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The Internet of Things Conference: Lessons learnt and best speakers

by: GREGORY MENVIELLE follow me on twitter Follow me on twitter

The Internet of Things Conference in Cambridge (April 15th 2014) is a yearly event allowing to take the pulse of the industry. Mark, Hermione, and the entire BLN team (you may know them from Business of Software) put together a fantastic event where you can mingle and learn from some of the industry’s thought leaders.  Here are some highlights of the event including my picks for the top two speakers. And to make this article a bit fun, let’s do this FAQ style!

1) So what is the internet of Things?  Something that became clear during the conference is that everyone has a different perspective on what the internet of Things really is.  Is it Machine to Machine, Machine to Human to Machine?  The fact is the IoT is comprise of many layers, from the hardware devices all the way to the software that powers the device.
The one downfall of the term being so vast is that it can quickly confuse people who do not know the market well and can also scare investors who will not understand the space properly

2) Why on earth were you at the conference?  SmartNotify was 1 of 10 companies selected to present at the conference since we released our API ( and are working with companies in the IoT field.

3) Which markets can benefit the most from the IOT?  During his presentation, Matt Hatton -from Machina Research- highlighted 2 areas where the IoT is poised to make a difference and where innovators can make a real difference.

  • First, any market moving away from capital expenditure meaning markets where people start buying services rather than buying products.  A great example being the rise of Zipcar (and its competitors) vs. the regular auto-ownership approach.
  • Second, any application focusing around healthcare and monitoring devices. The reasons are purely linked to our demographics:  With an aging population we will need to find ways to provide better medical care at much lower price points and this is an area where IoT can truly deliver.

4) If I build it, will they come?
Well it really depends on the market you are in. In the B2B field, adoption rates for IoT technologies are high because businesses are looking at driving out costs and enhancing monitoring so people are now looking at pricing from the standpoint of perceived value of loss. IoT is about helping minimize risk in B2B and it’s a big selling point.

If you are in the B2C side, however, things are not as clear cut; consumer product engagement is still patchy and may remain so for a while because the main culprit is connectivity.  Proper connectivity networks for the IoT are not in place yet.

5) Anything stunning coming from Apple? Nothing was announced at the conference, sorry to disappoint you. However, we got to hear from a former Apple and Nest lead engineer who gave us this really funny insight: Even though he was leading the I-Phone engineering team, the first time he saw the UI for the I-Phone was when Jobs presented it on stage!

6) Who had the best one-liner at the conference? Won’t name names, it was in the early panel. Someone said that the only people making money on the IoT at the moment were conference organizers!

7) Which trends should I be aware of when building my IoT product? As we talked about earlier the IoT covers many different layers so some of the ideas given at the conference may, or may not, apply to all layers though a few themes arose

If you are building a piece of hardware, do not worry about cost at first.  Your focus should be on making the best product possible; it is always better to source components later to drive costs down.
If you are in the B2C field, remember that consumers need products, not tools. So the fewer settings you require and the simpler it is to use something the more likely you are to succeed in the space.  Though the opposite holds true if you are in the API world where you are now producing tools and need to give people the best ingredients they can have to build their inventions.

8) So who were the best 2 speakers?

Every year, the caliber of people brought on stage by The BLN group is really impressive and most of the speakers also speak about their experiences rather than turn their speeches into marketing opportunities.
This year, 2 talks stood out:
Claire Rowland was brilliant in reminding people about the importance of putting the customer at the center.  While I disagree with Claire that the connected crockpot is awesome, I could not agree more with her when she told the audience to remember that mass market products need to bring a value that is higher than the perceived cost of using them.  She also showed a few key examples of how we need to think about the effect of connectivity (or lack there off) on the products we develop.

JP Rangaswami built upon this theme during his speech.  A connected device keeps him alive so he truly understands the value of putting the customer in the middle of the experience and making it simple. JP is SalesForce chief Scientist and not once did he pitch the company or the product. For this alone he should be on the best speakers’ list but he also gave many great insight into what makes a good IoT device:  First, remember that the keyboard is dead and look at engaging the user another way.
Second, try to bring a better feedback loop, which in turn leads to better context, which finally leads to better decisions.

Finally, JP had a fantastic answer to those who worry about privacy and the IoT:  The main problem with security and privacy now-a-days is information asymmetry.  We no longer know who has the data and who can use it against us. This is the biggest shift. It used to be that we knew the info and could control this a bit more. This change brings a challenge and whether legislation can help lower the asymmetry remains to be seen.

In just over 10 hours the conference covered many key topics in the IoT field and I would encourage to check out the videos when they become available.  The IoT is becoming part of who we are and what we do, the question of who will lead the way and make a difference remains to be seen.

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  • Built in France, made in the US, dad of a wonderful little girl.
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