Wednesday 7 May 2014

#BDW14 Internet of Things


One of the key themes of the big data week conference is the internet of things.  We’ve had an introductory session from Dave Starling, Chief Architect at Picsolve which seemed interesting from a technical perspective but was pretty simple from a functional one – really just about combining photos and videos across different leisure attractions, like Harry Potter World,  and providing and combining fairly small amounts of data (eg 2-300 data points) and doing some fairly interesting analysis eg providing screamometer leaderboards, supported by gamification.  Not as interesting as the Disney case study though.

I found the session by Edward Bryan from IBM on Smart Cities more interesting – and there’s an obvious link here to the Smarter Workforce.

“The system is a teacher.  The city is gaining all sorts of insights about day-to-day operations and emergency situations that were never before possible – simply because data is now available.”

Karen Lomas from Intel suggested the challenge in smart cities isn’t just about the data but also how you change behavior – so the behavioural science behind big data is equally as important. 

One important aspect of this is tailoring the insight which is developed to many stakeholders with multiple needs.

And once again, Karen also suggested that we’re at an inflection point.

In the afternoon, we heard from Maarten Ectors at Canonical / Ubuntu that IOT will benefit all sectors - on your bodies,  your devices etc.

But we’re not there yet – we’re currently at the internet of isolated things.  Your grandmother isn’t asking for a FitBit for Christmas.  And we need more advances in technology first – IP6 so that devices can have their own addresses; Bluetooth 4 etc; higher bandwidth and more secure networks etc.  It need crowd sourcing and open source fits well in this environment.  Gamification helps as well.

But the opportunities are immense - sensors briefing your FitBit that you’re feeling a bit stressed and getting your home controller to turn down the lights etc when you get back.

James Robinson from CTO OpenSignal  spoke about the mobile as the measure of all things (vs De Vinci’s man as the measure all of things.)  Mobile sensors beat human sensors and are getting better, and in fact mobile is already better than you might think – increasingly containing GPS, camera, fingerprint scanner, heart rate sensor, pressure sensor, environmental humidity sensor etc.

People are imprecise, have low accuracy, a limited range, can’t measure magnetism, humidity etc and are really bad at logging and storing information.

Chips can now collect sensor information without waking up your phones and this efficiency will increase opportunities from mobile a thousand-fold.  And we’re finding out more about how we can put our phones’ sensors to interesting uses, eg the battery temperature sensor provided to keep phone from over heating can be repurposed to measure outside temperature; accelerometers can be used for unique identification of people etc.

Siraj Tahir from RainTech suggested that too many projects capture more data than they need to, and tend to fail.  We need to focus on objectives not on objects (yes!).

Again, speakers seemed to agree that we’re in a ‘phase of early maturation’.

And the HR applications of IOT?  Well one is to push us to move our focus, not just onto the contingent workforce but the whole new agenda around robots and devices - 'Thingymajig Resources' rather than just plain old HR?

The other is just to continue the automation of lower value jobs, but to rapidly and deeply extend this into knowledge work as well, potentially splitting the workforce between those who are designing and managing the things, and those who are supporting them.

That applies to HR, as well as to the other people in our organisations.

And it's another reason why HR needs to understand IOT.  This one may not be an HR strategy, but it's definitely something we should be talking to our IT colleagues about.

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