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Thinking Big with the Internet of Things

I was sent a link to this video from a friend at Gartner, after our conversations last month at Symposium. It’s a great topic – the Internet of Things on Formula 1 race cars – sexy stuff, and van Manen’s statistics really boggle the mind. Check it out – there are a number of specific things to listen for …

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Just a few thoughts …

The idea of continuous improvement is heavily baked in to the motor racing mind set. Every two weeks, crews change thousands of features on the car, looking for those incremental improvements that will translate into ever higher performance.

Idea: Formula 1 teams are comfortable in a world that is constantly changing, at an incredible pace. The willingness to change, to question, to realize there are things we don’t know about, and the energy to see that as a good thing (I get to learn something new!) versus a bad thing (I don’t have the time / resources / skills / technology to solve such a problem) – all are crucial to success.

Observation: If you don’t have that basic mind set, stay away from experimenting with the Internet of Things. New sensors and techniques will allow us to take more measurements, and get more specific and data driven about the changes we make. Your world view has to shift from “how do I measure that?” to “what could I possibly measure to improve x?”. Of course you’ll have to figure out how to measure it, and there is probably a whole new research skill set in just learning about new sensor technology – but let your imagination run wild!

van Manen lists some quick stats on the amount of data that is captured during a race. with a little math (4MBits per second, 4 hour race) I could estimate 7GB of data per car per race – a decent amount of data to be sure. On the other hand – I can buy a 128GB micro SD card for about a hundred bucks on Amazon; it’s not about the size of the data, it’s what you do with it once you capture it.

Observation: Yes, I know that processing a data set of that will be a new and different problem – when folks talk about Big Data and the IoT, this is what they are talking about. We need to realize that many of our favorite data processing tools cannot handle those volumes – so the real challenge is to find and learn how to use technology that can. Face it – for many years the world has been run by Excel; but if we limit our imagination for analytics and visualizations to the stuff we can do in Excel, we will massively miss out.

The really neat part of his story is when he switches to talking about data in the infant care ward. Is this just bad presentation skills, jumping from one domain to another? No, he gets to a good place; the message here is to think about data, metrics, sensors, and analytics across any and all problem areas in your company – and, apply the technology, skills, and resources from one area to another.

Observation: Clearly, the world of Formula One racing has invested a lot in the IoT – as have many other industries and industry players. Does that mean that suppliers to those markets and industries are behind and can never catch up? Of course not – if you aren’t in a position to define industry and technology standards, beat your competition by being the only supplier to “hook in” to those developing standards. Hitch your wagon to a star …

One last note – my ears perked up when von Manen used the words “Thinking Big” as he summed up his talk; “it’s the right thing to do”, and when Formula One is successful with predictive analytics on high volume, high-speed data, it can go beyond the track and into many other areas. A few months ago, my boss made a similar challenge to me, and we’ve been talking about that phrase inside the IT team – and taking that message to the other functional areas of the business. It’s an idea that drives us – the whole organization can Think Big at the possibilities for the Internet of Things.

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