Between Hype and Reality: Connectivity and Integration

Key takeaways:

  • Manufacturers must be pushed to create meaningfully connected hardware, and to produce the software to back it up
  • We are a long way off where we want to be, and where people think we are
  • Usefulness (such as cost savings) must be proven for interest to arise

A frank look at connected devices, by Jason Morjaria, Founder and CEO of Commusoft in the Workplace Technology Theatre at Facilities Show 2019.

5 years ago Jason wanted to take a boiler, connect it to the internet, take data about the boiler and help clients diagnose and detect faults in the device. To allow someone to send an engineer round before the device failed, therefore giving the client a cheaper fix as opposed to a full replacement.

The first step was to buy a high end boiler which allowed for lots of data and measurements, and have it installed. The next step was developing custom hardware (i.e. for Bluetooth enablement) to get the information from the boiler to the cloud, where it could be meaningful even off-site.

Eventually they came to the realisation that there was a huge cost implication. All the hardware they were thinking of putting into a boiler wasn’t going to be free, and neither was the end product. Who would realistically want and be able to afford this boiler? There is a disconnect between the perceived hype of the internet of things, and the actual reality of where we are with technology, and also what we can we really achieve? There’s an implication that we can achieve much more than people are thinking of or trying to create currently.

They spoke to Cisco, with a lot of back and forth discussing these kind of technologies, speaking to different councils around the country who wanted a piece of this technology (the smart boiler), and they always had a disconnect between the reality (of what the boiler could offer and do) and what they actually wanted and needed, and also between their requirements and their budgets. The people who needed and wanted it in social housing just couldn’t afford it, and there was no proof that it would give them the returns they need.

The device was working but needed to provide value to the end user – and to show that it would do this, for anyone (corporate, council, or end user) to actually purchase it.

They started creating a touch screen thermostat and tried to connect this to other appliances such as lighting, to make a more holistic internet connected home. The biggest problem talking to manufacturers is that there are a lot of great manufacturers (of physical products) who are not interested in making robust cloud-based software, it was all local.

So, the question is how close are we to that (physical appliances and tech with robust cloud based information sharing and software), and how do we get to that.


“What I came up with was a real appreciation for the fact that whilst Forbes said by 2020 the IOT market will be worth 20 billion dollars, where will that money really be spent?”

Problems

“Manufacturers are key, in my opinion, for how we get IoT to people”. There is too much “noise” around this at the moment Amazon and Kickstarter, creating things without robust APIs, that don’t talk to each other and are not useful in a holistic connected way.

“I recently moved into a new flat in Bermondsey, and the flat I moved into had a Lifx system. The hardware on the wall looked beautiful, it was a beautiful touchscreen system, download the app and it was horrible.” We’re starting to see a bit of change there with google, with apple, focussing on more connectivity and better software interfaces.

Where do we go from here? For Jason the device manufacturer is key.

“I think we’re getting to a place where this isn’t the exception, this is the norm.”

“Something that we want to strive towards, where everything is connected and everyone knows everything about everyone, and it will be a beautiful world.”

Commercial IoT has taken off much more than domestic, at the moment.

“If we are going to get to this place where we have connected offices, connected homes, connected buildings, how are we going to get there? And if it is manufacturers that will get us there, are we pushing them?”

To prove the usefulness of the boiler, two types of research were conducted.

  1. Could we trick a homeowner into thinking they’re warmer than they are? When the homeowner turned up the thermostat the temperature stayed the same, but the hue of the light changed.
  2. Syncing with your calendar, and with oyster card data. So, when you were likely to be home soon the thermostat would turn on and you could arrive home to a comfortable temperature.

Jason then took questions from the audience.

Question: Why did you focus on the domestic side?

“The technology doesn’t matter, the technology doesn’t care whether it’s domestic or commercial.”


Commercial spaces have had some kind of connected data for a while, although they are pretty archaic, but ultimately the technology in terms of managing large quantities of data would work perfectly well with both commercial and domestic.

Question: Do you think commercial will push technology forward faster, and why?

Yes, because the nature of business managing people requires it.

“I think there is such a hype around this type of technology, but in reality we’re not where we want to be yet…Even though it’s internet connected it doesn’t make sense in real life.” For example, in an office rather than being able to change the aircon himself, Jason had to speak to someone on the first floor, who then called someone in a totally different building, who could then change the thermostat – it was technologically advanced and could be controlled from offsite, but not on any useful, meaningful way.

Question: What is your view on the level of training development that the people responsible for these buildings will need?

If we get where we would like to be, the idea would be not very much. For example, the system would diagnose a problem, say this is a problem, do this thing, and it could all be carried out seamlessly. That’s a perfect world, I think in reality we’re not even close to that.

At the moment - and in the near future - data will be taken and converted into some sort of meaningful information but will still need human interpretation. In the short term I think it will be high training, but I think it will get there eventually because the people making this technology will learn as well. They know what to do now, they know where they want to go, it’s about learning how to make this work to fill the gap in the middle.