Plumbing the Internet of Engagements (IoE)

Ok, I’ll be the latest writer to muck around with new twists on the name of one of the latest crazes since The Cloud.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has created a sugar rush driven by technology vendors targeting government and business. Unlike The Cloud, the general public tend to have a more tangible understanding of IoT simply because they recognize some of the “Things” that serve as feeds.

They understand that products like NEST, mobile phones, Fast Lane passes and fitness trackers all send their respective signals to some curious repository that stores their data. In many cases that repository relays insight or recommendations back to the government, business – oh, and perhaps the user.

The recent announcement by Amazon that it is considering paying some of its authors based only on the number of pages a user reads tells us that this Kindle “thing” is far from just a trendy reading device.

Each of these devices within its own technological or industry silo provides data feeds that theoretically provide a financial or quality-of-life return on the money invested in them. Government likes quality of life for taxpayers, business likes increases in shareholder equity.

Decades before anyone dreamed of an Internet of Things, my old colleague, Bob Metcalfe, in his eponymous law, stated that “the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2).”

Ironically, Metcalfe probably provided a better definition of IoT than the current model because he used the words “connected user” to describe the nodes instead of “connected Things.” I expect IoT purists to remind me that many of the feeds do in fact come from feeds and not from people.

They would argue that a sensor on a city water pipe or smart grid isn’t really human… it’s a “thing.” But is it really?

Every sensor – whether NEST, traffic intersection, pacemaker or pipe at the water department – is largely driven by some human engagement. One has to think very hard to counter with an IoT sensor that operates entirely in isolation from a human engagement.

So where am I going with this?

Years of working with technologists tells me that they tend to focus on the “ the containers over the contents.” I’ve written in the past about this being one of the reasons for CIOs being disintermediated from many big data projects, because of an over-focus on storing the data versus gaining insight from it.

The same has become true for Internet of Things. Thousands of business and urban technology leaders are desperately looking for the THINGS to feed into the system while ignoring the meaning of the engagements from which they were derived.

I’ve been in a number of business and government meetings where a census or audit was being conducted for the possible technological device candidates for an Internet of Things strategy in their ecosystem.

Unfortunately I’ve been to very few meetings where the desired engagement data insight that would add value to government or business was put ahead of the selected “things” (or containers) that beam petabytes of “noise” into the Cloud.

Almost identical to Facebook and Twitter, the IoT strategists thrive on “vanity metrics” that put high priority on the quantity of data feeds that look great on PowerPoint slides resembling a DNA molecule. Unfortunately they place this at a higher priority than developing a strategy driven in advance by the quality of meaningful data insight derived from the human engagements that trigger the agents.

The subtleties of focusing on an Internet of Engagements mentality over an Internet of Things shifts the thinking just slightly away from the inanimate and over to the human. Most important, an Internet of Engagements strategy adds a whole new meaning to the exponential connections element of Metcalfe’s Law.

It professes, in a 21st century context, that urban and business leaders should proactively develop a pan-enterprise/government architecture to derive meaningful insight from the aggregation of device-driven engagements, as opposed to the painful process of retrofitting the “plumbing-of-things” after the fact.


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