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July 26, 2018

Digital Transformation - Where are we headed?

Digital Transformation, definition of which varies from organization to organization and from individual to individual, at its most abstract level of understanding is certainly not a technical transformation at all. DT, in its essence is a shift in the business strategy of an organization to achieve the unprecedented scale, speed and scope of organizational operational boundaries to reach out to unknown people, territories with innovative ideas and lightning speed supported by niche technologies available at our disposal today.

DT, which traces its roots back to arrival of TCP/IP in 1972, and TCP's move from DARPA's ARPANET to Internet around 1990, with actual digital transformation beginning post Y2K era only, has traversed a long & audacious journey. Supported by massive bandwidth, advanced computing capabilities and multibillion dots of connectivity, organizations all across the world have been taken by the surprise at the scale of transformation being done or being proposed by new comers of this organizational world. Transformation is being practiced/happening at multiple pillars of organizational business strategy (Consumer/Data/Competition/Innovation/Value), with organizations trying to shift their vision from Product Centricity to Value Centricity via Consumer Centricity.

Having said all this and post going through multitude of research articles on all leading technologies covering IoT, Blockchain, Big Data, AI, AR/VR & others, ultimate question which comes to my mind - Where are we headed? What is the future of Digital transformation? Is there any impact of technological evolution on our own evolution?

If I were to quote the answer directly from my own POV - "Digital technology is going to take us to that state where everyone will be communicating and interacting with everything - animate and inanimate. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), cognitive learning, wearable technology, and human-like interactions with intelligent software providing more natural interfaces for human interactions, transforming people into 'better versions' of themselves. With these advances, the evolutionary force is not stopping. The digital era is a revolution because it promises to do the next thing: when the accumulated learning of the world will get transmitted to the big brain in a flash and continue to stay updated through a monster computer, true of any revolution.

We ourselves are a product of a giant 'gravitational singularity', which billions of years ago culminated in the form of a 'Big Bang', which laid the foundation of our universe. The origin of humanity and everything beyond humanity lies in the womb of the gravitational singularity. While too many gravitational singularities still exist in the universe, human life is going to be drastically redefined by a new singularity which is popularly known as technological singularity. Our journey from gravitational singularity to technological singularity is only decades away from culmination. Only time will tell if the human race will successfully be able to come out of the whirlpool of technological singularity. If we remain as fortunate as we have been, we shall survive for sure, but may or may not be in the same form of existence. We are being driven by Digital technologies to an era of revolution or possibly another evolution."

 But does this answer still hold good? Is there any recent revolution which would have changed the basic premise behind this thought process? Is it not the individual's choice of extent of marrying technology into one's life which shall drive individual's techno human evolution or would it be collective societal choices which shall drive our future?  Do we really exercise any form of control on any of the evolutionary changes?

A very apt quote which I read sometime back - "The stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine"

I do not seem to have any clear cut answer to any of these questions as of now. Should it not be individual's own choice to lead their own transformation journey? I leave it up to you to answer, up to you to decipher & up to you to direct your own transformation.

July 18, 2018

Connected Cars - The Telematics Journey ahead....


The auto industry is going through rapid evolution. The need for speed and fuel efficiency, traverse all types of terrains, and navigate in increasing traffic is pushing original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to build vehicles with improved power, torque, and speed. As cars get built with increasing technological sophistication and intelligence, the core business of OEMs is shifting from car manufacturing to transportation.

The era of the connected car was launched in the 2000's when the first infotainment systems found their way onto car dashboards. The navigation display and entertainment audio systems got OEM's thinking beyond machines, and scrutinize the business of transportation - moving people and goods from one place to another. Transportation involves planning and execution of a journey. And planners are usually bombarded by a host of questions, which method of transport to choose? For instance, should it be by road, air, or water? If the mode of transportation is road then what vehicle should be chosen, car, bike, or bus? If the choice is the car, then the next question is on the route to be taken, what could the weather be, if it is snowing, then should the vehicle have winter tires, where will the vehicle be parked, when should the vehicle be refueled, where are the fuel stations and how far apart are they, and just some of the questions to be answered.


The rise of smartphones has enabled drivers to connect to the internet via tethering. Technologies such as MirrorLink, a device interoperability standard that offers integration between a smartphone and a car's infotainment system, have started making their way onto the car dashboards, and OEM's have now found a way of connecting the car to the rest of the world. OEM's, as well as Tier1 car companies, have started investing on building their own telematics platform. This is a comprehensive ecosystem of communication and consists of sensors, instrumentation, wireless communications, and more. As almost every industry begins to understand the potential of connected devices we are in a new era where IoT platforms are paving the way for M2M communication. BMW's Connected Drive, Audi Connect, Toyota's Touch 2 and Ford SYNC are a few prominent examples.


Most of the cars today use tethering connectivity through the phone to connect to the Internet. Few have already started on the next phase with inbuilt Wi-Fi.  Big OEM's are already working on Data Communication Modules, built for e-call and disaster recovery, and for telematic services such as remote diagnosis, infotainment gateway, and others. Market studies predict that by 2030 the connected car will expand revenue in the automotive industry by about 30 percent.


With the possibility of faster and dedicated internet connection within the car, and access to data becoming simpler, smartphone apps will have a key role in the future which will start shifting the automotive industry from vehicle manufacturing to transportation, and then on to mobility. This will lead to the emergence of new services,


Pre - Journey - Route planner, send2car, insurance - driver behavior, pay-as-you-go, dealer locators, rent-a-car, carpooling, calendar integration and more.


Journey - Maps, real-time traffic updates, weather updates, fuel station locators, parking garage, Point of interest , follow me, Over the air upgrade , voice recognized apps and services, find-my-car apps and more.


Post Journey - Trip analysis, social networking, share-the-trip, maintenance and service, service reminders, driver tips, etc.

Looking at these services we can expect connected cars to reshape the automotive industry and the business model for OEM's in unexpected ways. OEM's will longer be able to thrive by manufacturing the best cars but will need to plan on how to incorporate them into a highly connected world.


July 5, 2018

Shifting towards computing at the edge

Last week, Microsoft announced that Azure IoT Edge is now generally available for release. This is a powerful addition to Microsoft's IoT portfolio that includes - Azure IoT Central, IoT Hub and a host of solution accelerators. 

Before we unpack the specifics of Azure IoT Edge, let's take a step back to understand why edge computing is critical. Here are a few key reasons that would support business needs,

  • Low latency especially in scenarios that require real-time responses and decision-making. For instance, in a pedestrian detection system, which cannot wait while the data is sent to the cloud, then make a decision and take action. Here the need is to base action on real-time analysis
  • Computing is based on available data instead of historical, business process data, or external data sources. This saves on bandwidth, unnecessary computing on the cloud, and privacy. For instance, shutting off a device based on threshold value is not dependent on location, device attributes, and allows for decisions to be made locally
  • Proprietary protocol protection through integration with a plethora of protocols that have been developed over the years. This is especially true in industrial scenarios. Computing at the edge helps in protocol adaptation and filters noise out of the data
  • Lack of reliable connectivity requires computing at the edge, storage and a forwarding mechanism. For instance, if there are deployments in remote locations where connectivity is not always on

A review of Azure IoT Edge

In this post, I will focus on key features that stand out above and beyond the standard set that is required for an edge product. First, Microsoft recommends that the minimum hardware requirement be 128MB memory, and support Windows and popular versions of Linux. In addition, there is zero-touch provisioning through Device Provisioning Service (DPS) and Automatic Device Management (ADM), this means there is no need for operator intervention, and the ability to manage thousands of devices remotely. 

Azure IoT Edge is open source and supports Docker-based containerization for all edge services. It also offers secure communication between IoT edge and IoT Hub, and provides original design manufacturers an option for device based security


M
icrosoft has also expanded its programming language support. In addition, it offers local storage for 'store and forward' and enables the development and deployment of custom functions.  

Here are a bunch of Azure IoT Edge features that I think stand out

  • Device twin, as the name suggests creates a mirror image of device attributes in the IoT hub. These twins have properties that are owned by the cloud or device, and methods for request-response messages. The device twin is a powerful concept that can be used for device management and querying device attributes 

  • Azure services to run on edge as containerized services. The Azure Stream Analytics, machine learning, and cognitive services can now be run on the edge. For instance, if information were to pass across two different devices, or if action were to be taken on sensor data beyond just a simple average,  machine learning service can be used. In addition, these services are all cloud managed, that is, they can be developed along the way, on the cloud and deployed as containerized services on the edge

  • Enabling development and test workloads as part of the CI-CD (Continuous Integration-Continuous Deployment) pipeline. This is a crucial feature in the world of IoT solution development, especially to mimic real devices in the field. Coupled with the device and module twins features, this will facilitate testing and deployment at scale

  • Edge Marketplace will help partners and developers to collaborate, share, and monetize edge modules. This is a good beginning towards building a rich ecosystem of pre-integrated and certified modules for industry-specific solutions

Edge computing is here to stay, and both, Microsoft and AWS have an edge solution and strategy. The IoT domain is truly multi-disciplinary and I expect to see the edge development community grow over the next few years. 


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