Aug/Sept 2013

“The Internet of Things is about creating, interacting, and controlling the digital image of a physical thing.” These are the words of Mahbubul Alam, Cisco’s Head of Internet of Things and M2M, who chose to open up during an interview with me for Connected World. “Cars, for example, have about 60 microprocessors (sensors),” he says, “but most of them aren’t connected outside the car. In tomorrow’s virtual world, we can see that car with sensors and processors at the VIN level. The same will be true for everything: We will live in a virtual world of machines and humans.”

Alam is an expert in how machines talk. Raised and educated in the Netherlands, he joined telecommunications equipment provider Siemens after earning a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Technische Universiteit Delft. At Siemens, Alam worked on ATM networks, GSM for railways, and 2.5/3G mobile networks, and then he joined Cisco’s European Mobile Team in 2001. Five years later, he transferred to the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters to serve in a series of increasingly responsible positions leading to his current role.

Alam’s passion for M2M and the Internet of Things was palpable as he led me through a comprehensive vision of how it all will evolve.

Collect, Consume, Mashup
Lamberth: What does the IoT(Internet of Things) do?

Alam: The IoT is about the collection, consumption, and mashing up of data. Data will increasingly flow into the IoT by way of trillions of sensors embedded in everyday things. Once data is collected, compiled, and analyzed, it must be consumed. Personalization is key: Individuals and businesses have different preferences as to how and when they consume information. What interests me is not the same as what interests you. Also, once massive datasets have been accumulated, we’ll be able to correlate seemingly unrelated events to discover new ways to save money, prevent accidents, and reduce downtime.

Fog Computing
Lamberth: Does “fog computing” fit into Cisco’s design for the IoT?

Alam: It’s helpful to think about how computing networks operate: All of them include computation, networking, storage, and resource management. Fog networks bring the cloud to the edge by including computational and storage resources in routers and other edge equipment. These edge resources allow sensor and other input data to be processed locally to speed responsiveness to local conditions. Cisco’s new 819 Integrated Services Router does this.

Reducing transmissions to and from the cloud not only reduces network traffic and improves latency, it also reduces exposure to lost packets and transmission anomalies called “jitter.” Clean transmissions are required if IP networks are going to match the quality of service provided by the industrial control networks that are being converted to IP, such as SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition).

What Is M2M?
Lamberth: How do you define M2M?

Alam: We studied this for two years, and instead of the usual Venn diagram we settled on a chart with two vectors meeting at a right angle. M2M, the vertical vector, equals B2B (business-to-business) functionality, with opportunities that are both greenfield (new services) and brownfield (revitalize services) along this line. The horizontal vector is the IoT: A market that is device-centric and focused on connecting everything. B2C (business-to-consumer) and B2B2C (business-to-business-to-consumer) business models predominate here.

The M2M segment has solved the problems associated with delivering remote services such as identifying and authenticating a device, securing it, creating services for it, billing for services, activating the device remotely, and pushing updates when needed. They have well-formed business models and a consolidating value chain. In contrast, the IoT guys are still figuring out what service models to monetize.

Machine Scale, Machine Time
Lamberth: How do you envision the IoT actually working?

Alam: There are four key attributes of the IoT: scalability, time, decision, and ecosystem. We need to consider the IoT in terms of machine scale, not human scale. Earth’s population is measured in billions; this is human scale. When everything is connected, there will be trillions of connected machines and objects; this is machine scale. We don’t currently have the network architecture needed to support trillions of endpoints.

We also need to think about human and machine time. A response time of six-to-10 seconds feels “realtime” to humans. Machine time is measured in hundreds of milliseconds: 10 seconds is an eternity. We need faster, deterministic networks that put mostneeded resources closest to where they are consumed.

Deterministic networks also support the “decision” attribute: Data-analysis tools and resources cached close to where they are consumed will enable the IoT to help us select the most appropriate behavior in response to current conditions and realtime control of things and systems.

The last key attribute of the IoT is the ecosystem, meaning how various markets will use it to build new services and create customer value. Consider the manufacturing industry, with a well-established ecosystem that supports their business model. The best way for manufacturers to implement the IoT is to convert their human best practices to workflow engines that can be serviced by machines. They can use the IoT as a tool to convert from human-centric to machine-centric processes.

“Everything as a Service”
Lamberth: Can you elaborate on“ machine-centric processes?”

Alam: The IoT will create a largescale change in how we apply human knowledge to work. Human work will become change management, rather than production.

Think about it: Who wants to go into mining? Oil wells are drilled in dangerous places, both environmentally and politically. What if machines could drill and manage those wells? Whether it’s unmanned excavating or robotic laborers, the IoT presents a wakeup call for every industry. It’s time to shift human skill sets toward remotely managing automated processes that can be performed by machines with minimal human supervision.

The IoT presents the opportunity to create new business models and revenue streams across a wide range of industries, reduce operational costs and downtime, and improve the customer experience at home, on the go, and in-store. The IoT will be monetized by converting existing product-based consumption to managed services, think “everything asa service.”

Laurie Lamberth loves connected devices. Always has. Learn more about her strategic marketing, businessdevelopment, and strategy practice, and read more of her work, at

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