Tuesday 27th October 2020

Podcast: Episode 1 Digital Transformation: It’s critical, but not all serious

Published on May 25th, 2020

We take a look at the Internet of Things business and Digital Transformation. George Malim examines what’s behind the news that NTT DoCoMo has binned all further work using Narrowband-IoT. Matt Hatton busts some Internet of Things myths. And Jeremy Cowan asks them both to describe how everyone’s business landscape will change after COVID-19. Plus what made us laugh in tech lately. Because Life’s already serious enough.

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Transcript:

Jeremy Cowan

Welcome to the podcast. I’m Jeremy Cowan, editorial director of IoT Now, VanillaPlus and The Evolving Enterprise. Together these brands are bringing you today’s sometimes serious, sometimes lighthearted look at digital transformation for enterprises worldwide, because life’s been all too serious lately. So we’re going to have a look at what’s in the news, and then our first guest is going to explode some of the myths about the Internet of Things, and we’ll try to get our heads around what COVID means for our working lives before finding out what made each of us smile lately. So I am delighted to introduce two people whose expert opinions you may have read on our sites. Or you may have seen them in Webinars or at live events worldwide. That was until Coronavirus spoiled the party. No worries. They are here today, and the first is George Malim the managing editor of IoT Now magazine. George welcome.  

George Malim

Hi Everyone! I’m pleased to be here.  

Jeremy Cowan

It’s great to have your experience today. On the other guest is Matt Hatton, a founding partner of Transforma Insights, one of the newest and best analyst firms covering digital transformation. Matt. Welcome to you, too.

Matt Hatton

Hi Jeremy. Pleasure to be here.

Jeremy Cowan

It’s good to have you. We’re not just looking at your expertise. We want to talk about your new book, The Internet of Things Myth. Matt, you’ve got set my mind at rest. As the publisher of several IoT titles, I do get nervous when people talk about myths and IoT all in the same breath. Can you just confirm that the IoT isn’t going anywhere any time soon?

Matt Hatton

Absolutely. The IoT is here to stay, very important. I love the IoT. What is a bit of a myth was 10 years ago, 50 billion connected devices by 2020 which is, let’s face it this year. And that’s probably the biggest myth that we explode in the book. Or we look at the reasons why we didn’t hit that.

Jeremy Cowan

I see. And in a few words, is there still a need for enterprises to transform digitally after COVID?

Matt Hatton

Absolutely, even more so, I expect, than before. The environment has completely changed. The economy will have completely changed. The old ways of doing business in many ways will be out of the window and companies will need to find new ways to be more efficient and need to find new competitive differentiators, and often that will come through from IoT, digital transformation technologies and various things associated with that. 

Jeremy Cowan

OK. This is, for those reasons, a good time to look at the headlines. George, with your journalist’s eye, what’s caught your eye in the news? 

George Malim

Okay, well, I was very interested by NTT saying they’re going to cease their rollout of narrow band IoT, NB-IoT, in Japan. I guess there’s a lot of contributing factors to that. One is the fragmentation in the low power wide area connectivity market. So, you know there’s Sigfox, there’s LoRa, there’s still 2G, it depends on what market you are in, and I think that confusion is one element. Another element is the volumes just haven’t arrived – as Matt was saying, we’re looking at very thin margins. Some providers are offering you down to maybe a euro or dollar a year for the SIM cards in this space over a long period and that means you go to have billions of connections and without billions of connections that the technology possibly doesn’t stand up, and  I think the third thing in the room is 5G. Telecoms providers are basically focusing nearly all of their investment on 5G. NTT itself announced at the end of last year it’s going to retire its i-mode service. Now, that’s pretty much Japan-specific, but it did have tens of millions of subscribers, and it probably still does. I think it peaked about 10 years ago with close to 50 million subscribers. So it’s just a basic mobile data service. But for NTT to say they’re going to give up on i-mode is sort of symptomatic of putting all their eggs in the 5G basket. It’s either that or they just don’t like hyphens in their technologies.

Jeremy Cowan

(Laughs…) Ah, so if you can be sure of deploying at scale. And of course, if the application is static, then NB-IoT can be cheaper than, say, LTE-Cat M1 for services like smart metering. Is that right?

George Malim

Yeah, I see all the connectivity technologies commoditising to a very low price point. So things that were originally thought to be cheap aren’t necessarily going to be the cheapest and again, it comes back to the size of the market. The economies of scale only come when we get into tens of billions. So having to build a specific network like NB-IoT for a smaller market than originally envisaged doesn’t give the savings that were hoped for and I think that’s true for every technology, so at the moment, NB-IoT probably doesn’t look much cheaper than some modelling that’s being done around LTE-M, for example. So that, I think, is kind of muddying the waters and things look quite confused, and it’s an uncertain time anyway, because of Covid. So I can fully understand why NTT has decided to sort of centralise its investment muscle. And make no mistake, NTT is a very large investment muscle. But this is in Japan predominantly, and the same pattern isn’t necessarily true in other markets. I mean, Vodafone is heavily committed to NB-IoT and so are others. So I think that we shouldn’t necessarily say this is the NB-IoT myth because NB-IoT is performing better and being adopted more widely in other markets although, of course it is early days and we haven’t seen the billions and billions of connections for any technology that were predicted.

Jeremy Cowan

No, indeed. Matt, what other factors do you think are at play here?

Matt Hatton

I think the essential challenge, and this is something that we come to in the book in quite a significant way, is that there hasn’t been really a de facto standard for wide area narrowband connectivity. The low power wide area LPWA space. It’s pretty fragmented compared to the likes of the personal area network which is all Bluetooth or the local area network, which is predominantly WiFi with a bit of 802.15.4 thrown in for your industrial applications. And in the wide area broadband space you’ve got, you’ve got LTE. So you got a lot of  fragmentation and not a lot of maturity or a lack of maturity amongst the technologies which have come up to fill that gap which should have been addressing billions, tens of billions of that 50 billion opportunity. And the problem is immaturity, and to misquote Lev Tolstoy, all mature technologies are alike, but immature technologies are all immature in their own particular way. So, you’ve got Sigfox kind of being Sigfox, LoRa being much more focused, in a good way, on deployments or private deployments for campuses and that kind of thing. You got NB-IoT, which is really the only candidate for nationwide, wide area connectivity for that narrow band deployment. But it’s had its teething problems. Those quick and cheap upgrades really weren’t, and the battery life hasn’t quite been what’s been hoped and George mentioned the money issue. You need to get to billions of devices to make this worthwhile, or you need to be selling the service, you need to be selling the end user service. What we’ve seen is a lot of the telcos move in the direction of actually providing the full service. You’ve seen Vodafone acquiring Grand Centrix and IoTNext, and back before that it had Cobra Automotive. So, moving more much more into the vertical space. Recognising that you better not just be reliant on the connectivity revenue, which probably ultimately could well go to an MVNO model. One the one hand you’ve got the likes of DoCoMo switching off in Japan, but you’ve also got some positive news. You’ve got the likes of Vodafone, T-Mobile, Telia and Swisscom announcing a roaming agreement. You’ve got AT&T turning on their network. So it’s very much a mixed picture. I can’t see any other technology dominating, but I still think we’re a way away from having a mature technology to fill that gap, which should have been accounting for tens of, billions of connected monitoring and remote asset tracking type applications.

Jeremy Cowan

Matt, I knew I could count on you to raise the tone here. We were barely seven minutes into the pod and already we have Lev Tolstoy as the fourth member in the room.

Matt Hatton

That’s what I’m here for.

Jeremy Cowan

(Laughs) I hope everyone will watch out for an article that we’ve got coming up on this on IoT-Now.com There’s plenty more detail in there and some interesting opinions, so watch out for that. George, any other thoughts about further headlines that we should picked up on?  

George Malim

I’m keen to emphasise it’s not all doom and gloom. We’re seeing your people still investing in IoT-related technologies and companies. Lockdown hasn’t locked everything down, which is nice. A good example, I think, last week we saw True Phone, which is an embedded SIM provider. They’ve raised about $40 million to continue their global expansion. And, yeah, it’s not the biggest deal in the world. But it’s from existing investors in support of continuing their business model. It’s not a COVID emergency. It’s an expansion plan. So, I think that’s nice. It’s not alone as well, there are other investments in the mid-market that we’re seeing. And I think that this kind of circles back again to the fact that IoT hasn’t delivered on its promise yet. So, there’s huge head room for growth and the investment market has an appetite for it. And, you know, I think, we’ll continue to see that even during lockdown, because we don’t actually need people to go and touch each other in order to raise money and continue to invest in their businesses.

Jeremy Cowan

Yeah, certainly. We’ve been reporting on quite a number of stories as you say in the mid-market. I noticed Peak has won $12 million to extend Series A funding for its enterprise AI system, with the goal of enabling mass adoption of AI solutions across all kinds of industry. There’s a lot of stories like that happening. Matt, have you seen any more like that?

Matt Hatton

T-Mobile and Sprint finally finishing their merger operations? I mean, that’s been a long time coming, though, so I’m not sure we can point out that as particularly a ray of light. Verizon buying Blue Jeans, that came up. I suspect that was probably in the offing before COVID. Otherwise, they made a pretty quick move for Blue Jeans, but I could be wrong on that. A new AI product from AWS. I think on the investment side of things, though, that there still or that has been in 2018 and 2019 too much money chasing too few investments, which meant that things like SoftBank investing, hundreds of millions, billions into companies that perhaps they might not have done otherwise. And I can think it’s a general malaise, and if that cools down a little bit, that’s no bad thing. But that still means that anybody who’s a worthwhile investment target will still get their money. But we might see some of the fly by nights disappearing a little bit more.

Jeremy Cowan

Yeah, great. Thanks for your thoughts on that guys. Matt, I want to hear more about your book. I’m enjoying it at the moment. I haven’t finished it yet, I have to say, but it’s been a very good read. It’s a controversial title, the Internet of Things Myth. What’s the thinking behind it?

Matt Hatton

The starting point was that back in 2010 there were predictions of 50 billion connections by 2020. That was the essential starting point. And that we’re in 2020 now and we don’t have 50 billion connected devices. I should point out that not everyone was predicting 50 billion connected devices. I was running a company at that time that predicted something like 1/4 of that, which proved to be rather more prescient shall we say? Nevertheless, that 50 billion devices idea caught the imagination of everybody who was involved in the space. On the surface, everything seems to be progressing perhaps a little slower than that 50 billion might suggest, but actually, innovation seems to have evaporated a little bit in the last five years. We’ve seen what I’ve described is a first IoT winter going from 2015 through 2020 hopefully. I think the analogy is with AI Winters, that’s where the terminology comes from. The AI winter that’s where the great technology developments that have come before start to bed in. But there’s no significant technology investments, and I kind of feel like that’s where we are with the IoT at the moment. It doesn’t mean no adoption. We are seeing the adoption, but there’s a bit of a hump that needs to be gotten over before the next phase can begin. That hump involves a lot of things, but basically it’s about maturity.

Jeremy Cowan

I see. The book is a collaboration, isn’t it? Who is it you’ve been writing with?

Matt Hatton

It is. It’s collaboration with a gentleman called William Webb, who is formerly the CTO of Nual, the technology from which actually formed the basis for narrow band. IoT as we were discussing earlier. Subsequently, it was acquired by Huawei and then turned into NB-IoT. He also used to work for Ofcom and he was at one point the president of the IET. So, he knows a lot about wireless technologies. It was good to sit down with him and prepare that book.

Jeremy Cowan

So, if I understand you right, it’s not that the IoT sector has been exactly kidding itself that everything’s been okay, but there’s been an awful lot of business as usual, without really addressing some of the issues, the major issues. What do you think are those key issues?

Matt Hatton

Well, firstly, we have to have to look at the fact that there is tremendous success within IoT. There’s no arguing with that. There have been some brilliant applications across healthcare that have changed people’s lives, across connected cars that transformed the automotive industry. A lot of what we’re talking about is being tremendously successful, but that’s not generally the rule. What we see is generally the deployments of IoT have been rather focused on the low hanging fruit, the more mundane use cases, if you like the internal processes and changing those internal processes, rather focusing on changing the whole of the way that the organisation does business on. I think there is a positive shift to be made towards being more transformational, which hasn’t happened yet. 

Jeremy Cowan

I don’t suppose you were caught by surprise by anything in it, but I certainly learned something that I didn’t know. That was that the smart meter rollout in Italy was more than paid for by the reduction in fraud.

Matt Hatton

Yes, indeed. And there are tremendous examples of very successful deployments, but there are also a lot where it’s been underwhelming. We catalogue quite a number of ways in which, across 150 pages catalogue a lot of ways in which IoT hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that we might have had. So, we look at things like badly thought out products; connected water bottles, connected kettles. Why would you need to connect your water bottle connected kettle? You’re stood right next to it. Connected rectal thermometers. The mind boggles. (Laughter) The connected fridge. It gets a bad rap, actually, the connected fridge. Really people don’t need it to tell them how how many eggs they’ve got in the fridge. Actually, where it’s valuable is for the vendor to know how their complicated devices are performing. But the problem with that model is you can’t get the end user to pay. So the erroneous assumption was you could get the end user to pay, and therefore it would be rolled out much more rapidly. We’ve also seen security issues, significant security issues, terrifying things like the GPAC and the Ring hack, or even just other more widespread challenges, which have just created this feeling that there’s an underlying idea of the IoT being insecure, like the Mirai attacks. There’s also challenges with bad user experiences, things like Sonos and Philips end of life-ing devices that might only be four or five years old, when the expectation would be for lighting systems or music systems that you might have them for 10, 15, 20 years.

Jeremy Cowan

There was another example, of Garadget was it?

Matt Hatton

Yes, absolutely. So, Garadget “bricked” somebody’s garage door, because they wrote a bad review about them on Amazon, I believe, or somewhere. And the challenge there is that a bricked garage door is worse than no garage door at all. The point being, you are opening yourself up with regularly used household amenities to a service-based model, which isn’t being treated with the respect it deserves by the organisations that are trying to sell it. They’re treating it in a sort of Web scale internet-type product offering for something that is a piece of hardware. There’s an essential friction between the internet and the things. People who develop for the internet, and people who develop for things. Things are robust and they are stress-tested, and they comply with all sorts of strict rules from regulators in government. Whereas the internet is more or less The Wild West. You can do what you like and a lot of the practices from the internet of beta testing in field and so on have made their way into the hardware market, which isn’t a particularly positive spin.

Jeremy Cowan

I should add, this isn’t a physical bricking that you describe. This was a process of disabling a service that somebody had paid for.

Matt Hatton

Yes, that’s right. But it’s evidence of how you move from a tried and tested environment of having an unconnected device, which you know how it works. You put it in place, you leave it there for 30 years. And trying to persuade people to abandon that and move to a connected environment where you have a service provider it is quite a challenging one, and it’s not helped if you get these kinds of experiences, which are plastered all over the news of people having their devices deactivated after they’ve only had them for three or four years, or after they write a bad review or whatever.

Jeremy Cowan

So, finally, what is it that we all need to learn about digital transformations in order to make these successful in the next phase?

Matt Hatton

I think, actually, there’s a lot to be learned from IoT for broader digital transformations. IoT is a bit of a microcosm of digital transformation more broadly, and there’s a lot of recurring themes that we turn up in the book. The one I mentioned earlier about how the vast majority is about low hanging fruit, incremental changes to how organisations operate, and not a lot that that’s actually transformational, for instance not switching to that as-a-service business model that we might have hoped that more companies would be adopting. And the problems tend to be internal within the organisations that are deploying, not entirely. The vendors have been guilty of quite a lot of hubris as well. But, internally, organisations or enterprises adopting IoT need to think very carefully and make some extensive changes to what they do in terms of process, in terms of business model, in terms of financing. We talk in the book quite a lot about best practice in this field, making sure you have C-level executives involved in the process. Not entrusting everything to IoT, making sure you have a plan for progressing from proof of concept to full deployment, and having a mature approach to change management that really incorporates all of these different elements.

Jeremy Cowan

Yeah, well, it’s thought provoking. Sometimes it’s funny, and there’s a chapter heading in there that says, “Who cares if we scare the poop out of everybody?” Except you didn’t say poop, but this is a family show.

Matt Hatton


Absolutely.

Jeremy Cowan

Matt, where can people get a hold of a copy?

Matt Hatton

You can get hold of a copy on Amazon. There is a Kindle version and there is a paperback version.

Jeremy Cowan

And it’s called…?

Matt Hatton

It’s called the Internet of Things Myth.

Jeremy Cowan

Great. Guys. Thank you for your thoughts on all of the above. I want to look forward now. We’re living at a time of enormous change. So, how in your view, is COVID-19 going to change our working lives? George, can you go first? What do you think will be different from now on? Are we looking at business travel? Video conferencing, or much more?

George Malim

I think the changes will be far reaching and some of them will be permanent. I think the days, particularly for Europeans, of jumping on very cheap, very accessible short haul flights to go to small events are probably over, which is very sad because the face-to-face element is a great way of learning things, although we’re all becoming more familiar with video conferencing. But I do think that business travel is going to be radically reduced in future. I think our freedom to move between countries will be limited at least in the medium term, because different countries will be combating COVID in different ways. We will be relying on technology more than ever to enable us to continue working and I think even non-internationally there will be substantial changes. I can see as countries come out of lockdown, we’ll start to work in different ways. Some of the enforced home-working will encourage hot desking. I think we will start to see things like traditional rush hour traffic decline as people come in to work in staggered ways, so the world of 9 to 5 or 6 will continue to erode actually, as people start to work in different ways. And obviously technology has a massive role to play here. I think in the short term, the going back to work is an opportunity for IoT. I was talking to a company called Estimote last week, which has a tracking device for loan worker safety applications, but they’ve been able to adapt that and add some additional functionality to it, with the purpose of enabling healthcare workers and warehouse workers to come back to work. So that device will set off an alarm if you’re within two metres of a person, it will record data about who you’ve been exposed to in your work bubble and enable greater tracking of the virus and infected areas. Very sensibly. Estimote is a Polish company, so they’re within Europe and well aware of data regulations, very sensibly putting in an opt-in for people whose movements are tracked. So, the data only stops being anonymised if there is an outbreak of COVID and the person who suffers it can opt-in and their status is communicated in a respectful way because there is, of course, a concern that if we allow too much tracking to happen, it becomes a sort of sinister state control environment that we’re moving into. So, yeah, just to finish on this thread, I think a lot will go back to normal as it were, but many of the new functionalities will stay, I think particularly for people that haven’t used things like video conferencing or applications like telemedicine, are proving their worth and showing their benefits of things that can be done without requiring physical presence. Some of that will remain and form part of our new ‘normal’.

Jeremy Cowan

Yeah, I’m sure we’re going to see huge privacy debates going on around this. Matt, what else is there to discuss in this area? What have we missed?

Matt Hatton

I think that, actually, things will to quite a great degree go back to how they were before. I kind of miss the physical interaction with people, I think we’d probably enjoy doing this podcast more if we were all sat in the same room rather than on our Zoom core, but there we go. This has stress-tested a lot of things. I think that’s the interesting thing to note. Stress tested them in unusual ways that we weren’t expecting them to see run. Mobile networks have generally held up pretty, pretty well. Broadband networks – hmm, mixed bag. Zoom… it’s been the making of Zoom after all, robust but some security issues, shall we say? Netflix subscription seems to be essential. But it has been really interesting seeing tech being tested and approved, particularly in things like the healthcare sector that would typically have taken years. I saw somebody describe it as 2025 being here today, and I think there’s some truth in that.

Jeremy Cowan

I’m sure you’re right. It’s a topic that has been sort of bubbling under for a while, and suddenly it seems to be in all the mainstream media. So, we will not be left behind, I can assure you on that. We will be reporting on that a lot on our sites. Gentlemen, there’s been a lot of bad news around lately. Let’s finish with a smile. There’s time for me to ask you to share anything that’s made you laugh recently. Matt, what’s amused you?

Matt Hatton

Unidentified flying objects? Jeremy.

Jeremy Cowan

Really?

Matt Hatton

Let’s face it. In any other year, the publishing of video footage from the US Navy of UFOs, flying saucers, what looks suspiciously like flying saucers, would have been earth shattering. In 2020, ah no one even thinks it’s odd now. This is the most unusual year and we just take UFOs in our stride. 

Jeremy Cowan

(Laughs) George, what have you spotted?

George Malim

I’ve spotted the great suggestion that you should freak out your neighbours by renaming your home WiFi network “5G COVID test mast”. (Laughter)

Jeremy Cowan

The thing that tickled me, I saw actually last summer but it’s gone viral in the last few weeks. I was walking through the harbour town of Fowey in Cornwall when I saw a sign in a book shop window that said: “Books in the Post-Apocalyptic section have now been moved to Current Affairs”. (Laughter) Too close to the bone. Well, let me finish by saying, thank you! First to George Malim. Thank you, George.

George Malim

It’s been a pleasure. I’ve really enjoyed talking today.

Jeremy Cowan

It’s great to have you. And Matt, thank you very much for your time too. 

Matt Hatton

My pleasure, Jeremy.

Jeremy Cowan

And thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen, please keep safe. Keep logging onto our sites. Don’t forget to download Matt’s book, and join us for the next podcast looking at IoT and enterprise digital transformation. Bye for now!

Source: https://www.iotglobalnetwork.com