian PyCons, starting from PyCon due back in 2008. From that moment I never
stopped going to any edition of PyCon Italy, including all the EuroPythons that
have been organised in Italy (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2017). In 2017 I’ve become
the Chair of Python Italia, the association that organises PyCon Italy.

Next Monday Conference on Smart Ports and IoT in Logistics in Genoa

On the 20th of November 2017, I will be in Genoa chairing the event “Digital Transportation Routes” on smart ports and maritime logistics. Beecham Research supports the event as sign of its continuous exploration of areas of applicability of the Internet of Things vision beyond the most well known ones.

Genoa Port

The conference will debate how the Internet of Things can contribute to the digital transformation of ports introducing efficient and sustainable operations. There will be several stakeholders, from port authorities to the shipping industry and the IoT community. The impact of emerging technologies such machine learning and blockchain on ports and logistics will also be important topics of the event.

During the conference, I will also highlight the importance of the smart port concept as a door to smart cities and smart regions imagining a data continuum from the sea to the land able to drive innovation from the port, through the city, to the region.

The topics of discussion of the event are summarised in the attached whitepaper produced by Beecham Research.

 

Beecham Research » The Iot Vision for Smart Ports

Bitcoin, please, do not sell me the promised land!

Since last July, when I wrote the first article on blockchain, I have written three blog posts, I have been interviewed twice on the topic, I have contributed to a conference on the topic. Am I a blockchain expert? No really. I am a researcher trying to understand the interconnections between blockchain and the Internet of Things. I do a fair amount of reading on the topic. And, also, most importantly, I listen to the experts. But, then, I think I need to filter between the experts and who is promising me a joyful future. In the latter category, there are a number of people contacting me presenting me a lucrative future with bitcoin. In their mind, I look like the picture below.

blockchain saverio

The blockchain/bitcoin expert promising “the promised land” comes to me with emails such as: “invest in bitcoin and you will earn €13,000 in 24 hours!” Now, my father uses to tell me that there is not such a thing like the promised land and there are not builders of promise land unless the builders have some return. Therefore, after several of these emails and conversations, I am start thinking that all this damages the beauty of the philosophy behind blockchain. Blockchain means democratisation of opportunities and eliminating favouritism due to not very transparent middlemen. If the main objective of the blockchain is becoming rich as quick as it is possible and effortless, then, the blockchain is not the revolution we are looking for!