Interview

Meet ecosystem builder and master connector of silicon to the cloud, Dave Locke

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Last week I had the pleasure of meeting up with Dave Locke in the IBM Hursley Innovation Center.  Dave Locke is one of the master ecosystem builders – working in the IBM Watson IoT Business Unit.  Dave’s main day job is helping to build out the Watson IoT ecosystem of partners – which includes companies that make sensors, boards, devices and gateways – and a variety of other fascinating components, networks and services that can be used within IoT solutions.

Question: If you had to sum up what you do in one sentence – what would you say?

Dave Locke:  My day job is to get as much silicon as possible connected to the cloud in an open, inter-operable, scalable and secure manner. Silicon is the raw material that is used in a myriad of forms including sensors, boards, devices and gateways. This is why I’m so excited about this opportunity to get a regular feature column in your newsletter.  My hope is to bring your readers a series of articles introducing fantastic technologies being brought to market by our partners.

Question: That’s terrific, but before we embark on some of the articles that feature individual partners, can you set the scene as to how you see the partners fitting into the IoT ecosystem? What we know today as the Internet of Things you often refer to as connectivity from the edge. What do you think are the key differentiators between how we have done things in the past and how we need to do things now and into the future in order to get the full potential of the Internet of Things?

Dave Locke:  There is a huge amount of hype around IoT.  It isn’t really new; I have been connecting things from the edge of the network for over 20 years. IoT is an evolution not a revolution. Looking back over the last 20 years, there are many solutions that would be referred to as IoT today, from automated factory floors, to smart homes, and scada systems controlling pipelines.

In an IoT solution the real value comes from the data.  Data is like oil – oil has intrinsic value when it comes out of the ground but has to be refined into petrol and diesel before its real value is obtained. Data is similar, when it comes from sensors it is raw. It has to be refined in order to gain insight and for business value to be obtained.

There are vast quantities of data in systems that are live today but the data is “locked in” which greatly limits its business potential.  Data lock in occurs in a number of ways.  Data access can be limited to a small group of people or departments. This can be seen when an operations department running a site restricts what data the IT department can access. There are good reasons, paramount of which are security and the smooth operation of the business. However, if this data can be made available to other users, departments and third parties the value of the data can be truly unleashed.

Another data lock–in scenario is the data silo – here there is a lot of data but it is not accessible.  The humble washing machine is a good example; it operates based on data from myriad sensors including temperatures, pressures, spin speeds.  The washing machine is a data silo, it will continue to work but until the data can be accessed and shared its true worth is constrained.

A key factor for the success for the Internet of Things is to break out of the data lock–in mentality and start to share the data with other users, departments, or third parties, then combine it with new sources of data.

Question: Are there similarities between the IoT and World Wide Web – how it’s evolved from its infancy to now? Which things have remained constant, and which areas we’ve adapted based on new technology or habits?

Dave Locke:  Yes. We can definitely learn lessons from how the World Wide Web has evolved.  If we look at the web, there really are two participants on the web. There are people and there are services. People interact with services via a web browser, via a mobile app or whatever device takes your fancy. People interact with services – where a service can be your bank, maybe checking your bank balance, with an online shop or with a search engine.

No matter what the service, the key with the web is how people talk to services. The reality is that people and services talk with each other based on a single protocol called http, which most people are aware of. But the key is all people and all services use that same protocol. What that protocol provides are some core principles:

  • The protocol is open. It’s an open standard with many open source implementations of the standard.
  • It’s interoperable.  All people and services interoperate with each other using that same single protocol.
  • It’s scalable. There are millions of services and billions of people that can interoperate and use that protocol to communication with each other.
  • And last but not least it’s secure, which is absolutely vital when we’re doing our banking, or whatever, or doing our shopping.

Now, if we learn from those key principles how the web, people and services work with each other using the concept of open, interoperable, scalable and secure communications we can add a third participant to the web. That participant is a thing which can be anything from a tiny little sensor, maybe a sensor monitoring a flood plain sending back a couple of bytes of data every half–a–day, all the way up to a jet engine which can spit out terabytes of data an hour. In fact, it can be anything in–between from your washing machine, to a car, a television, anything.  As long as we get the thing connected following the same principles.

Question: You talked about the web, and people and services, using one or more protocols which are open and interoperable, scalable and secure. Can you elaborate on how this relates to helping fulfil the potential of the Internet of Things? Is the key to getting them connected so that we can not only collect the data, but then to share the data with whoever can gain value from it?

Dave Locke: Let’s face it, there are a lot of different numbers being projected. Analysts are predicting there will be many, many billions of things connected in the near future – numbers of devices excluding mobile phones that are being predicted to be connected to the internet by 2020 vary from 20 billion to 25 billion, 30 billion, 50 billion and upwards.

The key is as the number of devices connected to the internet continues to rise, so too will the xxxabytes of data generated from these things – so whether it’s 100 or 100 billion, the sword in the stone will always be how all this data from these connected devices can be shared within an organization, with partners, across different suppliers, through to service staff.  It is data and how we decipher and use that data to precipitate actions that underpins the true potential of how any IoT potential can be fulfilled.

In many ways it’s analogous to the World Wide Web. When the World Wide Web first became a thing, every business wanted to be represented on it. But what happened once you had a presence on the web? People visited your site, they engaged with the content or information published on your site. The natural next step was how to convert those visits to something valuable – to prospects. Knowing you had 20,000 visits in a day wasn’t as important as knowing what to do with the 20,000 visitors – who they were, what they were reading, why they came to your site. Suddenly, organizations had to not only have a presence on the web, they had to have a way of understanding the interactions that occurred on their site. If we use that that same principal for the IoT – we realize quickly that it’s not just about getting the data, it’s about how that data is used – to gain revenue, increase market share, identify opportunity, discover gaps, uncover obstacles.

A future article will provide examples of uncovering the potential of data from a thing, using the somewhat odd but powerful example of data from a washing machine.

Question: Okay, you’ve talked a lot about people and services – now you are speaking about a third participant – the THINGS.  With the IoT, we’ve added a new dimension that we didn’t have with the World Wide Web – the ability to have a thing communicate with a service. How do the principles you mentioned – open, interoperable, scalable and secure – relate to this new dimension?

Dave Locke: What we end up with is a multi–dimensional triangle where (1) people can interact with things, (2) things can interact with services, (3) people can interact with services. In addition, each of the participants can interact with things of their own kind for instance things can interact with other things.

Figure 1: Multi–dimensional triangle of interactivity

Figure 1: Multi–dimensional triangle of interactivity

A good example is a smart home. In a smart home, as you come through the door, it knows who is entering the house. It knows what your personal preferences are. It turns on the relevant music that’s associated to you, so it’s interacting with the music service. It puts the kettle on because it knows you want a cup of tea when you get home. It is not just about a person talking to a thing, or a thing talking to a service, it’s the ability for people, services and things to operate in an integrated way to create really powerful solutions.

One of the misnomers is all data from things must go to the cloud.  In the example of the smart home, would you want the home to not let you in if connectivity to the cloud is broken?  It’s important to put the services that process the data in the right place.  Enable the house to run autonomously even if outside connectivity is broken but also to work with cloud-based services like a weather service to provide additional value.

Question: In all the predictions of the billions of devices being connected, what do you think will become the most common, or pervasive thing connected to the IoT?

Dave Locke: The biggest thing that will be connected by volume isn’t the first thing that most people think about.  The most realistic prediction I have come across suggests that LED lighting will be the biggest type of thing connected by volume by 2020.

Question: Interesting, that’s not the first thing that came to my mind – I was thinking about automobiles or appliance, but, thinking about it, it seems logical. We all use and need lighting. But having said that, going back to your principles – is that practical or scalable? People already have lighting – cities, buildings, homes – already have systems fitted within their building, grid or network. If lighting is predicted to be the most connected ‘thing’ – how can all the existing lighting be made ‘smart’ without breaking the bank, or having to redesign lighting systems from the ground up?

Dave Locke: That’s a good question. To make connecting anything worthwhile, the first thing that you need is power. Take the example of lighting – if you’re talking about existing lighting, then you’ve already got mains power.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s in your home, whether it’s street lighting, or whether it’s lighting in a campus or a hospital or a retail store. That’s a big plus as running new power cables is expensive.

The second thing you need is a way to move data around. This requires networking capability be added to existing lights. In addition to well-known network technologies there are new network technologies emerging including mesh networks, low power wide area networks and data over power lines that make it straightforward to add networking capability.

The third thing you need is a business justification that to get the funding to update the lighting.  With lighting the ability to reduce energy costs by moving to cost effective LED lighting helps drive the business case.

The two technological requirements of power and data connectivity combined with the business driver are core to any IoT project.  There are some fantastic technologies emerging enabling devices to run off batteries for 5+ years or even to run with no batteries and no wires.  Watch out for future articles that will cover these in more detail.

Question: I imagine building a business case or justification for an IoT project is a challenge for many organizations, regardless of size. Can you offer any suggestions that could be helpful?

Dave Locke: Sure, let’s keep using lighting as an example.  One of the partners I am working with in the lighting space is a company called PhotonStar. PhotonStar are an exemplar of why I find the Internet of Things so exciting! Two years ago, PhotonStar’s business was about making light bulbs and light fittings and serving them in volumes. The basis of their business model was lighting as a commodity business. In the commodity lighting business, there are many other players that can come forth from different places around the world that could potentially put PhotonStar out of business.  PhontonStar, to use a pun, saw the light and understood that they needed to rally and transform their business.

The first evolution for PhotonStar was to build a smart lighting solution where the lighting is connected and intelligently controlled from a service hosted in the cloud. By doing that, PhotonStar shifted themselves from the business of selling light bulbs and fittings, to selling lighting as a service. Now rather than turning a light off and on from a switch, the lighting is controlled when and where needed and modified to vary with the human body clock to improve focus and productivity. They have even built in a denial of service facility into the lighting to prevent the movement and installation of the light fitting from one location to somewhere else – meaning, if the lighting moves, the service won’t work – essentially offering built-in security. If somebody tries to steal it, it will not work.

But what is really interesting is the company then said, okay, we’ve got smart lighting, we do clever stuff with the lighting, we sell our service. They said, I’ve a power source, I’ve already got networking capabilities, why don’t I augment that and start putting in other sensors because I can piggy-back on the existing power and the existing networking capabilities.

So now they’ve gone the next step and added in sensors that monitor the temperature, humidity, barometric pressure. They’ve got sensors to know if doors and windows are open or closed. They’ve got in sensors to know whether there is somebody is in the room or not.

In a short space of time they’ve transformed from a company that offered light bulbs and light fittings, into a company that offers lighting as a service. Now they’ve evolved into a company offering a building management system, a smart building management service and all within a couple of years

PhotonStar are a great example of what IoT is about. At its heart it is about innovation. The corner stone to innovation is a range of great technologies that form the building blocks. The form factor of the building blocks is evolving, making it amenable for use by anyone from garage entrepreneurs all the way up to large scale line of business. The days of needing highly specialised skills to take an idea and build a proof point are long gone. It is these building blocks and the form factor that enable ideas to be tried quickly and a business to make a decision to move forward or, just as important, to fail quickly without spending a fortune.

The success of PhotonStar grew from an initial idea they turned into a real prototype in less than two weeks.  The work done in those first two weeks still forms the foundation of their business today.

Question: Can you give our readers an idea about what to expect in your article next month?

Dave Locke:  Absolutely – but let me first just offer your readers a roundup of what we covered today, and then I’ll give you an idea of what I will focus on next month.

IoT really is an exciting space and one that I am excited to be a part of.

There is huge potential in the Internet of Things, if it evolves following the principles of the WWW the potential is massive.  The key enablers and building blocks for IoT are:

  • Trends in technology including, price point, form factor, energy conservation and harvesting
  • New network technologies like low power wide area networks and mesh networks that enable devices to be deployed in areas that were not possible or not cost effective.
  • Technology being put in a form factor that allows anyone from garage entrepreneurs to large scale line of business to take an idea and quickly build a proof point.  The changing form factor in both HW and SW is democratising the market enabling a new set of innovators.
  • Changing business models from a pay up front (capex) to a pay for what you use (opex) enable more ideas to be tried, the good ones to move forward and the others to fail quickly with little money wasted.

If I can sum up the Internet of things it is about Innovation and business transformation.

Over the coming months watch out for articles encompassing technologies focusing on partners in our Watson IoT Ecosystem:

  • Building block technologies from energy harvesting to low power wide area networks
  • Innovative devices including a tiny ear piece with built in ARM processor, heart rate and accelerometer sensors and connectivity
  • How to connect silicon to the IBM Watson IoT Platform
  • How to refine raw data using a washing machine as an example

To set the scene, the next instalment will cover the anatomy of an IoT solution describing how the different technologies and services in the ecosystem fit together enabling innovation and powerful business offerings to be created.

Learn more about IoT, from chips to industry solutions, our IoT partners are your IoT partners. Or read the full case study about PhotonStar Technology. Connect with Dave Locke @davejlocke, or comment below.

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