James Staten, VP Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, submitted a fascinating AI / IoT and edge computing solution to the Covid-19 volunteer opportunity. We caught up with him to discuss the thinking that shaped his solution, and he shared a trove of insights into post-pandemic innovation with a focus on IoT and the future of open innovation.
The evolution of the Internet of Things is coming to a hospital, airport, workplace, public park, or event space near you—faster than once thought, and as a top priority for global health. And it’s here to stay. While several technologies are being accelerated by the pandemic, IoT and edge computing will be ubiquitously woven into everyday life. Life-saving IoT data will be analyzed in real-time and used to help restore some normalcy to work, travel, and leisure practices while augmenting healthcare delivery.
Ultimately, IoT is driving a future of which everyone is scrambling to be a part, according to expert, James Staten, VP Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, and previously chief strategist and GM of Microsoft Azure.
“We’re seeing a lot more desire to use edge computing resources because they have all of the IoT analysis built into them by default, rather than taking your traditional server and crafting new applications yourself to do this,” said Staten, who was chief strategist and GM of Microsoft Azure before returning to Forrester. “We’re seeing huge amounts of vendors in the cloud space as well as in the server and artificial intelligence space investing in edge computing, because they see this as the future. It’s the service that will do the real time analysis needed to keep people safe.”
It helps, he added, that most edge computing services are offered without long-term contracts. You can try them out and, upon verification and validation that they work, opt to pay per month for continued service.
As adoption of new technology accelerates, so too must business innovation strategy and project management. Staten noted that Covid-19 is inducing greater need for open innovation. It’s a practice of which he has long been a proponent, and for which he sees even greater need today. A competitive advantage that lasts post-pandemic will be conferred to those companies who he said faces these new and unprecedented business challenges by A) engaging their customers, B) engaging external innovation resources and C) learning from them what technologies are the most fitting solutions, and how to integrate them.
“The most innovative companies we see are engaging their ecosystem and third parties like you guys at Xinova,” said Staten, noting that in so doing, companies gain valuable additional insights and evidence of consumer tastes from the external partner. “This allows companies to come up with a broader set of ideas and create opportunities to expand their market position and market presence, while using their partners’ expertise in emerging technologies to help verify and validate what technologies could best be applied to create this new value for the customers.”
While turnkey innovation solutions will be increasingly important, Staten stressed that open innovation partnerships should be longer-term in structure. Firms who help generate ideas should remain engaged to turn the concept into a minimally viable product. Otherwise, ideas mostly die on the drawing board.
“It helps a lot when companies don’t just partner with a third party on ideas, but they stay engaged with these third parties when they get ready to build the MVP of these solutions and bring them to market.”
And the new reality of Covid-19 is demanding many solutions be conceived and brought to market in 2020 and beyond. Of those solutions, Staten and his colleagues are seeing IoT and edge computing as the most promising and impactful on re-opening social activities.
IoT has already received significant healthcare investment. For instance, hospitals are seeking out real-time patient data analysis to improve outcomes and provide more efficient care. Staten noted that during his tenure as GM of Azure, Microsoft made a strong play into the healthcare space, particularly with hospitals looking to use IoT monitors and real-time data analysis to:
In practice, cameras or other monitors capture information about patients and staff that is then analyzed by edge computing–the tools and platforms that make use of the information coming from embedded IoT equipment, rather than running analysis through the cloud.
The future of IoT will be tied to edge computing; cloud services are too slow and cumbersome. Edge computing are specialized hardware and software systems placed near IoT devices to analyze data. Whereas edge computing is performed in real time, the delay between running information to and from the cloud could cost a precious 5 – 10 seconds; time enough for a person identified with Covid-19 to walk into another room and spread the virus.
“Hospitals are using the IoT equipment in their emergency room to be able to identify: Who’s come into the room? What disease have they come in to deal with? Who have we identified who seems to have Covid? So let’s make sure that all the other people who are coming into the emergency room don’t get anywhere near this person who has COVID, and let’s communicate with that person as well and have them go to a private section or to the far corner of this of this room.”
The underlying principles of the emergency room example hold for IoT adoption in most built environments looking to reopen safely.
Pro sports, concerts and stadium owners need to re-open live events as safely as possible—with a solution that will remain useful after the threat of Covid lessens. Stadiums were already looking at edge computing solutions to screen for bad actors and improve people flow through the ticketing and security process. Covid is accelerating that eventuality.
The stakes for reopening live sports alone are not trivial. Billions of dollars and thousands of stadium and media jobs are at stake. Sports are also cultural keystones for millions of regular folks around the world who mark the passing of seasons by events like Super Bowls and World Series. While several stadiums are integrating IoT, Staten noted one particular stadium in Silicon Valley is leading the way.
“A good example is Levi’s Stadium here in the San Francisco Bay area. The stadium and the San Francisco 49ers football team have engaged with HP, who provided them with edge computing services. They’ve partnered with AT&T to provide a private 5g network capacity in there, so that when they do the analysis, they can pass the results as fast as possible and it also allows them to pull out IoT insights from devices all over the stadium and get real time insights from those actions.”
Staten is also seeing stadiums and sports franchises partnering with cloud vendors, who are providing edge computing functionality as extensions of their traditional cloud services.
“We are seeing many stadiums show interest in using edge computing for real-time analysis of all this stuff, so that they feel when the football season starts here in the US in September, that they will be able to allow a subset of their customers to show up and help them be seated safely around each other, and as a result, get the get the sport to come back on time.”
Just as at hospitals and stadiums, music events must be able to identify who is attending, what their Covid-19 history is, who looks healthy or not, and thus where they should be situated. Unlike with sports, which draws revenue from TV rights, concert revenue is primarily dependent on spectators.
Musicians’ livelihood depends on live shows. The show, literally, must go on for the music business to continue.
IoT cameras let stadium operators quickly determine how to make sure people can maintain a safe distance. Events with seating are somewhat easier than in events, like some concerts, where people fill spaces. In those general admission-type events, the IoT would connect with mobile phone apps to alert people where to situate themselves.
If you’ve had the misfortune of needing to endure international air travel during Covid-19, you know how it has manifested as one of the outer circles of hell. (Tangent: my own 12-hour transatlantic flight from Finland to Seattle, after repeated cancellations up through this writing, mutated into a 36-hour trans-Pacific nightmare through three airports by way of Tokyo). A viral pandemic can induce a special kind of anxiety in crowded airports and cramped airplanes.
Where the air travel industry had once looked to IoT to defend against terrorists and other bad actors, safety and security has taken on new dimensions in the post-Covid-19 world. From transportation to the terminal, to parking, to getting through ticketing and security and into a safe seat on the plane, there is immediate need for edge computing at airports to alert us to potential viral transmission and guide crowds as safely as possible to their seats.
“We are seeing some IoT investments in airports and we’re seeing edge computing solutions being provided in there as well, and it’s for a lot of the same values,” said Staten, adding that the application for IoT has gone from ensuring the ticketed passenger is actually who is boarding the plane, to ensuring safe social distancing and seat assignments.
Staten noted airports in London and Germany are leading the way, with prototypes coming online in New York and New Jersey.
Cities are integrating more IoT in public spaces like parks and swimming areas in order to help citizens go out and maintain safe distances. A suburb of Atlanta, Georgia for instance has been partnering with third parties very deeply to modernize their city and help it overcome physical distancing issues. The solutions for Covid-19 are expected to remain useful for analyzing streams of data that will help conduct more efficient traffic flow, protect against criminals, and track storms.
A funny thing happened when people were told to work from home: some became more productive. In the future, said Staten, businesses will identify who is more productive working from home or at the office. Once new productivity tools and metrics are implemented, those workers encouraged to return to the office on a regular basis may do so with IoT that ensures a safe work space, which will be a valuable recruiting tool in the future, he said.
Meanwhile, those encouraged to work from home will likely no longer do so via VPNs, which Staten said are hugely inefficient and ripe for disruption. An employee in California whose company’s headquarters is in Arizona must log in to their VPN, which then funnels all queries to Arizona and relays results back to California. Players like Global Connect, who ensure a secure connection remains in place after logging on to a WiFi network, are offering appealing substitutions and alternatives.
“VPNs are super, super slow. So we’re now starting to see replacements and alternatives to VPNs that provide security at the house but do not require the traffic to go back. VPNs are being disrupted by getting rid of that horrible distance traffic.”
Staten was firm that companies must continue to focus on innovation and disruption. Even in the midst of a disruptive pandemic, companies must keep emerging disruption points on their radar, and be prepared to react as fast-followers or leading disruptors. He recommended open innovation as a proven tool to overcome the internal innovation blockers that hold many large companies back.
Employees measured by tactical KPIs might be incentivized to believe they stand to lose if the company tries something disruptive of those KPIs. This is not a fertile culture for innovation. As a result, companies are finding that smaller, hungrier partners are best equipped to move bold innovation forward.
“I’d love to say that most organizations are focused on the types of innovations that position them as the disrupter, but that is not the case. Oftentimes it’s because of those very tactically-focused people inside the company, who see these types of disruptive innovations and are like, ‘Wait, why would we come up with this thing that’s going to disrupt our current product?’”
For that reason, Staten noted that the most innovative companies push a new idea by tapping external partners, be it a startup or someone else. He singled out Capital One. They partnered with a startup, WikiBuy, to drive a new service that would in the short term only benefit a comparatively few users but wound up quickly catching fire amongst customers and has morphed into a disruption point over which they have ownership.
“The most innovative companies we see have partnered with startups or other third parties to create net new values and extensions to their platform. And more often than not, because of their tactical blockers inside, they have had the startup bring it to market first, (whereupon) they knew the startup would be more motivated because they may only need 15 customers to validate their solution, whereas if I went to my management team and said, ‘We’ve got a great solution that is going to apply to a maximum of 15 users,’ they would be like, ‘No, we’re not doing that, that’s stupid. I only want to see things that are gonna apply to 1000 customers or more.”
James Staten has over 20 years experience in marketing, business development and corporate strategy with large tech companies, enterprises and startups. At Forrester, James helps CIOs attain innovation leadership to help drive their company’s digital business initiatives and transformation. He returned to Forrester in 2018 after serving as the Enterprise Customer Advisory Board leader and global head of market development at Equinix, the global leader in cloud-neutral connectivity and hosting. Prior to that, he served as the GM and chief strategist for Microsoft Azure, helping guide Microsoft’s Cloud & Enterprise division to drive innovations that empower enterprise digital business initiatives, including blockchain as well as API and platform enablement. In his previous role at Forrester, he led the cloud computing playbook and pioneered Forrester’s research on infrastructure-as-a-service.
Working out of Silicon Valley, James holds a master’s from the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California and a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Texas. He is also a graduate of the Executive Program, Singularity University — driving exponential innovations.
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