This supply chain management industry analyst recently had the opportunity to attend the Connected Things 2018- The Future Arrives conference, sponsored by the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge.  This was the 4th annual occurrence of this one-day conference which has primarily addressed leading edge thinking on Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Internet Edge Systems strategies. Like prior year’s sessions, the format included noted keynote speakers along with four different panels focused on key topics.

2018 Connected Things conference

For Supply Chain Matters, this was our third presence at this annual event. Every year, the content and the speakers represent many dimensions of what is considered connected systems with this year’s added dimension of blockchain technology.

This blog commentary shares summarized key highlights, observations, and insights this author gained from this year’s sessions.

Common themes provided by many of the presenters included:

IoT Approaches

It is rather important that businesses differentiate their IoT approaches regarding both consumer-focused or industrial focused initiatives. As Jeff Erhardt, Vice President at GE Digital pointed out, Industrial Internet initiatives are often high stakes, and missteps in decisions are important. The latter also involve interactions of machines and people which must always be a consideration in process design. Use cases need to be well thought out with panelists pointing out experiences where that was not the case.

One afternoon panelist observed that from his observation, hospitals and medical centers have been on the leading-edge of IoT.

Dirk Didascalou, Vice President, IoT, at Amazon Web Services posed a question that he often asks customers: If you knew that state of everything, and could gain full access to the data- What problems would you solve? In his keynote, he shared current efforts underway with various AWS customers in applications such as agriculture, mining, and industrial applications. Responding to an audience question as to which industries are leading in IoT initiatives- his response was “none.” Currently, it is more reflected by industry innovators or what he termed as ‘rabbits.” Regarding which geographic regions are perceived as leading, he pointed to China and the United States.

Data and Information Strategies

Several speakers addressed data and information strategies including a specific panel discussion that addressed the topic: The IoT Data Tsunami Has Arrived- Now What?

The maturity and added context of data, proper preparation of data, and the maturity of the business model remains a fundamental consideration in designing industrial IoT initiatives. Panelists reinforced that data in its raw format, is not useable. This analyst was rather pleased to hear Gavin Nicol, CTO at Context Labs state that the world is moving to an event data streaming approach vs. a centralized database. We have advocated that approach in our published research.

One excellent insight shared as key to IoT adoption was that if all process participants are going to share data, all parties and stakeholders need to garner equal-value. In the context of supply chains, that implies that customers, providers, and component suppliers each must garner value. Mining customer data singularly for service management and top-line revenue growth without value for the customer is another consideration.

Data and Information Security

Within our Ferrari Consulting and Research Group Annual Predictions for the past two years, we have declared that concerns for data and information security would likely derail multi-industry IoT deployments.

The panel session that addressed tenets of our prediction was: The Future of IoT is Now- Can IoT Security Catch-up?

Panelists pointed out to the audience that IoT security is different than common IT security practices, and that the paradigms of IT security do not apply to edge operational systems. An example noted- you cannot bring an entire production line or factory down for a data security audit or update. Another challenge is that operational systems were not originally designed to be interconnected, which brings forward debate as to whether that is a positive or detriment.

What this author found rather troublesome was panelist’s observations that line-of-business interests view security as non-important. That begs the question of context, specifically a consumer or operationally focused IoT effort. With operationally focused mission critical systems, line-of-business teams need to be concerned with data security especially in the light of new revelations from Facebook. In the afternoon point- counter-point Blockchain and IoT interactive session, a panelist predicted that the Cambridge Analytica data incident involving Facebook will have massive implications for security of personal data.

From the panel and individual speaker session interaction, Supply Chain Matters did sense a more discernable theme from last year’s event is that increasingly IoT consulting and implementation teams are now aware of data and information concerns and are attempting to address them at various levels. A couple of panelists cited the Industrial Internet Consortium’s IoT Security Maturity Model as gaining building interest as a common security framework. The model defines levels of security maturity for a business or organization to achieve based on its security goals and appetite for risk.

Responding to an audience question: How do you manage bad actors or data thievery in IoT systems, Sam Curry, Chief Product/Security Officer for Cybereason indicated that utility-like services that manage integrity and authorization could be initiated on behalf of many companies or tech providers.   Another panelist stated that some leading-edge company needs to take a high-profile lead in data security or else governments will be forced to do-it.

Network Considerations

Panelists in the session: Connectivity is Here, the Future is Now, indicated that the network support strategy is a rather important consideration in an industrial or operations focused IoT process. Panelist recommendations included matching data needs with networks, paying close attention to the density requirements for the network as well as points of added data security vulnerability related to public networks.

Industry Supply Chain IoT Efforts

This year’s MIT Connected Things conference featured technology panelists directly involved in industry supply chain efforts.

Dennis Groseclose, Founder and CEO at TransVoyant noted that his company has been focused on Fortune 250-500 firms managing what he described as real-time supply chains. He indicated that many early use cases are primarily focused a common challenge, that being the inbound supply chain, specifically predicting expected arrival times of shipments or coordinating the sequence of logistics events.

Andrew Stahl, Senior Vice President, Business Innovation, LoB Digital Assets & IoT for SAP SE shared with the conference audience that Industrial Internet applications require high compute resources, something in the order of 6 petabytes per day of data loads. On the specific topic of Blockchain Technology, Stahl observed that the technology is more applicable to the needs of trusted partners. He cited Boeing as an early blockchain user in the notions of an opportunity to manage relationships in a rather complex, globally-focused supply chain. That stated, Stahl emphasized that it is important that Boeing be the driving influence.

Conference Summary Impressions

This year’s Connected Things conference was once again featured important observations and insights from on the ground thought leaders within various aspects of connected technologies. This was a great thought leadership conference.

We walked away with an impression that while IoT efforts are garnering added interest from early adopters, it is important for firms to engage knowledgeable systems and consulting resources who understand the current state of the technology, and more importantly, the readiness of the organization in the various people-process and data management aspects. Data security remains a concern, but rest assured there are a lot of smart and savvy technologists working on reasonable approaches. We continue in the belief that for connected systems, technology will not be the prime obstacle. Process readiness, corporate culture and data security are the areas to focus on.

Regarding blockchain, there are promising point process use cases such as track and trace but the consensus from this conference’s collection of experts was that blockchain remains an early-stage technology. There remain many open issues to resolve in the areas of the status of Bitcoin, the need for adding power to the computing architecture model along with the rules for decentralized governance.


Bob Ferrari

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