One of the biggest mistakes you could make now is to underestimate the Internet of Things, says Cisco’s Rowan Trollope. For many companies, embracing the IoT is crucial for their survival. “This is a life or death issue for most of our customers. They have seen what has happened with Uber and taxi companies and with Netflix and Blockbuster,” Trollope explained at Cisco Live. Fortune 500 companies are not immune to this type of disruption. In fact, research from Cisco and Global Center for Digital Business Transformation indicates that digital disruption could disrupt four out of ten businesses in the next five years—a pace that could be the fastest in history.
Meanwhile, the IoT is quietly transforming the world and notable companies like UPS, GM, Boeing, Starbucks, and the industrial manufacturers like ABB are already embracing the technology. Practically every big tech company has made the IoT a big part of their business strategy. “Vertical by vertical, we are seeing tremendous transformation,” Trollope says.
And for Cisco itself, the Internet of Things is likely at the vanguard of technology trends impacting its future.
The Exponential IoT
Still, there are many people who are skeptical about the technology—particularly in the smart home space, which has seen less focus on practicality than in other IoT niches. “I talk to folks all the time who say: ‘I don’t really get IoT,’” Trollope says. “I talked to a guy the other day who is a software engineer in Silicon Valley. He said: ‘I got a washing machine. Why do I need that to be connected? It has a motor, and water, that’s all I need.’”
Yet there is likely significant more potential for the IoT in domains such as smart cities, transportation, and manufacturing. The fact that the smart home realm gets the lion's share of attention and hype could partly explain skepticism towards the IoT at large.
But another important reason for the huge discrepancy between skepticism and fervor surrounding the IoT is the fact that the technology is evolving at an exponential pace. We have seen this gulf before with novel technologies, as those who can glimpse the technology's potential take note while others dismiss it. During the first sequencing of the genome, for instance, it took enormous efforts and seven and half years to sequence the first 1% of the genome. Mainstream critics complained that finishing the project could take centuries to complete. As futurist and Google engineering director Ray Kurzweil then observed: “My reaction at the time was: ‘Oh, we’ve finished 1%—we are almost done! 1% is seven doublings from 100%.”
According to Trollope, we will soon make the bend in the exponential curve where the progress on the IoT will kick into high gear, eventually leaving people to wonder what happened.
Why the Internet of Things Makes Services Out of Things
Another part of the confusion surrounding the Internet of Things is its very name. “The name is unfortunately misleading,” Trollope says. “Fundamentally, it is not really about the Internet itself. It is about the things.”
The transformation of things into smart objects means a radical business transition. “It is really a transformation from products to a service,” Trollope explains. That is impactful because it changes the very nature of the business relationship.”
We see this change in Microsoft’s transition from Office to Office 365 but also in cars. The maker of some of the most connected vehicles on the road, Tesla can launch new features via software. “The car itself is not all contained within the thing you buy,” Trollope says.
Trollope says that he owns a Tesla. Because he has a steep driveway, he would raise the height of the car each time that he got home because it would bottom out going up his steep driveway. “Several months later, the company did an update of its operating system and I drove up to my driveway and it started raising even before I touched a button,” Trollope recounts. “And I said: whoah! How did that happen? It noticed that I was raising the car in the same place. So it was able to determine when I get to this GPS location, we will lower the car.”
While in the past, car companies engaged with their customers infrequently, with Tesla, the engagement is ongoing.
“There are messages that come to me in my car about what the new capabilities are. One notable example is Ludicrous mode—a battery and software upgrade—that can enable the P90D to go from 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds—out-accelerating some Lamborghinis and Ferraris.
Incidentally, Trollope says that “Ludicrous Mode” is a good name to describe what it has felt like working at Cisco in the past year. “We have been moving like crazy as a leadership team.”