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Key IoT takeaways from Cisco Live

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I spent last week at Cisco’s Executive Symposium, which included just over a hundred CIOs from around the world exploring how the Internet of Everything was going to change every sector, ranging from financial services to mining to media. (IoE is Cisco’s take on the Internet of Things, and likely an attempt to capture the tech phenomenon under their own branding).

The keynote address from Cisco CEO John Chambers included some strong predictions on the future of big IT, namely that Chambers believes the consolidation of big IT will only get worse with just two of the top five IT giants being relevant in five years. This has implications for IoT because Cisco is betting hard that being able to offer end to end architecture under one brand will be key to making it easy for companies considering IoT connectivity to simply establish such connectivity. Systems integrators were definitely under fire.

IoT and the companies that play key roles in its deployment are important for cleantech. From the smart grid to the smart home, it’s now becoming clear that some of the most promising innovation opportunities will be in leveraging IoT for energy and resource efficiency. The game changing energy opportunities like solar and next generation batteries remain critical and need more R&D. But for the startup or entrepreneur the access point may be leveraging connectivity and data to encourage sharing or improve efficiency.

Some key takeaways from the conference:

1) Connectivity isn’t the end goal. Chambers echoed it when said “IoE isn’t about connectivity.” Connectivity is just the tool to capture data. And the data isn’t the end goal either. The end goal is business intelligence and you get there by applying analytics to data to solve problems. The value is in the service.

2) Start simple. Alex Hawkinson from SmartThings, which sells a hub to connect devices in the home and has rolled out an open API, noted to CIOs looking at developing IoT strategies that they should start simply. Sometimes figuring out complex projects that involve everything from sensors to security to analytics is a challenges. Do the simplest thing that adds value and use that as a springboard.

3) Consider all the available data. The Weather Company’s CIO Bryson Koehler said that when he considers what The Weather Channel can do with IoT he doesn’t just think about the data his company has direct access to. Rather what gets him excited is potentially drawing correlations between lots of different data, some of which may not necessarily be generated internally. Like mining public weather information or geological information to improve forecasting.

4) Dealing with the signal to noise ratio. One challenge that surfaced for many folks who have worked in IoT revolved around dealing with the volume of data and making sense of what’s useful. Otherwise the risk is getting bogged down with a sea of data sets and not knowing what to do with it all. In some respects this issue relates to hiring and having the right data scientist experts available to manage and glean real insight from data.

Chambers opened his keynote by citing the Cisco projection that mobile data traffic would reach 190 exabytes by 2018. I mention this figure because it relates to a theme that Google’s Director of Engineering Ray Kurzweil spoke to at the symposium: the difference between linear and exponential change.

When it comes to data growth and processing cost, we continue to see exponential movement. Which suggests that whatever we believe the tech landscape will be like in 3 years, we’re likely underestimating the magnitude of change. That’s particularly true for data volumes and IoT.

And for entrepreneurs interested in developing products and services for everything from cleantech to cloud, the opportunity remains in finding valuables services that can be built on top of all that data growth.