Women have an edge in IoT businesses

I believe women, or management and negotiation techniques commonly attributed to women, will become essential in business as companies adopt the internet of things.

Maybe it’s because this week was International Women’s Day or perhaps it was reading this article in the Washington Post about how men’s negotiation styles have changed after Trump won the election, but the opportunity for women to really nail building connected products and services has stuck with me.

Most of my belief comes from the type of negotiating style required to build products that combine the data and expertise of several companies into one product. A company trying to build some kind of end-to-end solution, whether it’s for lighting, manufacturing or even farming, must establish collaborative relationships with its data partners, connectivity providers and other sources of expertise or data along the way.

These deals aren’t struck and done. They are ongoing, oftentimes requiring communication on a weekly or even daily basis. It’s not to say that men can’t negotiate and collaborate in this way, but there’s certainly a cultural bias in the U.S. toward a hard-charging, take-no-prisoners style of negotiating. President Trump is an example of that.

What drove this thinking home was an interview for this week’s podcast. I spoke with Ros Harvey, the CEO of an agricultural business called The Yield. In the interview, she explained how she looks for people who possess not just technological skills, but people who can collaborate and empathize with the problems her farmer customers have.

She says that while everyone has awesome technical skills, what really becomes important is how employees understand the business problem and the value chain, as well as how they then collaborate with others. “No one company can boil the ocean,” she says. “No one company can solve every problem. What you really want to do is collaborate.”

This focus on collaboration has implications on everything from how one architects a service (use APIs) to how she looks for data partners. “Fundamentally what you want is something much more like a data cooperative or market, rather than data monopolies,” she says.

To be clear, this doesn’t necessarily mean women in particular — although she says her team is diverse with 60% being female — but a mindset focused on solving a problem with other people to create a win-win for all.

Harvey isn’t alone in her beliefs about the way to solve business challenges using IoT. Understanding the business problem is job one according to people (men or women) who are building the most innovative connected services. Instead of selling what you have, companies are forced to listen and cobble together a new service.  This has come across in conversations with Rose Schooler, VP of IoT strategy at Intel, who is trying to figure out a way to scale this process across different clients.

Better collaboration and striking deals that work for both her company, her customers and one day, even power providers, is something I’ve discussed with Maryrose Sylvester, the CEO of GE’s Current business.  At Current, GE is trying to create a business around intelligent lighting that will reduce energy consumption, but also provide new services for customers such as Intel, Simon Property Group and The City of San Diego.

Such complex, ongoing relationships where people build a product together calls for a new style of leadership and a way of thinking about how to do business. This time, women have the edge.


Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

Internet of Things news of the week March 10, 2017

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A Smart Audience: Thanks to everyone who participated in my audience survey. It confirmed what I thought: you are shaping the future of IoT technologies for both the home and enterprise. Congrats to Scott Mischnick for winning a Google home. If you are interested in sponsoring this newsletter and my podcast, send an email to andrew (at) iotpodcast.com and he’ll send you an updated media kit with the audience data.

The iControl deal is finally done!: After a long nine months, Comcast and Alarm.com have closed on their respective deals to buy the assets of iControl. Alarm.com is getting the Piper all-in-one connected security device, and the Connect business that provides support for a variety of home security providers including part of ADT’s Pulse business. I’m curious to see what it does with Piper. Alarm.com’s business is supporting dealers who sell connected security systems, which feels somewhat competitive to Alarm.com selling its own cheaper all-in-one solution. Comcast is getting the Converge business that creates internet of things (IoT) technologies and platforms for connected home security. (Converge underlies Comcast’s Xfinity Home offering.)  It also gets an IoT center in my hometown of Austin, Texas. (Alarm.com, Comcast)

Consumer Reports is tracking IoT security: The industry is working on some type of basic security standard, but Consumer Reports is beating them to it. The magazine will use some fairly common sense tests to determine if a product is secure. Those tests include the use of encryption, data storage and sharing practices and some basic hacking tests, although it’s not going to try to hack every device at an exhaustive level. This is a good move for the industry, although I would also like Consumer Reports to note if a company has a bug bounty program, since I think that shows it’s open to monitoring and fixing its security holes when discovered. (Engadget)

The scourge of bad AI: Will Oremus over at Slate says that consumers are going to bear the brunt of bad AI from companies like Tesla and Uber because good AI requires trial and error with huge data sets. And the fastest way to get huge amounts of variable data is to release a product into the wild and let consumers produce the data required. This can be bad news for self-driving cars, but it can also be a problem for consumer devices that aren’t likely to kill you if the AI messes up. For example, many devices that use machine learning have a training period where the product attempts to take in data and adapt to the user. This training period is often frustrating for the consumer,  who doesn’t necessarily understand what’s happening and why the product doesn’t just work. Oremus doesn’t really have a solution, but it is a problem that companies should be aware of. (Slate)

Preventative health company raises $ 17M: Kinsa makes a  connected thermometer so it can get information about how a disease spreads. This week is said it has raised $ 17 million from GSR Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, FirstMark Capital and others to expand its services around health and wellness. I love Kinsa because it’s a big idea wrapped around a relatively inexpensive and useful connected device. The funding announcement brings Kinsa’s total financing to $ 28.6 million. (Silicon Republic)

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Kinsa scored another round of funding. (Photo: KinsaHealth.com)

Rumor has it (Sing this in your head like Adele): Nest is reportedly building a home security product, a cheaper thermostat and maybe improving its camera, according to a report by Mark Gurman. Not only is Gurman a scoop hound, he’s basically resurfacing rumors of products reported about a year ago by The Information. If Nest does release these products, it feels pretty derivative. The market has a few cheaper smart thermostats, plenty of home security hubS (see my startup profile above) and even sensors for individual rooms that could speak to a thermostat. I’d love to see the type of vision from Nest that brings us closer to a more intuitive and secure smart home. Of course, the devil is in the details when it comes to connected devices, so an awesome app or intuitive user interface could go a long way to feeling revolutionary, even if the description of the devices on paper sounds somewhat meh. (Bloomberg)

Watson, meet Einstein: This is basically a press release, but it’s big enough to get a mention. IBM has signed an agreement to resell Salesforce’s Einstein data platform to customers using its Watson platform. Salesforce has agreed to resell IBM’s platform to its customers. I read this as a cry for a broader audience for IBM’s Watson technology, which sounds really impressive and can do amazing things, but is also not growing like IBM needs it to. IBM has put a lot of eggs in the Watson basket and it needs to sell it far and wide. Maybe this will help when the reselling starts later this year. (WSJ)

How to design a better chatbot: I love Medium for its ability to surface content that’s written plainly about difficult topics like designing chatbots. This article provides some good rules to follow, such as making sure there’s a way to back up if the user makes a mistake.  (Medium)

What the IoT can learn from pop stars and rappers: This post is essentially an ad for a distribution platform, but the problem it outlines of having multiple musicians collaborating on hit songs, and figuring out how to pay them when that song is streamed across any number of platforms, is similar to the challenge companies face when sharing data to build a connected service. A service such as delivering uptime for a jet engine is comprised of data from a variety of manufacturers of the individual engine parts, a cloud provider, some data analytics offerings and a connectivity partner. How on earth does a systems integrator track all of that? (DistroKid)

The next big Thread proponent? Legrand: The folks at Legrand, makers of high-end switches and outlets, are embracing smart home technology in the form of Thread. In a conversation with Manny Linhares, director of IoT strategy at Legrand, he said the company is launching a new line of connected products that will use the protocol, which was developed by Nest and Samsung. This is good news for Silicon Labs and NXP, which make Thread silicon, and also a boost for the young standard.

A better way of thinking about security: One of the challenges of securing the internet of things is that it’s a distributed system of interrelated players. If one company changes something, it may have repercussions far down the line. Much of our digital lives are coming up against this threshold, where it’s too much to solve a problem in a binary way in one area. We have to start thinking holistically. That’s what the author of this essay does. His suggestion is to think of security as less of locked door and more like an immune system. It’s a long and deep read, but worth it. (Medium)

Industrial automation is going to be big: Continuing automation and robotics are going to drive a lot of value for companies like Siemens, Emerson, and Honeywell, according to an ABI Research report. The analyst firm anticipates industrial automation control and field device shipments will surpass 55 million units in 2017 and reach approximately 146 million by 2025. This will translate to $ 298 billion in industrial automation device revenue by 2025. Roughly $ 45 billion of that will come from the shipments of robotics. (ABI Research)

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

The smart home is spying on you

Smart televisions from Vizio were watching what customers watched and taking their IP address. (Image from Vizio.com)

When everything is connected, all kinds of data will be collected. That’s the nature of a connected product. It can even be a benefit. But as a settlement this week between the Federal Trade Commission and smart TV maker Vizio details, a lack of transparency and overreach by device manufacturers will result in a slap on the wrist and a PR nightmare.

This is our future in a connected world. Without a few changes in the way data is collected, stored and protected consumers are screwed. And frankly, so are those hoping to sell connected products.

Vizio this week settled with the FTC and New Jersey for $ 2.2 million after the agency and New Jersey’s attorney general filed suit against the company arguing that it had tracked consumers behavior without their consent. Not only did it track their behavior, but it did so in a way that wasn’t transparent. The company shared not only data about what the consumer watched but also the consumer’s IP address which can be used to show what TVs and movies belong to which home.

The TV also gathered data on the devices that other people had hooked into the Wi-Fi network. That, plus technology that Vizio developed that took what were essentially screenshots and matched them to specific content, is a pretty damning lawsuit.

Vizio knew what you were watching on the TV, it knew what other internet-connected devices you had in your home, and it could link all of that information to your IP address. It then sold this package of information to companies that planned to use this information to sell products to consumers.

It’s like having access to millions of people as part of a giant focus group. It’s also one of the darker futures I predicted for the internet of things this year.  Roughly a month ago I wrote:

The smart home is going to bite companies and consumers in the butt: We think life is so bad now with the millions of hubs, devices that get bricked with no warning and a complete lack of standards. Just wait. Next year, we’re going to see the equivalent of police trying to pull data from someone’s Amazon Echo times 1,000. Absent mores and actual laws, both individuals and companies are going to abuse the power that the internet of things can provide to profit themselves.

Apparently, I was three years too late, since Vizio started doing this all the way back in 2014. I’d love to think that Vizio’s actions are rare, but my hunch is that the allegations made here could be leveled at a large swath of the connected device industry.  Fitbit, for example,  sells anonymized data from your wearable to third parties. It’s certainly not alone.

Absent a way to make money on a commodity consumer good, many companies will opt for some kind of data grab in the hopes of making more money.  Absent clear laws to stop them, companies will attempt to gather as much data as they can and sell that data to others.

Other than buying “dumb” products there’s not much consumers can do about this. How often has a privacy notice change on a physical product led you to shelve a device?

So where should we start?

We need to know how companies gather information and what they gather. For example, everyone is worried about the always-listening Amazon Echo, but that’s not how the device works. It may always be listening for a wake word, but the actual words spoken the rest of the time are relegated to the trash as noise.

What should give people pause is the ability for connected devices on your network to see what else is on the network. This isn’t some nefarious skill, but it is something that many services and physical devices have access to. Of the 45 or more smart devices in my home, I bet all of them have a pretty good idea of what other products are running.

Given the amount of data that can now be collected about a home or a person, we need to change what our definition of personally identifiable information (PII) is. Broadly it’s any information that can be taken together to figure out who a person is or where they are. Practically, that has included things like full names, addresses, social security numbers, phone numbers and your mom’s maiden name.

But IP addresses combined with the detailed history of shows could certainly identify me. And I’m not sure if I’m ready to be targeted based on all of the information my devices know about me. After all, one of those connected devices is an oven. I’m not sure I want Betty Crocker to know how many batches of cookies I bake in a week.

It can get far more nefarious when you combine personally identifiable information with algorithms that can detect things about your health, your credit score or more. For example, a machine learning company called Canary Speech has signed a deal with an undisclosed U.S. insurance company to use customer calls to the insurer for a project to test for Parkinson’s by listening to the caller’s voice.

To be clear, this insurer isn’t screening callers today, but the existence of this project and the fact that insurers are clearly looking at it in some fashion should give folks pause. Machine learning applied to the data you generate unwittingly or through smart devices is going to become part of corporate (and maybe even professional) decisions made about you.

At it’s most benign it may mean more intrusive ads. But it’s possible it may result in a loss of health insurance or assumptions made about you at work.  So if you’re tempted to discount Vizio’s TVs as some one-off event, I’d think again. And because the ability to apply machine learning to things as simple as as a phone call or a cluster of Facebook posts, it’s possible that even buying dumb devices may not protect you.

I’d love for Congress to read the 2015 FTC report on this, the White House’s January report on this or this week’s Pew survey about the risk of relying on algorithms…and then start making some new laws.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

Podcast: Tim Cook’s HomeKit setup and Echo mania

This week we have sales estimates on the Amazon Echo, a new way to unlock your August locks and a hub that may talk to both HomeKit and legacy Z-wave and ZigBee connected devices. We also cover several networking stories ahead of Mobile World Congress involving AT&T’s IoT network, a satellite-backed LoRa network and Nokia’s plans to offer an IoT-grid network on a wholesale basis. Finally, I explain what worked and what didn’t about my effort to secure my home by splitting off into two networks. Kevin also discusses the new Google smart watches and we share Tim Cook’s HomeKit routines.

This week’s guest runs the Techstars IoT accelerator and drives investing for the Techstars Fund in the internet of things. Jenny Fielding explains the trends she’s seeing in startups, what makes a good IoT exit and some of the challenges facing industrial internet startups. She also talks about how to get around them and shares the secret beginnings of Sphero, the maker of the BB-8 toy robot. Enjoy the show.

Sponsors: Ayla Networks and SpinDance

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

IoT News of the Week, February 17 2017

Here’s a wrap up of important news in the internet of things this week. You can get this in your inbox each week by subscribing to my newsletter.

This is a good IoT project: London installed equipment to track the WiFi on people’s phones as they traveled through a segment of the London Underground to see what kind of data it would reveal. Transport for London, the city agency responsible for the project, appears to have done everything correctly in setting this up. The agency notified commuters that their WiFi was going to be tracked during the month and told them to turn off the Wi-Fi on their phones if they wanted to avoid the tracking. This is a wonderful level of transparency. The agency also was able to gather data and analyze it far more quickly and with far more detail than its traditional methods. It’s now brainstorming use cases for the data since this was a pilot project to see what would happen, as opposed to a use case driven effort. (Gizmodo UK)

It’s coming from inside the house! This case study about a university computer network where a botnet had taken over connected devices and turned the network against itself is like a horror story for the IT security set. The case study is from a Verizon Security Breach report and details the botnet and how the university let the problem sit until roughly 5,000 machines were compromised. This could be the prank of the future. (Network World)

Another standard for the connected car:  The Open Connectivity Foundation and the GENIVI Alliance will collaborate to develop open standards for vehicle connectivity. These will include security and vehicle-to-vehicle communications standards. Members of GENIVI Alliance include Nissan, BMW, Renault, Volvo and Honda. (GENIVI Alliance)

Placemeter sold to Netgear: Almost two years ago I wrote about Placemeter, a startup that was trying to build a sensor and algorithms that could track the number of people walking by a place. Placemeter was bought in December by Netgear and will be working with the camera division. (Netgear)

Verizon buys a drone company: Verizon is buying its way into the internet of things with purchases of a smart city platform (Sensity), a fleet management platform (Telogis) and now with the acquisition of Skyward, a drone management company. It’s spending here should help it take on rival AT&T which so far is leading when it comes to IoT, primarily because it’s the top provider of connectivity for automakers. Now Verizon is rushing to lock down other possible segments of future revenue.  Based on what I’ve heard from city and enterprise clients, drone connectivity is going to be big. (Wireless Week)

Alexa gets more skills: You can now open the August connected door lock using your Amazon Echo. This ability was a while coming while the two companies tried to enable the ability to unlock a door without causing a security problem for homeowners. The solution is that anyone asking Alexa to unlock their August will have to say a PIN after the command. This is somewhat clumsy since a PIN can be overheard, but it should pave the way for other locks and garage door openers to work with Alexa voice commands. It’s also likely to be really helpful for people who can’t easily get to the door in time. In addition to this skill, Linksys added an Echo skill for its routers. You can turn your guest network on and off and even get credentials for the Wi-Fi network. (Since that is a potential security risk, the user can turn it off if they want.)

In the unintended consequences department: Deploying wireless networks in industrial settings could have unintended side effects on equipment in factories, leading companies to hold off on such systems. Much like the FCC prevented wireless devices on planes and hospitals used to prevent cell phones around their equipment, concerns over how radio signals affect delicate equipment aren’t crazy. So the National Institute of Standards and Technology is trying to understand how wireless networks perform and how they affect other industrial equipment so the wireless revolution that has taken over the consumer and office world can make it to industrial settings. (IEEE Spectrum)

NIST is also looking at IoT security: This would actually be incredibly helpful in establishing some type of baseline security standard for connected devices that manufacturers could work toward. (IoT Newsletter)

Apple’s into wireless too: Speaking of wireless, the rumor mill believes the next iPhone may come with wireless charging built in. Lending credence to this speculation was news this week that Apple is joining the Wireless Power Consortium. This is a big deal because Apple helps normalize technology, and normalizing a wireless power standard could go a long way to making wearables more palatable to people. Right now, there’s a real limit on how many connected devices you may mess with because so many of them require charging. Making it easy to set a device down on a standard charging mat as opposed to plugging it in would go a long way in making battery-powered devices a little less annoying. (The Verge)

How to hack a connected terminal: I learned a lot from this report about ways to get to the command line in various city-owned kiosks. (Securing Smart Cities)

Amazon has a lot of voice data: This article explains how valuable it is and why and then dives into how Amazon might then enter the enterprise. (Medium)

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis