The Internet of Things Food For Thought

Jacob loved to spoil himself every Friday with a visit to the local steakhouse. After a hard weeks work what could really be better? He would order the fillet mignion with a side of mushrooms and wait for the steak to arrive, his mouth watering at the thought of cutting into the thick juicy slab of burnt meat and tasting the juices come out as he chewed each mouthful. The aroma and flavors assaulting his senses would send him into a reverie. But today was a little different, as he was toying with his salad it suddenly dawned on him that he never really thought about how all this food really reached him here at his favorite restaurant. Where did it come from? How was it grown? What really went behind the scenes to get him his wonderful steak?

Most of us really do not give a second thought to the way we consume our food. Yet with the world population set to hit 9.6 billion by 2050 governments and farmer are hard pressed to get productivity up and costs down to ensure that the next 2 billion people are fed. Already climate change and the environmental impact of current farming practices are creating stresses that seem increasingly insurmountable given that lack of agricultural land has already pushed farming to the very fringes of what we would consider cultivatable land. Compound that with water crisis’ affecting more regions of the world than ever before and burgeoning urban population demanding more and varied food, we have the makings of a perfect manmade disaster unfolding on a global scale. Leaving us to ponder whether our children and grandchildren will have access to a nutritious diet.

What can be done? 

The key to increasing productivity in agriculture lies in our ability to reduce waste and increase efficiencies of all inputs while at the same time scaling these up in food supply chain as well. How? Technology using the Internet of Things (IoT).

Imagine a Smart Farm completely IoT enabled with sensors built in all the equipment. Fields with an array of sensors connected to the cloud and software to help make sense of all the data. Now Farmers will have the knowledge to control the amount water or fertilizer to use when to use it , to see pest infestations before they become problematic, to sense stress in their crop days before it becomes visually evident, and to know exactly the best time to harvest their crops. Farmers could benefit from knowing what crops to plant by using plans based on predictive algorithms showing tentative weather conditions and market situations.  Similarly grain storage silo management can become more efficient at monitoring the right temperatures warning of impending equipment failure keeping food at the optimal quality. Just in time (JIT) deliveries of food could become very efficient keeping it fresh lowering the need for extensive refrigeration and chemical preservatives. Food processing companies could now directly look into their supplier’s quality using software that tracks food quality even as the food is grown in the fields’ right up to the supplier’s storage and shipping points. 

What is happening?

Already we find drone software being designed to analyze geospatial and image data for farmers. Small sensor have been designed to read the water content and solar output that crops are receiving. Heavy farming equipment is not far behind, with sensor being built in to harvesters that can track ripest fruit to be picked and so much more!

Companies and governments have taken notice and are gearing up to meet the challenges of an agricultural revolution that the IoT may enable. Already US$ 471 million has been invested in the first quarter of 2014 for IoT enabled devices for farming. Smart farming will allow farmers and other stakeholders to understand the diverse conditions that create variables over a period of time. Embedding intelligence into the design of equipment will allow farmers to combine all the data from different sensors into useful information that can be acted on. Even though a farmers relationships with the ecosystem of suppliers and stakeholders can potentially be very complex ranging from machine manufacturers of farming equipment and heavy farming vehicles, suppliers of the machine to machine technology and the software developers creating IT based decision support systems, over time the value of these will create synergy for all the participants allowing for more efficient and effective designs to be incorporated using the Internet of Things.

Overtime as the cost of IoT enabled farming devices declines and more knowledge is gleaned from initial experiences we’ll eventually see these small devices being employed by poor farmers in developing countries where they will make the biggest differences to the vast deprived rural populations who live with limited access to farming knowledge and technology.  

Coming back to Jacob who has just now had his fillet mignion delivered to his table by the waiter. He looks at the gorgeously seared, medium rare piece of meat on his plate; gently cuts into it and lifts a piece into his mouth enjoying the burst of flavor with the knowledge that world of the Internet of Things just may let him enjoy his hard earned weekly steak a bit longer. 

The Internet of Things and Marketing to the World

You are walking around the shopping mall with your shopping list but something weird is happening. Every time you change an aisle your phone seems to come alive beeping away cheerfully! You look at the screen and see a list of products that has magically appeared all of them vying for your attention “buy me”, no “buy me” “ I am going at discount”, “Try me out for the best experience” etc. While you are wondering how these products found you out and how they know what you are looking for, you realize that the world has changed after all, and that the Internet of things (IoT) is knocking on your door.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to change how you experience your next shopping spree. How? Well all the objects and devices with their sensors, connected through the Internet will relay a lot of information about how you are using them, where you are using them, when are you using them. All this data will be mined by the products manufacturer and marketing companies who will compile it into information that enables them to design, contour and make improved products that are better able to meet your needs and wants. Advertisers will be able to build profiles based on your preferences and reach out to you in unique and personalized ways. They will ultimately convey messages or content that is in line with the consumer’s mindset, targeting people at optimal times and places through nontraditional media.  Sound incredulous? It is already happening as many of the products around you like your smart TV, cellphone and console are “listening” to you and gathering data on what you are doing most of the time without you even realizing what they are up to imagine what would happen when you have a home full of IoT enabled devices.

The brands we use will become our life long acquaintances as they have a continuous dialogue with us through continuous interaction. Imagine a device that reminds you to replace a worn out part or tells you a newer version is out with improved features and you might want to try it. Advertising will become in a sense crowd sourced as the creative impulses are tempered with information made available through the IoT. New models of marketing will develop that move beyond the legacy methods opening up completely unharnessed horizons for companies.

Digital Marketing will move beyond customer relationship management as the information gleaned becomes more personalized allowing customized and targeted approaches to reach consumers. E-commerce will become ever-present and pervasive in every aspect of our life; sometimes maybe even intrusive.

Making sense of the IoT is going to be challenging for marketers as the influx of devices will require them to consider context and apply methods and skills differently from traditional techniques. Turning big data into information will require advanced statistical models and software to make sense of all the information flow allowing them to create highly accurate profiles of the consumers. One of the best benefits that will come is from the unfiltered nature of the information that they can get making understanding consumer behavior just a little bit easier. Marketing will become more about excellent content, emotive appeal and more device and platform neutral as a multitude of IoT enabled devices make way in to our lives.

Remember the next time you go shopping if a carrot calls out to you saying “eat me”, or if you find the milk cartons “mooing” away, or if the latest perfume says “smell me” or a t-shirt calls out “I want to be all over you” don’t think that the world has gone crazy, it is only the world of the Internet of Things calling!!!

Bridging the Digital Divide with the Internet of Things

Have you ever felt that pang of anguish while visiting a friend’s house when he proudly displays his new 80 inch OLED smart TV connected to his 1 Gbps connection, which is in turn connected to his new iPad projecting Apple TV on screen, as he goes on lecturing about the benefits of the latest tech? You look around his room to see the latest gadgets all there; making it impossible to keep the “green eyed monster” at bay, while at the same time you fumble to your pockets to hide your 3 year old smartphone. If you have experienced something similar to this situation then you have had a small taste of the “Digital Divide”.

The reality of the Digital Divide (DD) of course is much larger, access to the highest bandwidth and latest tech can make huge differences in people’s lives.  The DD can be between men and women, rich and poor, different ethnicities, even between the developed and developing countries. The advantages that the latest tech offers simply does not percolate everywhere at the same time, creating disparities that can leave behind large segments of humankind in a kind of “digital dark age”.


Now you may kind of wonder why does this Digital Divide happen? Well there are quite a few reasons this happens let take a brief look at few of the major ones (for convenience let’s use country comparisons as these are the areas where the largest differences occur).

If you remember the example above, the friend who has bought all these gadgets seems to clearly have the cash to purchase them maybe he inherited millions or made it big, it doesn’t matter, he has enough money to get the latest stuff. This situation unfolds on a much grander scale when we compare countries. If we compare developed countries to developing countries we find great disparity between them when we start using the right metrics like internet penetration, cost per mbps, cost of capital for buying ICT stuff like computers, smartphones etc. just to mention a few, a clear yawning gap appears. So economics does play a big role in the digital divide and the unfortunate truth is that it is in the developing world, where getting the latest tech can make the most difference in alleviating poverty and creating empowerment.

The next thing is access to technical knowledge, research and development this is an area where developed countries have the complete edge. If you look at the number of patents filed in developed countries vs developing countries it will give you a good idea where the next tech is going to come from. For example if a country lacks software designers it will have to import software or buy licenses for it or if they do not have backward linking companies that produce hardware for the ICT then they will have to rely on imports again this can quickly add up to a significant portion of their foreign exchange being drained or funds being curtailed from development projects. Developing countries do not always have the infrastructure, funds, and know how (brain drain happens the most from developing countries) to cultivate and deploy the latest tech leaving large swathes of their population deprived.

 Infrastructure or lack thereof can hamper the ICT projects. If a country suffers from chronic power shortages or if a significant portion of the population lives in remote areas where there is no power grid then the power to use devices becomes more complicated and expensive. Similarly if a country cannot deploy fast fiber optic or cellular communications then information cannot disseminate properly rendering ICT projects inefficient.

So what can we do?

Simply placed we can start using the internet of things to start overcoming traditional barriers to ICT deployment. The Internet of things will open up unique ways for countries and people to enable devices to enhance their lives. As the Internet of Things comes to be and matures we can hope that companies will be able to achieve economies of scales that were previously unheard of bringing down production costs. Also the IoT can enable people to design develop and customize products for their own needs. Imagine what an ingenious student in a developing country could do with a 3D printer. IoT might enable decentralized manufacturing of customized products suitable for each countries situation. IoT enabled devices will increase efficiencies in everything that they are used in creating net saving for everyone and opening up more resources for other uses.

While we can perhaps argue about the risks of IoT deployments and maybe they will create their own set of issues as the popularity of IoT enabled devices grows, but this always happens whenever new disruptive technologies come about, leaving room for the next generation of thinker and doers to innovate something new, to solve those problems.

Getting back to our story, now maybe you have just barely managed to control the Green Eyed Monster of jealousy or maybe you have allowed it to take control and are contemplating whether selling a kidney will get you the latest must have gadgets. Then know this the Internet of things is coming and just maybe with it, the vast deprived humanity might get some parity in their lives.

Stay with us more about the IoT is on the way!!!